Updated: May 13, 2022
Part 3 in our What love is all about series
We need to talk about how love is all about play. How can that be? Isn't love the most serious thing in the world? No, divorce is the most serious thing in the world. But while love can have depths of heart-felt seriousness, while your hearts are burning for one another, a hallmark of love is the way it lightens your hearts. And you tell me: isn't it a sign of the death of love that the lightness--the play--is gone?
Suppose you’re a film maker. You want to show a couple who’s just fallen in love. How do you do that? Do you show them passionately kissing and groping and grinding away at each other? Mmm...not exactly. Walking hand in hand. Nah: that’s nice but not quite it either. No, instead usually the go-to scene is playful fun. The two of them frolicking in the waves by the beach. Chasing each other around in a woodsy place. Tussling and giggling with each other in their living room. Laughing. Making faces. Being silly.
There's the famous moment in Pretty Woman where Richard Gere hands Julia Roberts a beautiful necklace. But he pranks her by snapping the box shut and she has a huge laugh. What had started out as a business relationship is now fun and play, and we see the beginning of a real, serious relationship. What better way, than through play.
That’s how we, the movie goers, know something is real love, not just lust or friendship. And we know it in our hearts as well. There’s that moment where all you can do is think about each other and want to be with each other. And when you’re with each other you talk and make love and find yourselves in a playful, giddy place you haven’t been in in ages.
This is ever so real. I can’t tell you how many times someone in a couple told me they knew “it was over” because they’d realized that fun was gone. They no longer played, laughed, and had fun together. Only if they went out with other couples did any fun at all happen.
So what is this all about? What does it mean? And if the play part of love goes away, can you bring it back?
First of all, to be realistic, this isn’t a universal thing. Love is play to a certain extent for everybody, but much more for some than others. And that’s because some people are much more fun people than others. They find it easier to play. Others are more serious, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Two serious people can fall deeply, happily, and successfully in love.
The last thing we want—truly!—is for anyone to compare their relationship to some movie version of relationships and then think that’s what they should have. Don’t do that!!
Our point is just that for many, probably most, people, the play dimension is real and important, and if it’s real and important for you, and it’s missing, particularly in the early stages, that can be a significant sign that something crucial is missing.
Just think about what this kind of play really signifies. It says it’s safe not to be serious. Safe to be silly. Safe to be a kid again with your partner. Safe to be yourselves. So many other things, including sex, even good sex, can become caught up in the dynamics of seriousness, self-consciousness, and technique. You can fake an orgasm, but you can’t fake fun. And, as we said in one of our books, fun is the glue of intimacy.
And not only does play represent safety, it represents freedom. When I went out to play as a kid, there were never any real goals in anything we did. Even in the games where we kept score, we didn’t really care about the score.
In a sense, that’s the dream of love. Being with someone where the two of you, together, are safe and free. To be yourselves together. To be stupid, to do stupid things, to screw up, to be imperfect, all in a playland where everything is okay because whether you call it love or play, it IS okay, and there’s no such thing as making a mistake.
Whatever you call THAT, no matter where you are on the fun/serious spectrum, it’s play, and you need to have a way to get there if you’re not there already. It’s not going to be like that most of the time, but it should feel available to you.
And if it doesn’t feel that way?
Well, here’s what may be keeping you out of that place, and these are all obstacles that can be overcome:
Habit. Play is something you do. It doesn’t overcome you, like falling asleep at the wheel. And we can get terribly out of the habit of making it happen. So that when we try to, we do it badly. But you know what? Doing it badly is the only way to get to doing it better. So...just do it.
Distractions. I know: we’re all too busy, burdened, and in the end tired for play to happen. No one can argue that this isn’t real. So here’s what people do who are successful at dealing with this: they schedule play dates. This is not the same as date nights. Dates nights too often mean a really nice dinner that’s taken up with a too-serious conversation. A play date is time away—yes, maybe just an evening—for doing something fun. Whatever might be fun for you. More fun than whatever the hell you’ve been doing!
Resentments. It’s hard to play with someone you resent. Especially when the resentment has to do with your feeling that the other person consistently leaves you feeling disempowered. Well, there’s only one way out of this. Resentment will kill a relationship anyway, so you might as well deal with it now. And the way to do that is to address the sources of the resentment. “I resent you because...” Deal with these one at time until you find your resentment has dwindled to a manageable level.
So in the end, it’s paradoxical. When it comes to love, we need to take play seriously.
Our book Why Couples Fight will show you a great way to get rid of resentment in your relationship by eliminating the power dynamics and by making it possible for both of you to get your needs met.
And please!! What do YOU think love is all about? Let us know and we’ll write a blog about it, and give you full credit. Your input and interest are vital to us!!