“Play is an antidote to the mundane responsibilities of adulthood.”-Perel My friend, Kim, asked her husband of over 30 years to pretend they were on a third date.
She stood at the stove stirring. “Do you like tomatoes?” she asked flirtatiously, knowing the answer full well.
Kim was playing.
She described the scene to me and I got a kick out of it, respecting that she's not buying into the idea that after so many years of marriage, attraction for your partner will wane, and you’ll grow bored.
“Desire requires that we maintain a curiosity to the ungraspable, subjective nature of our partner.” —Perel
Movies and television don’t help. Repeatedly, we are shown that novelty and intimacy are mutually exclusive principles, that you can have one, or the other, but not both.
According to psychotherapist, Esther Perel, “In intimate relationships we must balance the need for stability and predictability and the desire for what is exciting, new, mysterious.”
Esther Perel is the author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. According to her, desire is fueled by the unknown. (Read: Desire and Marriage: A Paradox?)
So what happens when you know somebody or you think you know somebody you’re intimate with? How can we keep the spark alive?
It seems relationships less seasoned than Kim’s encounter rocky patches. In the HBO television series Girls, Hannah, the main character is in her mid-twenties, and in a developing relationship. When the novelty wears off, and Hannah and her boyfriend, Adam, begin to get intimate, Hannah panics believing that Adam is losing interest in her.
In an effort to reinvigorate her love life, she role-plays. She meets Adam at a bar wearing a blond wig and pretends to be a married, bored, housewife.
Stuart Brown M.D. is a pioneer in the research of play and author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.
He believes that play is essential at any age and that it fuels our happiness.
Play is going ballroom dancing or taking salsa lessons (I know because I did this with my husband).
Play is not just for couples. My mother-in-law found herself a widow at 67 and started going dancing with a friend. She frequented a NYC nightclub—the kind with red ropes outside. The bouncer knew her, and loved her, (who wouldn’t) letting her cut the line of twenty year-olds, escorting her in.
Play can take many forms. It’s taking a hike, a walk, a bike ride. It’s going on a picnic, throwing a Frisbee and flying a kite.
It’s doing a jigsaw puzzle, playing a board game or an instrument.
It’s flirting and daydreaming.
Who wouldn’t want to draw in a coloring book, squish Play-Doh and build with LEGO?
But we don’t.
Stuart Brown M.D. says, “The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.” He believes that playful couples are more satisfied than serious ones.
And as my friend, Kim, knows, play doesn’t just happen. We have to cultivate a space for it so interest, curiosity and desire can develop.
So whether it’s role-play, foreplay or horseplay—do it!
*Kim Allouche is a highly experienced Manhattan based psychotherapist who treats individuals and couples for a variety of problems including relationship issues, anxiety and depression. Her articles and stories can be found in The Psychotherapy Networker, the Alternet and Storyscape. Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org