My sister Thea Mason and I discuss the significance of playing games and partner dancing in the development of healthy boundaries and relationship skills.
Anne: 00:02 Okay. Hi Thea.
Thea: 00:05 Hi Anne. It’s good to see you.
Anne: 00:11 And you. So, to introduce this conversation, we had a longer broader conversation about the societal fabric, women and men, feminism, children, parenting. In the last one, and we touched on a lot of different sub topics that I think we can flesh out a bit more, and this is one of them and, I’ll take my notes away so I’m not thinking about that. Um, so basically we were talking about this, we’re talking about the fact that the fabric, um, has broken down in relation to the dynamic between men and women in, in this society. And that’s a problem for many reasons. Um, not the least of which is the fact that the, the relationship and that balance between men and women is the foundation for the family, which is the foundation for the future.
Anne: 01:27 And in, in discussing this, you said something to me, which really hit me. Uh, I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about it so much before, but when you were talking about your work with Spatial Dynamics, um, you, you said flirting is play, that banter is play and that part of the problem here is that people don’t know how to play anymore. Right? And that really hit me and I thought, my God, that’s, that is it. So I want to discuss flirting as play and hand it over to you to––if you could say again more articulately than I can. You were talking about playing games, how critical that is and why. So.
Thea : 02:27 Okay. So, um, yeah, I have the privilege to do this work in a Waldorf School of teaching games and movement and sport and such things. And one of the different things that we do in a Waldorf school is we do not bring adultified sport to a first grader. We don’t bring, um, sports in such a way that it, uh, until it meets the development of the human being, which is generally, you know, we’re coming into it at fifth grade, really sixth grade when we come into black and white rules in a certain way and the way we need to form ourselves. And that’s what sports are. There’s black and white rules. So you win or you lose, you’re in or you’re out. It was good or it was bad. Um, and games are the opposite of that. And what we see in the broader culture is more and more and more, over––since we were children certainly––a stronger and stronger push towards earlier participation in sport, people, putting their children in organized sports. Um, and when I say that I want to qualify, that doesn’t mean there aren’t times where there’s an amazing parent or coach who runs a sport program for young children and does it artfully, healthily and well. That happens.
Thea: 03:57 But in general, when a young child comes into that sort of situation, it doesn’t really make sense to them, because what we want to do as children is play. We want to engage, we want to keep moving. We want to keep exploring. Um, the way we relate to the world, the way the world relates to us and the way we relate to one another. So that’s broad. And so what I see in the work I do with children is playing these games, which are tag games. These are old games that we played as kids. I have the most fond memories of playing ditch, uh, in the backfield behind her house with the few neighborhood kids that were there, which is a hide and seek tag game. And it was the best. We play it at dusk, you know, so there was a little bit of, um, danger, a little bit of fear, excitement, and, uh, and I, I can still feel that in myself today. Um, and to tie it in with our conversation today in flirting, I remember this boy in our neighborhood, you know. Being caught? Oooh! Boy. Was that fun.
Anne: 05:10 Me too.
Thea : 05:10 In a safe environment, but I was caught, you know, um, and how exhilarating that was. And so when our culture, our school culture, um, and our afterschool culture is not, um, allowing that space for those sorts of explorations to occur, we have these children that don’t know how to move in those spaces, um, respectfully with themselves and towards others. Now that’s a lot and it’s a big overview. So jump in wherever something isn’t quite clicking.
Anne: 05:50 Well, no, it’s all clicking to me, and I was there in your childhood. So, um, but if you could put into language, you had said something to me that really clicked, which was that playing games like that teaches children how to work and move dynamically within a group and be a part of the group, but at the same time maintaining their separateness. So…
Thea : 06:24 Okay. So yeah, so that’s, I think what I said was, playing games is the practice of making connections and remaining separate.
Thea : 06:37 And those words come from my teacher Jaimen McMillan, who founded Spacial Dynamics. And his work is vast and broad, but it is essentially about making connections. And what relationships are from my experience thus far is making connections. And where the really challenging part is, is remaining separate. Maintaining one’s individuality while merging with another. Right? So, you know, if that’s what games give us the capacity and the, the experience of developing that muscle, of being able to come in, fully engage, and still be oneself, that’s a pretty good map for how we engage with the world in relationship, really in all things. And that’s what I’m, you know, I’m continuing to work to figure out and do, but in games, that’s that experience. It also gives the experience of um, which I’m going to––Jaimen has also said this––that you know, what you see in today’s sport culture on TV, televised sports are a lot of people who never learned how to play. So when people don’t make it, they get really angry. Um, they throw a fit, they throw a tantrum, sort of like one would as a child throw a tantrum when they don’t get what they want or whatever. So it’s sort of like developmentally, these people, and maybe that’s even to go into, you know, uh, when, when someone is pursuing someone of the opposite sex and, or same sex or whatever sex, um, and they aren’t getting what they want, that there’s this tantrum and that’s where violence can occur. Right? ‘Cause hat’s, that’s, that’s a tantrum, that’s a fit. So, you know, not to simplify it totally, but there is, if one learns that you can play a game, you can get caught or not get caught, make the catch or not make the catch and you’re still okay. Then, if we learn that, we can carry that into every other situation.
