Child's Play

Picture this: A little girl, clad with blonde ponytails and pink ribbons, singing and laughing with her friends,

"Ring around the rosy
A pocketful of posies
'Ashes, Ashes'
We all fall down!"

When I was a child, my pals and I amused ourselves with every game we could think up during those long, hot summer days until the sun went down, until we started bickering with each other, or until our parents allowed us in the house, whichever came first.

There are moments when I wish I still was that little girl who played for hours on end, life so carefree and easy. But then again, some days I think I am reliving my childhood. Especially now that I am single, it seems as if I haven't quite left the sandbox. I'm stuck in the box playing games with my peers.

As a kid I was taught that my formal education would benefit me the most when I made it to the adult world. But when it comes to relationships, the most valuable training I received was the time I spent playing with my friends in the back yard of my folk's southern New Jersey home. Little did I know, but there are adult versions of all the classic childhood games I use to play. Some include the following.

Go-Fish - In the adult version, skilled players make other players work extraordinarily hard to uncover even the most basic of personal information. Player One: "By any chance do you have a 4?" Player Two: "Hmm. You're being a little unclear? I don't know what you mean by 4? And even if you can explain it, I can't guarantee that I'll remember having or ever having had a 4 in my possession. Go fish."

Peek-A-Boo - Advance players of Peek-A-Boo manage to hide their most hideous flaws. Then, at the worst, most inopportune moment, the player springs their flaw upon the other player catching them unprepared and completely off guard. Player One: "What do you mean that the woman who called my parent's house looking for you is your wife from South Dakota?" Player Two: "Oh, I didn't mention that? Peek-A-Boo!"

Hide-and-Seek - This game is also known as playing hard to get. It might be the most popular adult game of all time. In fact, the game has become part of dating etiquette. In Hide and Seek, female players are not allowed to overtly seek male players in person, by phone, or through email. Moreover, both male and female players are expected to hide any real emotion or hope that the relationship will develop past a few dates. If someone chooses not to play hard to get (a.k.a. Hide and Seek) they are labeled too eager, desperate, and destined to live a lonely life with 50 cats.

These are just a few of the many games that people play. Is anybody else experiencing this phenomenon? Or, am I just being a bad sport about all of this? Do we really have to play the game in order to win at relationships?

I, for one, am a terrible game player, never holding my cards so close to the chest that another cannot see them. I've also been on a losing streak when it comes to men. Yet most of my friends are good game players. They tell me that playing games is essential in winning a relationship. Take, Charles, a bright, software engineer approaching the dreaded 30-mile mark. Recently, Charles experienced the end of a promising, long-distance relationship. One day, I asked Charles why he thought the relationship had failed.

"I didn't play the game," he answered. "I was just too open with Susan about my feelings and hopes for our relationship. I didn't make her work hard enough for it. Had I just held back a little, we might still be a couple."

I can't imagine that being open and honest, even early on in his relationship, ended things for Charles. And even if by some strange chance honesty did end the relationship, would Charles really want a woman who wanted him only if he'd made himself less available?

Another acquaintance, Carla, has developed her own game plan for dating. In her rule book, men are given exactly three months to prove themselves and are judged by very specific criteria. Does the man pick her up for each date and drive to the agreed location? Does he pay for dinner on every occasion? Is he entertaining enough? Only if the man passes his three month trial run, will she consider dating him exclusively, but the rules for staying a couple only gets tougher.

Almost daily, I learn about a new game that is being played. In most cases, the rules are unstated or unclear. I see very few winners. Yet people persist and the games go on and on.

Even seemingly harmless "Ring Around the Rosey" had a sinister, adult meaning. As it turns out, the origin of the rhyme that I chanted as a little girl stems from London's battle with Bubonic Plague. The ring around the rosey describes the red, ring-shaped rash that appeared right before a person died. And ashes, ashes… well, let's not go there, ok?

The point is that I want out of the sandbox. I'm tired of playing games. I see too much foul play and unsportsmanlike conduct. At least chronologically, my associates and I are adults. And, I don't find it fun and amusing, much less appropriate, to be playing games at this late date in life. Yet these days, developing relationships seems more like building plans of attack in Battleship. Sure, the box might say, "For 8 years and up." I just didn't think people would take this directive so seriously.

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Anonymous said...

This is true- It seems that in order to have an ongoing relationship and to continue to appeal to your mate, you have to play games... trick them, using your time and energy not to show them how you feel, but to figure out how to keep your real feelings from being too obvious & apparent. I must say, I'm horrible at this game.

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