Our regular writer for the 8th, Nard Choi, is indisposed this month. Abby is filling in.
Remember those muggy summer camp nights around the fire, smoke in your eyes and a mosquito bite the size of Brazil forming on your friendship bracelet-clad ankle? Conversation ran wild when the fire illuminated faces just enough but not too much.
The half-light made it easy to share things you would never say in a classroom or sitting at the kitchen table. Common questions included “Who was your first crush?” or “Have you ever gotten a Valentine from a boy?” or “Would you rather have no friends for a year or be apart from your family for a year?” Games like “Never have I ever…” or “or “Date, Dump, Marry” or the classic “Truth or Dare?” touched on conversation topics that were often taboo but explored some of the things teenagers are most concerned with: love, friendship, acceptance, appearances….These games and questions were a chance to get to know others in way you wouldn’t otherwise, and a way to confirm that others thought about many of the same “off-limits” things you did. Were you normal? Did your thought process match up with that of your friends?
I’ll admit: I wasn’t a huge fan of summer camp. But I lived for those late-night conversations. They happened at sleepovers sometimes, too, and I listened with fascination every time. It’s like these games and hypothetical situations provided a scaffold for real, deep, meaningful conversation. They gave us a starting place and an excuse for asking about the things that really mattered. Through “Would you rather…,” we learned about what was really important to others. Through “Truth or Dare,” we could ask forbidden questions without the risk of alienating our friends.
Someone introduced me to a similar game (though I’m not sure that “game” is the right word for these things, it’s the best one I can come up with) last year. It’s called “Perfect Ten.” You get everyone in the room (one person or twenty, it doesn’t matter) to imagine their perfect match. This significant other is perfectly attractive, perfectly intelligent, and has the perfect personality. In other words, a perfect ten. But—there’s one flaw. The point of the game is to think of various shortcomings, and then get your conversations partners to accept or decline that otherwise perfect person.
Confused? Here are some of our favorite examples: Perfect Ten, but every time this person talks, a stream of bubbles comes out of his or her mouth. Perfect Ten, but everywhere he/she goes, there is a possum within ten feet. Perfect Ten, but has dated your sister. Perfect Ten, but is in a wheelchair. Perfect Ten, but has had a sex change.
The possibilities are endless. Some flaws are dealbreakers for everyone, but some provoke debate. I, for example, would have no problem with a boyfriend in a wheelchair, but my friend Josh couldn’t put up with it because he loves rock climbing and camping and hitchhiking across the country. Having a girlfriend in a wheelchair would present a major obstacle to many of those things.
My boyfriend and I have taken to “playing” this game several times a week. We delight in coming up with difficult situations, and I think I ultimately like the game because it gives me a new route of discussion. It’s easy to design a scenario that gets at the heart of something I’m curious about. And sometimes he surprises me. While writing this blog post, I posed this scene to him: Perfect Ten, but has killed someone. It was an accident, and no one found out.
I thought he might say “not an issue” right away. I didn’t think it would bother him that much. Turns out I wasn’t quite right. He had follow up questions—really thoughtful ones. “What was the accident?” “Can I be assured it was really an accident?” “Is there any emotional baggage this person carries with her?” These were things I hadn’t even considered, and they gave me a better picture of his sense of right and wrong.
At some point in every relationship we form, we’re forced to move deeper than surface level discussions of daily activities and movies we saw last week. It’s not always easy. That first personal question can be intimidating. Maybe you could give Perfect Ten a try. Heck, take a trip back to middle school and play “Truth or Dare.” You might be surprised by what you learn.
Abby Zwart (’13) teaches high school English in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She spends her free time making lists of books she should read, cooking, and managing the post calvin.