A smile crept past my face early in the morning one day last week as I spotted his new hiding spot. “He” being a toy chameleon who found his way into our home through a now forgotten joke. My husband and I have spent the last couple of years hiding this chameleon around our home in curious places, all for the purpose of laughter (or a bare minimum smirk). As I spotted him hanging on the hand towel that day I realised the one thing that has always helped us come back from the brink of meltdown; play.
I don’t think we should ever grow out of playing. As kids it helps us develop our identity, and our place within the world. In the animal kingdom it helps develop hunting skills, and is also a way for animals to connect with each other and learn important social skills. And anyone who has ever had a dog will know it takes a lot to take the puppy out of a dog. So why should we suddenly hit a certain age and give up the art of play? Truly, I think the most important part of good relationships comes down to the joy of play. Life is so serious, and can be so hard at times. We need purely innocent ways to just blow off steam and let each other know that there is still joy inside.
Laughter can cure so many ills, and can break down walls in communication like nothing else. My husband, bless his cotton socks, can become hyper-focused or overly serious about things that probably don’t need quite that much attention. I have a (therapist approved) habit of shattering the seriousness through playful responses, either with silly names, funny faces, or embarrassingly cutesy actions that remind him the world isn’t quite so bad. We generally agree that, personality wise, he is a dog and I am a cat. So when he is getting too worked up over something that he needs to drop… yeah I start barking or making sooky dog noises (dog lovers, you know the noises I mean – that “owwwowoooowwwww” almost howl noise). Yeah, it sounds nuts, but man does it stop him in his tracks and make him realise that perhaps he’s being a little too serious. I only do it when necessary though, and it almost always results in laughter on both parts.
We’ve had many “cat and dog” fights, pretending to cat swipe each other, and just general silliness. There’s something in it that allows us to know that maybe, just maybe, life isn’t so scary after all. Of course, when there are tears we hold each other and console each other. When there are disagreements and breakdowns in communication we fight… like cats and dogs… BUT once we work through it one of the most important traditions is that we slip back into silliness. We play, we hide the chameleon, we pretend my lifelong teddybear is fiercely protective of me, and we make silly voices for our pets.
Outside of my marriage, I think of my friends and how together we too share in the art of play. My oldest friend and I can flick between serious D&Ms and ridiculousness in the same breath. We’ve been able to balance all the horrible stuff, with all the joyous parts of life that makes it worth living. We weren’t built to be serious all the time, I’m certain of it. I think of the group chat I have with some friends and how easily we flick between rage at the injustice of the world, and absurdity. We acknowledge the hard parts, and we also celebrate the hilarity of the world. We throw costume parties, and we play games, and we laugh and we live to see another day.
When was the last time something made you laugh so hard you were snorting, crying, rolling around on the floor, unable to breathe? If you haven’t done that in a while, I strongly suggest finding someone who can make that happen for you. As someone who has lived through the heavy weight of mental illness, I’m telling you if I was no longer allowed to play and be ridiculous I would surely cease to live. I can tell you now, if one person is out there reading this and sees me say “iiiif you’re aching, yup yup, fooooor some bacon…” I can guarantee she is sitting there with her little girls having a giggle at the memories of the two of us locked in the filing room aged 19 wreaking havoc and causing our manager a headache, and living life to it’s fullest. We’ve fought and made up over the years, and through all the distance and silence all we need is to remind each other of that day and we know that we’re ok, no matter what is going on in our lives.
So, I encourage you to reflect on a ritual you have with your partner, your friends, your workmates, and encourage the lightness of play. If you don’t have a little ritual, start one. It could be just what you need to bring the light back in a relationship, romantic or otherwise. Mocking the seriousness of life is what is going to make the darkness recede and strengthen you in a way that being angry or permanently serious never can. I may be a stoic, and a bit of a grump, but throughout my life I have always been known for my laugh (for better or worse I imagine!). Be silly, be carefree, and remember – we’re all human, we were all children once, and how happy do kids look when they’re rolling around on the floor laughing their hearts out.