Anne: 08:57 And I would also then say, ’cause this is a lot of what I’ve been thinking about this, again, flirting is play, flirting as play. You had said something like, you know, that banter, that flirtation, that’s what’s so fun, right? Now that is, uh, that’s being lost, right? For, for a variety of reasons. Not, not, you know, one of them is simply that men are afraid, uh, of being accused of something inappropriate at this point, right? I was, I was at Costco and, uh, and, and a man that was, uh, checking the receipt, um, you know, just, just, just playfully flirted with me in just a very lovely, benign way. And I thought, thank goodness! That doesn’t happen so much anymore between strangers, right? Maybe with people who know each other and feel safe, but just with strangers, it’s like, that’s just, that brings a smile to everyone’s face. Right? So, so I was thinking also, uh, as I had mentioned to you, oh, along the lines of, um, what play does as you’re explaining when you have to…I mean, there’s so much going on in a game and even even with a sport as well, right?
Thea : 10:25 Certainly.
Anne: 10:26 Um, but, but it’s even more organic when it’s, when it’s kids of their own volition organizing casually a game together and being only subject to each other’s roles rather than some arbiter’s rules. Right? So if the kids, if one kid gets a little too pushy, or one kid oversteps their boundaries, those other kids are going to hold them to it and let them know, right? There’s no way around that. And so, doing that kind of thing over and over develops a, a keen sense of unspoken language, you know, unspoken communication, um, boundaries, very much boundaries, right? Because if you can’t be in the game, like in the old days, like when you were talking about when we were kids, and we were left to our own devices playing out in the creek for hours with the neighborhood kids, uh, there were no parents to go and complain to if one kid didn’t do this right or wrong. So they had to figure it out. And that seems to me what is lost.
Thea: 11:38 That’s one of the things that’s lost, you know, I would say, and I think that comes down to––so hopefully I can catch everything, what you said, you know, the, the invaluable experience of forming the meaningful rules within the group as to the particular game, which can vary depending on location, right? Like things are going to shift because of location and environment. You’re going to have different rules, different boundaries, different whatever. So there’s so much varied learning in that, there’s so much cooperative working in that. So even though it’s casual in that it’s not coming from an external force to give the rules and the form, it’s not taken lightly. Right? It’s SERIOUS business and um, you know, uh, and the other thing that I wanted to say was what, what comes of that, when they’re holding each other to these agreed upon rules of some sort––knowing when, so here’s the other part, what kids will know and do this really well, is, they’ll make these rules, but you know, if there’s one child that can’t run so well or has some hardship of sorts, it might even be that they’re very emotional or they, whatever that could be. The group knows that. So they might adjust those rules in the way they work with that child without it even being spoken. Right? They’re not going to expect the same of this person today or whatever it is. There’s, there’s much more intelligent sensitivity to what’s going on and it’s not arbitrary. So it’s not this general rule from the outside, which is going to be applied to everybody, but it’s okay. So that’s part of it too. Like the nuance, the subtlety and the nuance. And I took it a little further out, but the other part was what they learn is WHEN is it important to step up and hold someone accountable to it? Cause it’s not going to be the same for each participant. Right? So that was the other part that I feel like is really key because with, even then if we take that into a flirtatious banter, it’s going to be different with different people, right?
Anne: 14:11 Or, or with the same person, different days, different environments, different moods. And so it’s critical for both parties. But I’m thinking, of course for the man in this situation, to know when to really sense when he can push it a little bit and when he shouldn’t. Because as, as we’ve discussed, I don’t want a man to ask me if he can kiss me. I mean come on. I want a man kiss to me when the time when that time is right. And I want man who can take the risk of rejection as well. But a man who is in possession enough of himself and connected enough to me to read me. So that speaks to what you’re saying. Like it’s like when to, cause there are times,, there is a time for everything and there is a time to, to push it a little bit as well so that it drives things forward.
Thea: 15:23 Right.
Anne: 15:23 And if we are governed by arbitrary rules coming in from all sides, whether it be a child’s game, which adults are facilitating and leading. Or a society, uh, governed by, you know, either regulations that have been put in place officially or unofficial regulations based on a trend in society for people to accuse people of being inappropriate, whatever it is, right? Then that just kills it, kills the light, kills the development moving forward. And what’s the point? Kind of. It’s no fun anymore. It’s no fun if you have to do that. And as we both know, uh, and me probably more because I have always, you know, came at it headier, right? And I was the, I had kids after you, so I had to learn my own lesson, but you know, making the rules right? And one of my kids is very into rules, and justice. And fairness, right? And so, okay, this situation, okay, this came up. What’s the rule now going forward, this situation, what’s real going forward? Well, you keep adding these rules together and it just, you get lost up your own… Right? To the point that I am like, you know what? Forget it. No more rules. The only rule in this house is common courtesy, so figure it out. You know? So, so, okay. So in order to keep this short, and I’m now realizing we didn’t set an alarm and we had started our meeting before we started recording. I’m not sure where we’re at with it, but let’s…
Thea: 17:13 10 minutes maybe.
