Sometimes it seems that all we want from a relationship is for our partners to be — or learn to be — as cute and nice as we are. To react in a consistent manner to our stimuli. To learn to speak our language. To help us out by getting snippy if we’re not paying enough attention, yet to say “me love you” from time to time, no matter what.
Okay, that’s not a relationship, that’s a Furby.
For those of you who don’t have children whose lives you saved by buying them one (i.e. they held their breath until you did), Furby — who looks like the three-way love child of an Ewok, a Gremlin, and Gleek — is the latest world domination strategy from Tiger Electronics. Last year, Tiger brought us the Giga Pet (like the Tamagotchi), the world’s most stressful toy. Now think Giga with fur … and a brain. As you interact with Furby, Furby will respond, learn tricks, wiggle its ears, open its eyes and raise its ears when excited, react to other Furbies (collect ‘em all!), speak back and on its own, learn English as a Second Language (first: Furbish). For real. Unlike Giga, Furby does not die if ignored; instead, it whines for attention. So I’m not saying you won’t want to kill it.
But matter how you may feel about Furby, we are talking serious wizardry. (And to think Breakup Girl held her breath until she got Simon.) And yes, consumer-wise, Furby is the next Tickle Me Elmo — which, by contrast, now has all the appeal of the rotary phone (unless, of course, Furby turns out to be the next Felicity).
As for those of you who grew up rolling hoops and playing catch with hog bladders, don’t forget that there is also: Adult Furby. Last week, BG got an suspicious mass email hawking the artificial intelligence programs “Virtual Girlfriend” and “Virtual Boyfriend.” Not only will these cyberBetties and Baldwins remember your name, your birthday, and your likes and dislikes, they also “take off different clothes.” (Think Giga … without fur.) Even more realistic: (1) “each time you start the program…they have a different personality,” and (2) “you can say things that will upset them.” Keen!
So what does Furby have to do with love, Breakup Girl style? First of all, okay, okay, I want one. AS A TEACHING TOOL. The point: for worse and for better, we all Furbicize in our relationships. Meaning what? That to some degree, we grow and change and wiggle our ears in reponse to our partners’ stimuli. We develop learned behaviors, we acquire new languages (with words like “pooky.”).
But here’s the key difference: we don’t necessarily have a “different personality” each time. Often, the things and theories and habits that our little chips pick up from our first partner (such as “I suck at relationships”) carry over to the next, and the next — thus getting reinforced, if not all but hard-wired. We develop patterns that become so ingrained we don’t even see them as patterns, and even if we do, the idea of dismantling them seems tantamount to dismantling our very selves.
A version of this column was originally posted October 19, 1998.