We arrived at the South County Trail early on a mild July morning, before families and serious athletes cluttered up the bike path. The humidity had broken, the sky was cloudless, and we knew that sharing this Sunday morning’s outing would set us both up for the day. It would be fun. Sharing fun always reminds us of the reasons why we had managed to put our lives together more than twenty years ago, in spite of an ocean separating us physically and other challenges of our complicated lives. Our entire two-year courtship included many moments of fun together, and we have made it a point to find fun as we and our lives have evolved.
A high level of positive feelings, in an ideal ratio of 5 to 1 positive over negative ones, is the cornerstone of happy long-term marriages, according to the research of Gottman and his colleagues. “Having fun” is one of our richest sources of positive affect, although certainly not the only one. Each of the many ways of “having fun together” listed below could be a blog post of its own (and likely will be one day), but now I want to examine the big picture. Another post-to-come will address the importance to our relationships of being able to have fun without the loved one, whether because he or she is unavailable, not interested, or does not get the same kick out of or nourishment from the activity that you receive from it.
What are some ways in which people have “fun” together?
- Sex. As Rosanne Freak-Poli and her colleagues have shown, couples who embrace romantic love find sex a source of fun and good feelings well into their later years. Personalized to the tastes of the participants, sex jolts the brain into a dopamine high. With oxytocin for good measure, the positive feelings linger beyond the act itself. Indeed, when sex is no longer fun, barring a medical or other clear reason for the shift, couples do well to examine why. If there is a good reason, as Freak-Poli points out, “physical tenderness” can be a reasonable substitute.
- Spending money. Summer weekends may see more people at stores than swimming pools. Shopping, the second great adult privilege, along with sex, can indeed be “fun”. You get to earn money — and you get to spend it! Doing it with someone you love can be a great source of pleasure as long as you are on the same page about when, where and what won’t cause damage to your resources.
- Learning. A personal favorite, learning together can be the source of infinite “fun”. As examples, my husband and I have taken a Yale Alumni course on Appreciating Opera Live in HD, used the internet to discover the local bike path system, and begun to master Windows 10.
- Games and puzzles. Monopoly, Scrabble and bridge may now exist in electronic forms that can be played alone or with unknown others, but most of us still enjoy the combination of chance and competition that playing games or solving puzzles in a face-to-face collaboration can offer.
- Creating. Inhibitions slip away as people become immersed in creating something new together. Creating can be fun, sensory experiences associated with creating can bring pleasure, and the utility of an end product — perhaps a meal, an enhanced living space, a song — brings additional rewards. Making something new or transforming something old is fun. There are reasons that craft stores are thriving and hardware stores are nicknamed “toy stores for grownups”.
- Food. One of life’s necessities can also be one of its greatest sources of fun. Whether planting and harvesting fruits and vegetables, seeing what’s new at the market, trying an appealing recipe, putting together an old one, or selecting a restaurant with the perfect menu, price range and ambiance, food can be a source of fun.
Movement. All people have some sort of movement that represents fun for them. Whether walking, dancing or running; swimming or sailing; or any of the many ways in which we can move, getting our often too-sedentary bodies in gear can become fun. Attitude and physical capacity make the difference between drudgery and delight.
- Entertainment. Whatever your favorite medium, entertainment opportunities abound in modern culture. We can watch a hilarious comedy routine on our screens or seek out a favorite musical group appearing near our home. We can view television, movies, stage shows, or Cirque du Soleil. We can take ourselves to baseball, tennis or hockey matches, or to the races. We can find our local middle school play as much fun as a Broadway musical.
- Performing together. A notch more active than consuming, we can choose to perform for fun. Join a band. Make scenery for the community theater play. Give a talk rather than going to one. Find complementary roles to fill for the same performance activity.
- Competing. Many people find competition fun, playing on the same side as their loved one or on the other side. Whether on the golf course or at the bridge table, matching skills or wits against another (or others) can be a source of pleasure and satisfaction, although individual differences make competition one person’s cup of tea and another person’s nightmare. Disagreement about the pleasure of competition can create an obstacle to be dealt with if the objective is to have fun together — but it can be addressed. For example, my husband likes to track his speed and mileage on his bike and better his latest performance. While he competes against himself I attend to the squirrels crossing the path and the feel of the wind in my hair.
- Being still. Some people find stillness their ultimate “fun”, the pleasure of watching the mind as it quiets and contorts, bringing fascination and peace. Others flee from quiet, a distraction from their way of achieving a meditative state by finding “flow” in activities. But for me, along with my husband, visiting meditation centers has offered us one of the most reliably “fun” experiences across the past two decades. Although our meditation practices are unique, sharing the activity itself at the same time in the same place yields a particular joy, even when we are practicing in silence.
- Relating and socializing as a couple can be fun. Some people find being with others fun, while those of a more introverted bent find it challenging. Know the size of your perfect party and the spacing of engagements, so that you can both enjoy them together.
- Contributing to others. Yet another source of “fun” that can be pursued with someone you love is making a difference in the lives of others. Volunteering actions that improve the world in some way can be a great source of fun for people who value what they can bring to the world. Serve a holiday dinner at a community center, work at a pet shelter, sign up for “A Day of Service”, read to young children whose kindergartens are overcrowded. I constantly meet couples who volunteer together for the American Red Cross. Possibilities are endless.
How can having fun together show love?
- Each person defines “fun” uniquely and recognizing that uniqueness forces two people to transcend their differences. Wanting to understand a partner’s experience acknowledges individuality, along with a desire to find common ground. It encourages the development of a process for decision-making affecting a most precious resource, our “free” time.
- People need both separate and shared fun time. Wants and perhaps needs that cannot be met within a dyad are acknowledged and addressed, while the value of “fun” is embraced and attempts to find ways to share it become a priority.
- Coordination and synchronization are necessary. In today’s complex world, time often needs to be earmarked if not for a particular activity, then at least for time to be together. Two people (or more) need to define what feels like fun to each of them and then honor the natural intersections of experiences they both consider fun. We can explore possible crossovers in the same shared experience or activity so that each finds his or her own form of fun, learning from each other, expanding our repertoires of ways to have fun.
Why does fun show love?
- Positive affect is the glue that keeps us coming back for more.
- Understanding individual differences — both in preference and in motivation — signals respect. Acknowledging what we can bring to each other deepens appreciation.
How did you define “fun” when you were a child? A teenager? A young adult? The age you are now? How does your partner define “fun”? What do you do to have fun together? What would you like to do less of — or more of — with him or her? How can you have conversations that help you get on the same page about what you want to enjoy in your lives?
Copyright 1917 Roni Beth Tower
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