“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” -George Bernard Shaw
Most of us take ourselves way too seriously, especially when it comes to our relationships. The more our heart is bared and the deeper we grow in our commitments, the more we have riding on the outcome. Ironically, instead of helping us to lighten up, our most intimate relationships often push us in the opposite direction of re-thinking every comment and misinterpreting unintended meanings. This is the slippery slope that too many intimate relationships often slide down, often without seeing the downward spiral until they hit bottom. At this point, no one is having fun anymore. Intentionally adding playfulness and laughter to your partnership is such a seemingly simple fix that most people doubt its efficacy.
Laughing together is one of the stickiest glues a relationship can generate. Humor and levity are natural stress eliminators. Both open doors to long-term feelings of pleasure and contentment. Although I have never been one of those lucky quick-witted people who seem to generate humor everywhere around them, I have learned that many times just looking for fun can get you through the door. My children have been my best teachers in the humor department. Kids operate from play and thrive on laughter. Just go to a park and watch kids play. We all have a vestige of a child in us who wants to play.
At its source, playfulness is a bi-product of being fully present. Bringing our full presence to any moment is where we can experience life spontaneously. And spontaneity is one of the main engines of play. It happens when we lose our propensity for judging the mishaps and the details of life. When we aren’t reacting to the details, life surprises you. Becoming more playful can be as simple as a shift in view- celebrating the ridiculous instead of getting mired in the annoying. Treating our own frailties to a little fun is where grace steps in to replace these as ready sources of shame or alienation.
Many wrongly think of play as a frivolous waste of time, when in actuality, playing creates new neural activity. Many studies show that it is during play where the greatest education occurs, which is why many of the most well-known scientists and spiritual leaders extol play as the source of their genius.
Shared humor is very different from sarcastic humor, which takes someone hostage. If one of you ends up feeling badly at the expense of someone’s joke, it isn’t funny. When playfulness is one-sided rather than mutual it is damaging to the relationship and undermines the trust you worked so hard to build. Just as no one wants to be the brunt of another’s hurtful joke, using humor to cover up other emotions that deserve a voice, backfires. Anger, fear and hurt feelings cannot be joked away. Instead they linger and slowly transform unexpressed emotions into the distance that keeps us apart. Don’t confuse these behaviors for playfulness; real play is always heart opening.
Playfulness in the bedroom can ignite a whole new level of intimacy in a partnership. In fact, the ability to play together sexually is the divine spark of passion. Similar to dancing like no one is watching, spontaneous sexual play is the opposite of a sexual rut. Experimenting with costumes, positions, toys and scents is a veritable playground of sensations and laughs. Playing sexually automatically locks the door on any tendencies of judging yourself or your partner. When we play we are free and having fun, all the magical elements required for sexual pleasure. Playing transports us beyond our fears, expectations and performance anxiety because when we play we are fully present.
Commit to adding laughter and play to your relationship. Witness a dog romping in the park or kids chasing each other. Watch ten minutes of Comedy Central or a movie you used to love as a child. Laugh at food choices gone wrong or mismatched socks eaten by the dryer. Lean towards playful humor and it will find you and add years to your loving relationships.