Anne: 17:15 Okay. That’s what I’m thinking. So, uh, let’s relate it to what I also realized ’cause you’ve just recently had some experience with this too, in observing this, but. DANCE.
Thea: 17:28 Heck yeah!
Anne: 17:31 Dance. Right. Dance is play. Dance is play, also for the grownups, right? I mean, thinking back to, you know, generations before us, dance was such a part of every social event between men and women. The dance, the dance, because it is ultimately…
Thea: 17:53 A mating dance.
Anne: 17:56 It is the mating dance, right? So we don’t have that kind of…I mean, it, it’s here, it exists, but it’s not, it’s not such a, uh, a given anymore. You have to really seek that out. And now realizing how critical it is for young people to uh be formally taught together to dance as a couple. Because, gosh, you know, yes, the, the man leads, right? The man learns to lead…
Thea: 18:26 In most dances. Right?
Anne: 18:26 Okay. There you go. In most dances. But also to have, even in leading, to have this equal exchange of energy between these two people, but also function as one organism moving through space, right? It’s beautiful. And so, yeah. So, okay. Do you want to say something?
Thea: 18:51 So, well, I was going to say, and with dance, what’s so beautiful about that is it’s taken the informal play of childhood, and it’s given it a structure so that each person gets to step into an organized, already established structure, which allows them the freedom to meet that person. And you know, I’ve done only a little dance and I don’t go out too much with my life. But when I do, what I am always struck with is the real sincere joy it is to dance with different partners, to be able to step into those spaces with them and have that, that spark. Or not. Of appreciation for the other. And then to leave and go dance with someone else. And then it’s, it’s, I mean, and that’s what social dances give and provide. Right? So, especially in so many social dances, you are changing partners throughout the dance and you may come back to your original partner, or you may not, but you have the freedom to just touch in with others. So that’s the exercise and connecting and remaining separate too. So I mean, dance. And all I was going to say in the leading that has been a journey for me and this experience of stepping into dancing with people is, I can follow really well if I am being led well.
Anne: 20:16 Exactly! Otherwise you end up leading, right? Me too!
Thea: 20:19 Otherwise I end up leading. Or there’s the confusion of who is leading, and so that’s an art form in itself. And something, um, just talking with my son who’s now at school and they––fortunate, to all things––being able to be at a school where they’re actually using these ideas and putting it into place in terms of building a social community on the campus. And so in the dance that they’re doing, they were doing swing dance. And swing is so fun because there is the exchange of who leads who, even the way they’re holding hands, it’s, you know, it, it moves, it changes. It has so much fluidity to it and there’s a real, um, exchange of communication, you know, of how, who is leading right now. Who isn’t. Who’s following. So being able to exercise both of those and know what you’re doing when you’re doing it. I mean, that’s pretty exciting too, so.
Anne: 21:18 Absolutely. Yeah. Um, so, and what strikes me, sorry, I got distracted looking at the time because now all of a sudden it seems like… I have no idea how much time it’s been. We’ll kind of bring it to a close. Um, it strikes me that in that environment of the dance, a space that has been designated that evening or whatever it is that day for a dance to happen with this group of men and group of women to come together, first off you talked about, uh, trying out different partners in a way that. Number one, that takes the pressure off of any one person to be everything to each one. So it kind of keeps it a little lighter. Number two, it is a safe space to practice this mating ritual, right? You are touching. There is romance too. There’s music. But it’s um, again it’s, it’s out in the open.
Thea: 22:28 Objective. It has an objectivity to it I think.
Anne: 22:32 Yes, yes it does. And so if, if kids, young men and young women, and now I guess I’m coming to my suggestion as, as a solution, right? If adults can practice that more than we do already in that objective, in that safe space, they will be better equipped to manage situations that come up in the subjective or more private space and more intimate space between men and women.
Thea: 23:11 ‘Cause can I, that just sparks a quick thought in that. Because what, what is what we’re challenged with right now, it seems like, is people having unclear sense of their own boundaries. Because if we, I mean, this word boundaries is used a lot, but, but in terms of what’s my space and what’s your space, and so if I’m clear about where mine is and when, where yours begins, I can know if something’s really coming into that space and if it’s not receiving my push out. Does that make sense? Yeah. So if people are not clear about where their space is and everything’s coming all the way in, then boy, I’m going to feel victimized.
Anne: 23:58 Yes.
Thea: 23:58 A lot. Right. So, so that’s that, that exercise that, you know, we all have is to find––what is our space that we live in and where do we want to choose to engage with others in that. And that’s what games teach us. Can teach.
Anne: 24:15 There you go. Um, I think I’m going to wrap it up because I think I’ve got some people coming through the door.
Thea: 24:24 Absolutely. Perfect.
Anne: 24:26 Um, so thank you, Thea. That was great. And we’ll let, we’ll do this again soon.
Thea: 24:32 All right. We’ll play again.
Anne: 24:34 We’ll, we’ll play again.
Thea: 24:36 I felt like Mom (laugh).
Anne: 24:36 And, and discover, hang on just a sec. Okay?
Thea: 24:39 Yup.