The Business of Love

Meet five of our Islands’ love experts.

FACE IT. LOVE IS BIG BUSINESS. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t got heart. Those who minister to both the lovesick and lovebird wannabes know their jobs aren’t strictly sales and service—caring, compassion and even counseling are equally critical to success, along with infinite patience, a romantic streak and a soft spot for happy endings.

The Sex Therapist

Sex therapist Marti Barnham has advised couples for 35 years.

Though it may come as a surprise to some lovers, good sex is more than a physical act. “We’re talking about intimacy, communication, being safe, loving, wanting to share oneself with others,” says sex therapist Marti Barham, a licensed psychologist and author. She ought to know, after 35 years of advising couples on the most intimate facts of their lives.

“I walk figuratively into the bedroom with people,” she says. “We’ve got to get down to details.”

It’s her business to pry—in the most compassionate, sensitive, yet matter-of-fact way possible—into what’s working and what’s not. How else can she educate a couple about the ins and outs of sex, and perhaps offer specific techniques for them to try alone at home?

“At the root of most marital problems is communication, with the behavior showing up in the bedroom,” says Barham, who counseled drug addicts and alcoholics before shifting her focus to what she sees as the core issue for most folks: intimacy.

“People are getting sexually active at an earlier age, but they have no idea what intimacy is. If you can talk about the intimate things, you can talk about most anything. Then we attack the problem, and not our partner.”

Barham says she expected to see only older couples when she started her practice, but she gets plenty of young ones, too. “They come in saying the sex is good, and we want to make sure it stays that way.”

Some couples, such as those who recently had a baby or experienced a separation caused by military deployment, often just require a tuneup to get back on track. Others “need very specific direction, because nobody told them.”

One thing Barham tells everyone is “Sex should be fun. If you’re not laughing in the bedroom, we’ve got a problem.”

More good news: “You can have romance, passion and love for the long term—if you work on it.”

The Jewelry Dealer

While working as a jewelry store manager, Michael Han began to feel sorry for young lovers repeatedly dissed by sales persons who felt they took up too much time.

“I saw there was a definite need for servicing couples in love,” says Han, who, with his wife, Rebecca, opened the Wedding Ring Shop in 1986 to help couples choose “the most sacred piece of jewelry you wear for hopefully the rest of your life.”

Although the store caters to engaged couples, who require “lots of patience, lots of hand-holding and a lot of comfort,” they aren’t Han’s sole clientele.

“This is a store dedicated to special relationships,” he says, noting that fine jewelry traditionally has been an expression of love. Men often buy their significant other a bracelet, pendant or earrings to celebrate an important anniversary or the birth of a child, and the store keeps track of each customer’s purchases to match styles for future gifts.

“We’ve done extensive research,” Han says. “We know the psychographics of our customers. We find that the better we can relate to our customers, the more we can understand what their situations are, what are their concerns.” Price, it seems, is always a concern, so his staff explains to customers how it is derived. “Men are logical, so we try to break it down and make it practical for them,” he says. “We’re building a relationship based on trust.”

Women, however, don’t seem to be quite as trusting. About half the time, they accompany their men to the store to help pick out what they want, Han says. “But even if he comes in alone, he usually has been given a lot of guidance. Because guys want to get the right thing.”

The Florist

Florist Rona Mochizuki helps people woo—and apologize—with flowers.

Rona Mochizuki helps people translate their love into something tangible: flowers. As a consultant at Watanabe Floral, she sees it all: nervous brides and their mothers trying to make those big-day dreams come true, men seeking an exit from the dog house, lovers of both sexes and all ages expressing their heartfelt affection.

No matter who does the ordering, Mochizuki is in the pressure-cooker position of making sure they get what they want, without a hitch. A wedding is especially nerve racking.

Still, she says, “Weddings are such happy occasions that it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the planning. It makes for easy motivation in putting out the best product that we can. It’s important to me that the couple is happy in all of their choices, not just flowers. So if I can help in other areas by making recommendations, I try.”

Mochizuki says that, aside from the usual Valentine’s Day, birthday and anniversary orders, men most often send flowers to apologize. “Flowers say ‘I love you.’ After that, flowers also say, ‘I’m sorry.’ You’d be surprised at how many orders for ‘I’m sorry’ we get.”

Mochizuki says red roses are the most popular flowers sent, and younger men are more apt to do the sending. “But a lot of older men do send flowers. I’m glad to see that the romance lasts throughout the years.”

The Wedding Planner

Wedding planner Terri Yamane loves weddings—except the celebrity kind. It’s not that she begrudges the rich and famous their shot at coupled bliss. But, after every televised extravaganza, she’s the one facing clients seeking that same level of opulence, on mere mortals’ budgets.


Annual number of weddings in Hawai‘i.

Average cost of a traditional American wedding.

Rings typically account for 11.5 percent of a wedding’s costs, and flowers 4.6 percent.

Number of marriages resulting from DeSoto’s matches.

“Then we have to deal with the reality crash,” she says. “We try to turn them back into happy couples by reminding them it’s all about a party at the end of the day, being with your other half and celebrating with your loved ones. When they come down to earth, it’s fine.”

Yamane, who started Wedding Planners Hawai‘i five years ago after a stint as concierge and wedding coordinator at the Sheraton Moana Surfrider, says about half her clients scale back their initial plans due to costs, while the rest somehow find the money. Some women have been planning the big day since childhood, although Yamane says a year to 18 months is ample lead time.

She’s had just one cancellation, due not to cold feet but to visa problems for a Japanese couple, and hasn’t encountered any outlandish requests. “One couple wanted to be married in the water, with the minister on a surfboard, but they changed their minds when they started thinking about the logistics.”

Yamane says she can handle the stress of continually staging weddings because, “I love my job and I have an open mind.

She does, however, advise couples to relax from the start. “This thing called perfection is taken way overboard.”

The Matchmaker

DeeDee DeSoto turned a knack for matchmaking into a business.

It started with a penchant for fixing up her friends, recalls DeeDee DeSoto of her initiation into the art of matchmaking. “I couldn’t stop doing it. It got almost obsessive.”

From there, it wasn’t too much of a leap for the former radio personality to launch Kindred Hearts, an activities group for singles. It later morphed into Party of Six when a lot of the members wanted to be matched and DeSoto realized she was already playing Cupid, just not getting paid.

DeSoto has hopefuls fill out lengthy questionnaires, but, after two decades of pairing people, she relies primarily on instinct. “If I can see them walking off together into the sunset, I know that’s a good match.”

Although DeSoto is delighted when she hits the mark—“I always cry, too, when I see their lives change because they have love”—she feels the intense pressure of seeking the right halves to make a whole.

It used to keep her up at night, but, while she’s learned to handle it better, there’s no escaping the confidences that are a big part of her job. “My nickname is Dr. DeeDee. People tell me everything; intimate things I don’t want to hear.”

Sometimes she tells them, gently, of course, things they might not want to hear, like lose the toupee, put on a little lipstick, switch to contact lenses, be patient.

“It’s not fast-food service. Your match is out there. People often have to make changes in their lives first,” she says, noting that men and women equally need “a little tweaking here and there.”

Most frequently, DeSoto says those looking for love need to work on their attitudes, whether it’s shy people opening up a bit, busy people making room in their lives or angry people dealing with resentment over being single.

Another key bit of advice: “If your expectations are too high, you’re always going to be disappointed, because perfection does not exist. Somebody may not be perfect, but they are [perfect] for you.”

Joan Conrow is a Kaua‘i writer who still believes in true love, although it’s so far proven elusive.