CHRISTINE, MY HAIRDRESSER, has flowers. An enormous bouquet sitting next to a rack of hair sprays.
"The boyfriend," she explains. "We had the talk."
"Uh-oh," I say, and take a moment to mentally review. Would this be the same boyfriend she had last time I was here, the graphic artist with the nice thighs? Probably, I think, looking in the mirror at my dark roots, which are about half an inch long. I can usually keep track of Christine's relationships by looking at my hair.
"Okay, this is the same guy you started with when you gave me the Cameron Diaz cut, right?" I say.
"That's him. It's been about a year and a half now."
"I know," I say, looking in the mirror. "Do you think it's time for a change?"
"Maybe," she says, combing her fingers through my roots. It's amazing how hair talk and boy-friend talk can happen simultaneously.
"Well, I'm glad he's still in the picture. So what's with the flowers?"
"I sat him down. I told him I was just hot and cold, hot and cold with him. I told him it's me! I'm the problem. I said, it's not you! Oh, I was crying my eyes out. And I thought he would get upset, or mad, or just dump me on the spot."
She reaches for a pile of magazines, flops them on my lap. This is a sign. Apparently, she thinks, yes, I'm done with Cameron Diaz. I start flipping through the pages, looking for a new do. "So he didn't get upset?" I say.
"Oh, he was so sweet. He was like, `Whatever you need. If you want me to go away for a while, I'll do whatever you want me to.' I almost fell on the floor. I'm not used to guys being nice to me."
"No, you're not," I say. "Think: Demi Moore."
"Arrrrrghhh!" she says, which is what I knew she would say. Because the guy she was dating when she gave me that super-short Demi Moore do was a dud, as was the cut on me. The boyfriend she had when I had Joan Lunden's hair was not much better, and that cut made me look 50. I did like the guy she was dating when she gave me a Jennifer Anniston, but he turned out to be a whiner. And that hair required a lot more attention than I am willing to give hair.
Sometimes I think all Christine needs to do is look at my hair to see what kind of relationship she's in. The Cameron Diaz look is not bad. Plus, it's easy. I don't know why she wants me to change it. I continue flipping through the magazines. She sees me homing in on Meg Ryan.
"No!" she says, firmly. "That hair on a normal person is like, okay, what are you growing out here? It's a between hairdos hairdo. I don't see it on you."
All right. I ask her about the boyfriend, why she's not sure about him, seeing as he treats her like gold.
"He'll do anything for me. And he thinks I'm beautiful."
"So you're not attracted to him? Or he's not a good kisser? Or what's the problem?"
"He's gorgeous. And romance? Let's just say he's all for me. Every woman should know a man like this once in her life."
"And you're thinking of dumping this guy? Hello?"
"I just don't know if I love him," she says bluntly as she stirs the bleach in a pink cup.
Love. Christine works on my roots, and I flip through pages of movie stars, and once again we talk about love. Christine, who is six years younger than me, says she thinks love is the feeling she had when she was with the last boyfriend. (Helen Hunt era.) She was desperate for him. (He ended up stealing her wallet.) Or the feeling she had when she was with the one before that. (Jennifer Anniston.) She was desperate for him. (He ended up cheating on her three times.)
I remember that definition of love. I remember when love was all about longing, yearning. Love meant you had to hurt, had to bleed, had to cry and listen to sad songs and commiserate with the only people who seemed to understand love: the lovelorn. "No!" I am trying to tell her, trying to explain what I've learned. That love is about respect, commitment, truth, that there's more excitement in that than in a thousand hours of desperation. I want to shake her, get through to her, spare her from more dud boyfriends. But it's no use. When it comes to love, everything worth knowing has to be learned; it can't be taught.
"Jenna Elfman," she says finally. "The actress on `Dharma & Greg'? Now, her hair from last season, you could do that hair."
"But what about Cameron Diaz?" I say, sadly, knowing that leaving this hair likely signals that Christine will be dumping a perfectly good boyfriend.
"You're done with it," she says. "I'm sorry, but it is time to move on."
We head over to the sink to rinse. I lean back, close my eyes, wonder what would happen to the hairstyling industry if love were simple.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.