Barbie has faced criticism since its inception thanks in part to the toy's wildly unrealistic body standards and tendency to perpetuate gender stereotypes. And while Greta Gerwig's blockbuster Warner Bros. film doesn't erase the Mattel doll's controversial history, it's certainly breathing new life and meaning into the name "Barbie". Particularly, with the flick's now-famous tagline: "She's everything. He's just Ken."
So maybe you're not able to achieve the same golden-brown tan, or relate to her notorious liking for sky high heels, but you've probably dated a Ken — just like Barbie. You know the type: hot (maybe even Ryan Gosling hot), fun, and…missing something. A lack of depth, perhaps? Or his own sense of independence? "Just Ken" might be perfect for a casual relationship, but it probably isn't going to go the extra mile. And sometimes, that's just what you need.
But how do you navigate the relationship? And what does a Ken look like in the first place? Ahead, our relationship experts explain how to know (and what to do!) when you're dating "just Ken."
How Do You Know If You're Dating "Just Ken"?
It may not be obvious at first whether you're dating "just Ken." After all, those early, honeymoon days are often filled with light, easy conversations, but according to Mega Pleasure sex and relationship expert Charlotte Johnson, there are a few key patterns and characteristics to watch out for. Namely, lack of depth; limited investment; avoidance of future planning; and lack of emotional support.
"'Just Kens' prioritise surface-level interactions and avoid delving into more meaningful or emotional conversations," Johnson tells PopSugar. "[They] may be less inclined to provide emotional support or be there for you during challenging times...they prioritise their own needs and [may not] invest deeply in your emotional well-being."
While there's absolutely nothing wrong with a casual and carefree relationship (in fact, sometimes that's exactly what you need in your dating life), it can also be a sign that the person you're dating falls into the "just Ken" category. "'Kens' may shy away from discussing and planning for the future together," Johnson adds. "They might prefer to keep things spontaneous and short-term, without considering the long-term compatibility or shared goals."
How to Navigate a Relationship With a Ken
Honest communication about what you're both looking for in a relationship is important here. If you're both entirely focussed on yourselves and your personal journeys, then all the power to you. In this scenario, these relationships can look perfectly healthy, even if they don't have a long shelf life.
Dating (and navigating) a relationship with "just a Ken" also requires self-awareness and realistic expectations, sex and relationships therapist at Joy Love Dolls, Melissa Stone, says. "It is crucial to establish open and honest communication with your partner from the beginning," she says. "Clearly express your own needs and intentions in the relationship, and actively listen to your partner's perspective as well. It is important to regularly check in with each other to ensure that you are on the same page and that both parties feel comfortable and fulfilled within the relationship."
Couples therapist at Esclusiva Couples Retreats, Kendra Capalbo, admits that dating a Ken can be fun — "it allows you to tap into your playful side and discover new facets of yourself" — as long as you acknowledge and understand the fact that it likely *won't* move beyond that. "It is improbable that this particular dynamic will work in the long term, given the couple's incompatibility," she says, but "there is an energy exchange between individuals, and being with a Ken could enable you to reconnect with your carefree, spirited, and fun-loving nature."
When to End Things With "Just Ken"
So how do you know when to call it quits on your own Ken? "If you find that your desires and expectations in the relationship are consistently mismatched with your partner's, it may be a sign that it's time to say goodbye," Stone says. "If you desire a deeper emotional connection or future plans, but your partner remains focussed on keeping things casual, it can lead to frustration or dissatisfaction." If you're unfulfilled, emotionally neglected, or feeling like the relationship is just stagnant, it's probably time to call it quits on your Ken.
Ultimately, there's nothing wrong with dating a Ken. We've all done it — and there's no denying, it's fun! Just ask (or, I guess, watch) Barbie! But not every relationship is meant to last a lifetime, or even a few months, for that matter. Enjoy the spontaneity, but also understand that like the blonde plastic icon herself, you are "everything." Don't be afraid to check in with yourself and ask for more when you need it or end things when your "just Ken" is just not enough.