How The 3 Fundamental Rules of Play Will Improve Your Intimate Relationships.
When the Best Role Models are Babies
In high school during a particularly challenging time - when I was rebelling against mainstream schooling and religious upbringings, I needed guidance from somewhere. But I didn't necessarily trust the adults in my community to be heading in the direction I wanted to go. I decided I needed some role models, but who would they be?
I sat and thought long and hard about this question. Until one day, sitting on the cold floor of the hallway outside my high school cafeteria, it came to me.
My role models would be Native Americans and babies. If Natives or children did something, then I knew it was a trustable thing to do.
(Granted this was my high school romanticized perception of both.) My list of guides to follow included: staying close to the land, trusting a Great Spirit, laughing whenever I wanted, and not being ashamed to feel my emotions.
Fast forward to now, and I sometimes marvel at the sweet, simple wisdom of my tumultuous teen years. Because I still believe that almost all our relationship troubles, from not getting any dates to fighting the same fights again and again, can be solved by children!
More specifically, we can solve our relationship miscommunications by listening and re-learning what we innately knew as children about how to PLAY.
That's because, the fundamental rules of play are the same fundamental rules of connection. And I believe clear connection is THE KEY to healthy relationships.
In this post you’ll find the three fundamental rules of play that will improve your intimate relationships, and at the bottom I’ll show you how to come practice these rules of play and connection with me!
So let’s get started.
The first fundamental rule of play and connection:
#1: You must choose to enter a new, shared world or reality together.
You are buying into the world you create together so that it can live you.
One of my favorite past times is hosting murder mystery parties. At these themed parties everyone is role-playing a character who has their own motivations, secrets, and relationships to other characters, all while attempting to solve a mystery.
At murder mysteries, creating the world means turning the living room into a 1920’s speakeasy, playing big band and jazz, dressing like flappers or gangsters, and talking the part.
And the more we buy into this world together, the more real it becomes.
For example, at this 1920’s party, I was a bootlegger who had been blacklisted by an evil mobster. Of course my character was angry at his character, but it took me by surprise when I overheard him bad-mouthing my character and I, Rachel, actually got mad! Not just my character.
As that world had become real to me, I didn’t have to “pretend” anymore, because my next choices were naturally flowing from the world and the story.
It’s interesting to think about each moment or interaction as though we are choosing a world to be in. Which brings me back to this reality…
In order to intimately connect with another person (or yourself) you must choose to be in a world with one rule: That the truth of who you are is allowed.
It’s pretty obvious that we don’t live in that world all the time on any given day. We smile and wave past each other on the street and we know that “hi how are you?” Isn’t a real invitation toward that truth. And that’s maybe okay.
But in the moments when we really want to connect, we must choose this world. First for ourselves, and then for others.
After you’ve begun to practice choosing this world for yourself, the next step can begin…
The Second Fundamental of Play and Connection
#2: You must take risks, be vulnerable, and go first.
Someone has to jump off the rock first.
Everyone wants to do it, but they’re a little scared. What if it’s too high? What if they fall and get hurt, or everyone laughs? If no one goes first, then everyone just sort of stands around at the bottom, wondering uneasily about the idea. But once that first kid goes, even if she rolls the landing a little, everyone else knows it’s safe enough to give it a try.
Vulnerability takes courage
Sharing the truth of who you are, aka what you really feel or think, is a lot like jumping off a big rock. It takes courage to go at all, let alone to go first. But the act of creating intimacy is a series of people taking turns jumping first off a slightly bigger rock than last time. One person shares a little more. That gives the other person courage to take the leap. Then, inspired, they are willing to share a little more than last time, and they continue jumping into new connection.
Sharing first is a sign that you have adopted Rule #1 for yourself. In order to take the risk of going first, you have to believe that the truth of who you are is allowed.
So by sharing first, you are also proving to others in the conversation that you are bought in. And that can give them confidence to join you.
While being vulnerable never guarantees you a happy outcome (that’s why it’s a risk), what I’ve found more often than not is that people are all standing at the bottom of the boulder, craving the aliveness of jumping off, and wishing someone would take the first leap. Once that person goes, more and more people will rush to join the fun.
And as others join the fun, you are ready for rule #3…
The Third Fundamental Rule of Play and Connection
#3: You must listen to yourself and others with curiosity, not judgment.
After someone’s taken the risk of jumping first and sharing their truth, you have two options. You can show that you’re also bought in to rule #1, which will begin leading to intimacy and connection, or you can kill it.
If you judge their truth or try to fix it– their emotions or thoughts, even if they are hard or loud or uncomfortable – you are basically saying to that person “the truth of who you are is NOT allowed here.” Which ends the connection.
If you, however, allow their emotions or thoughts to be what they are, even if you don’t understand them or even if you feel bad that they seem painful, you are essentially affirming that you are also bought into rule #1: that the truth of who they are IS allowed.
If you are ever going to “fix” something that’s painful, it’s going to come through first establishing true intimacy. Once you are connected and care more about the truth of who this person is, they might be able to trust you enough to allow advice or help.
In Play: Everything’s a clue.
Another way I like to play is by doing (and creating) escape room puzzles. An escape room is a literal room where you and a group of friends get locked inside, and with the timer counting down, you have to search the whole place for clues and riddles to solve puzzles to unlock hidden doors to escape before time runs out!
In one of the puzzles in Denver called Pike’s Peak, the whole place is Miner-themed. Pick axes and overalls hanging on the wall, piles of old maps and fool’s gold in the corners. (Escape rooms are good at creating worlds!)
On one wall sat a fireplace and a basket of firewood in front. I looked at the oddly shaped sticks for such a long time, trying to figure out how they fit into a puzzle somewhere. Eventually I decided that there was no use for them and moved on. I even told another friend to ignore them – they weren’t important and I didn’t want us to waste time! As the clock ran out, and we had failed the room, the host came in to join us. We asked him what we had missed, and he told us that the firewood was the clue to the puzzle we didn’t solve.
I was frustrated by not understanding HOW the firewood was a clue, so I threw it out all together, and I missed exactly what I was looking for.
In Connection: Our emotions and thoughts are our clues
So often we have thousands of thoughts and feelings that we “edit out” or apologize for and ignore. We think they’re not important, we think they’re a nuisance and a distraction from the goal, so we avoid them.
But actually, these unknown emotions are the very clues that will solve the puzzle we’re searching for. Following these clues will bring us to the truth of who we are, which unlocks the door for intimacy and connection.
Because that’s the thing, connection isn’t just the edited pretty version. Connection is allowing the truth, no matter what that truth is. And the more we connect and allow and listen to our individual truth, the more we accept rule #1 for ourselves and others. And we will see wildly amazing results in the way we have conversations with others.
So to recap, I spend most of my free time dressing in costumes, solving mysteries, and generally acting like a child. But in re-remembering how to play, I’ve also learned how to live:
- I live in a world where everyday the truth of who I am is allowed.
- I live in a world where I am willing to take risks and be vulnerable first.
- And I live in a world where I listen to myself and others with curiosity, not judgment.
And it has created for me a world of people who also buy in to this – and the most amazing relationships I could have ever imagined. I hope for you too, that in beginning to practice these, you will see great improvements in your connections.
Interested in trying this out in person? Come join me once a month at Random Acts of Date Night: Mystery Mixers to Play and Connect