“Serious” is a seriously boring word we use to describe deeper commitment in relationships. But why should serious be the defining characteristic of mature love? In my research of what goes into lasting relationships, I’ve discovered play to be a hugely important and overlooked aspect of resilient love.
The experts weigh in
“Life without play is a grinding, mechanical existence organized around doing the things necessary for survival. Play is the stick that stirs the drink. It is the basis of all art, games, books, sports, movies, fashion, fun, and wonder—in short, (play is) the basis of what we think of as civilization. Play is the vital essence of life.” – Dr. Stuart Brown, author of ‘Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul’.
We need playful bonds for secure attachments to explore the world with, and to express our true selves. Babies coo and scrunch their faces in response to their parents, and that play is how they connect intimately while learning about the world around them. As we develop, our styles of play become more individualized and complex to suit our relationship and learning needs.
Ideally we would be encouraged to blossom through our unique play (and maybe even make a career of it), but the modern world has become too adult-ish for that. Play is now deemed as childish, stupid, or unnecessary to being a grown up. Is it any wonder we get burnt out in our careers and relationships?
The importance of play in love
The honeymoon phase of our relationships is saturated with play. Whether it’s goosing your partner in the grocery store isle, teasing each other in bed, or camping out in the wilderness, play is a clear priority for new love.
The playfulness of romance is nature’s way of saying, “This is how love is supposed to be; this is your blueprint. Now go and build great things.” But oftentimes we use the built in playfulness of new love to escape the responsibility of making fun part of our lifestyles. In a play deficient world, it’s too common for people to remain unaware of this. And when we are unaware, we look to relationships instead of play to bring back personal joy. We become conditional lovers.
The rut of modern romance
I think relationships dissolve not because people change, but because they refuse to be changed by love, which is inherently adventurous. We are inspired to explore, to discover and to create when we fall in love, but it’s up to us to build on that foundation by prioritizing play and committing to remarkable lives. This is hard to do in a cookie cutter, factory sealed, cut and paste kind of world.
After the initial sweep of chemicals in romance, we tend to fall back into the rote routines of “normal life”. But life itself is a miracle, so the business as usual approach to committed love is a death sentence for relationships. If we want seriously happy relationships, we have to bring the spark back to our personal lives through play.
You’ll often hear people describe themselves as boring outside of a relationship. When we get attached to the fun we have with our lover, we start to get serious. We think, “I can’t let this go. I don’t want to go back to boring old me.” And when we look to relationships to bring out the fun in ourselves, it detracts from the unconditional essence of lasting love.
Play, it seems, is a long-forgotten lifeline to our most important relationships.
So we are left with a couple options. The singles among us can either wait for the next love to bring back a sense of playfulness (only to burn out later), or they can make play a priority right now.
Dr. Brown advises people to retrace their play history
- What were the activities that you totally lose yourself in as a kid?
- What kind of play made you feel most like you?
- What is the one thing that you childhood would’ve been incomplete without?
- When did you let your favorite play go, and why?
- What could you do to get it back?
A partner can accentuate your joy, but they can’t force you to commit to a joyful and playful lifestyle. So rediscover your special kind of play that makes life electric. If you get that common kink worked out before you enter a relationship, you’ll be able to love your partner more unconditionally for a lifetime.
For those who are already have a partner, you get to decide each morning what words will describe your relationship: Serious, or playful? Boring, or adventurous? The fun of new romance may long be spent, but you can rekindle a playfully incandescent love with a plan.
1-Retrace both your and your partners play history to discover your missing elements of joy
2-Find our your play personality. And
3- Have both partners commit to their unique forms of play on a weekly basis. Then allow your playful energy to spill over into and recharge your relationship.
Pre-conclusion and pro tips
It doesn’t matter if you and your spouse’s style of play are compatible or not. If you can pursue your unique play together, all the better, but if you don’t ensure your own meaningful play time, you’ll find it hard to express your true self joyfully in a relationship. So reclaim your play, reclaim your joy, and reclaim your relationship.
Pro-tip #1: playing grab ass with your partner is a tried-and-true method of bringing lightheartedness back to a relationship. As a bonus, it leads to playful sex.
Pro-tip #2: Monopoly destroys marriages. Don’t even think about it. If you’re locked inside, opt for uno or stratego.
Pro-tip #3: Get moving with your partner. Whether it’s walking, running, or tossing a frisbee, your body remembers what your brain forgets: life is fun.
If play seems too simple a fix for a serious relationship, consider how well your car would run without fuel or oil. Play is that important. But don’t worry if your relationship has gotten too serious; it doesn’t mean the relationship is deficient. You and your partner might just be running low on personal joy. And since joy is a function of playfulness, you can reclaim it through committing to your own special style of play. Then you can bring playfulness back into your relationship and build on the initial ecstasy of a honeymoon romance.
Life is good