Letter's from Esther #20: Play

By Esther Perel & Mary Alice Miller

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Shall We Begin?

Play is the infinite testing ground for creativity. 

As a child, I created entire universes for play. In front of my mother’s bedroom mirror—and using a big chest of costumes—I played Hit Parade and Eurovision. I was the presenter, all of the singers, the judges, and the audience. And boy, did I clap for myself. On my brother’s guitar, I played the same three chords over and over, inventing songs for hours on end. In the real world, I spent a lot of time alone. But in my play world, I was never lonely. How could I be? My reflection in the mirror wasn’t me. It was the many characters who comprised my ever-evolving personal theater. 

At around ten years old, my personal theater underwent a crucial evolution when I began to read the photo romance books my mother kept next to the counter at our shop. You know the ones—with the hulky man and petite woman embracing on the cover. It was my first indoctrination into adult love and its agonies. I devoured every page of soap operatic intrigue. The big wall in the back of our house, which had long been my only tennis partner, became an entire tennis club where love affairs rocked the tight-knit imaginary community. I was the owner, the instructors, and the players. I was the scorned woman, her cheating husband, and her new lover. Is it any wonder that, before I became a psychotherapist, I spent years as a puppeteer? Writing and performing plays, and making costumes for marionettes was the next frontier in my boundaryless world. Play opened up worlds that were far removed from me and identities I wanted to try. Play allowed me, as it does for all of us, to transcend the boundaries of family life and the restrictions imposed by society. 

I remember being told that there is a field of study called psychodrama. I imagine most people who make a career out of their passion are floored to learn that the way they play—how the world transforms with their imagination’s magic wand—is a skill that can be cultivated. It can be a tool that can help in healing. The way we play can become our life’s work. When I learned this, there was no going back. I went to Jerusalem and then to Boston to study psychodrama. I earned a Masters Degree in Expressive Arts Therapy. And as a psychotherapist now, role playing is one of my most-utilized therapeutic tools. When we enter the role of another, especially someone whose perspective challenges us, we get closer to understanding one another.

Play, in general, is about problem solving. It provides space to test new solutions. When kids play, they're exploring the world. They're looking at what works and what doesn't without having to be practical. It involves physical, cognitive, and emotional development, but it is intimately and intricately connected with creativity, daring, boldness, and risk-taking. The importance of play doesn’t end when childhood ends. Sure, we can engage in play as adults because it’s healthy, because it releases endorphins, and so on. But that’s kind of like saying that one should have sex because it burns calories. Just like sex, playing as adults is about pleasure, connection, creativity, fantasy—all the juicy parts of life we savor. Play is the pleasure of being inventive, mischievous, imaginative, and trying something new. Why do we play? Because it helps us grow—and because it’s fun. 

Let’s Turn the Lens on You

Ask yourself, then ask your loved ones.

  • What are your images and associations with the world “play”?
  • As a child, what was your favorite way to play?
  • Is play a part of your adult life? If so, how?
  • What’s one thing you’d like to change about your relationship to play?
  • Are you a good loser or a sore loser?
  • When is the last time you had a great belly laugh?
  • If you created a new game, what would it be? Start writing the instructions.

More From Esther

Rituals For Healthy Relationships At Every Stage / a blog article
Routines and rituals have a lot in common, but what makes them different is the key to elevating our relationships.
Bringing Home the Erotic: 5 Ways to Create Meaningful Connections with Your Partner a blog article
Couples who are plagued by sexual boredom would be well to explore the hidden fantasies and desires that turn them on.
How Erotic Thinking Helps Emotional Connection a blog article
No matter how effective our routines have been in helping us through the last year, if they’re not filled with creativity, they inevitably leave us numb. 

Conversation Starters

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