Playing for Keeps.

Our time is our most precious currency. We must be sure to spend it on the right people.

Playing for Keeps.

“Commitment. Someone who’ll go the distance. I need somebody with staying power who’ll make me go weak in the knees. Commitment. And everything that goes with it. I need honor and love in my life from somebody who’s playing for keeps –LeAnn Rimes.

As a social scientist, I employ social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Tiktok to read the cultural contours of our society.  Several months ago, I ran across a lovely actress on Tiktok.  After viewing a few of her videos, I deduced that she had suffered a romantic betrayal.  With exceptional creativity, the lady had cathartically Tiktoked her way through her varying emotions.  I watched for months, a bystander to her pain.  I commented along the way.  I made jokes.  I flirted.  And I generally encouraged her way forward through her dark days.  Her skills as an actress delivered stunningly authentic videos.  Many viewers failed to distinguish her acting from a more visceral and distressing immediacy.  Their genuine concern appeared as comments on her video’s page.  I understood her healing process.  Even so, I found myself overwhelmed by her emotion on several occasions.

My lightbulb moment came after one of her more recent Tiktoks.  I will describe her video in broad brush terms to protect her anonymity.  The scene starts with a headshot of her pretty face filled with emotional anguish and captioned with, “this is what I am looking for.” Ten richly colored photographs exploded on the screen one after another, filled with different couples traveling and experiencing epic joy, friendship, and passion.  Their bodies touch in the unmistakable dance of romantic love.  Her Tiktok encapsulated her vision for a future relationship bursting with insanely fun moments, travel, embraces that last forever, and unending tenderness.  She knew exactly what she wanted her future self to enjoy.  Her video’s imagery was so clear and concise as to be used as a litmus test for aspiring suitors.

Not that she asked, but I would recommend keeping the video handy.  Very early in the dating process, she should whip out the video and ask, “can you give me this?” If the gentleman bulks, she has her answer.  He is not a serious contender.  He is not playing for keeps; no need for her to waste more time.

A noted motivational speaker said he could give us the meaning of life in five words.  “Enjoying the passage of time.” I am a fan of his answer, but I am not a convert—I regularly askew goal fixation for “falling in love” with the process.  I attempt to have fun under duress and in the worst possible situations.  My challenge with being process-only driven is that goals matter as they define our process choices.  In my Tiktoker’s case, the initial stages of dating have become a frustrating vetting process.  The second stage of dating comes with the realization that they are the real deal—shifting the exercise to forming a lasting bond.  Time spent in the vetting process is not enjoyable.  And many ladies lack boundaries and clarity of vision to produce a Tiktok of what they want and use it to vet the men in their lives.  Their boundary lines blur in a hopeful “he or she could be the one” haze.  And then they get hurt again.  Not only do they re-experience the pain of failure or betrayal or both, but they are wasting precious time.

Time is the singular resource. If invested correctly, it can produce a good, if not great, life. To go from where we are to where we want to be, we must spend time planning, preparing, and training for the journey. We must be meticulous in the small details. To properly invest our time in the direction of our future selves, we will need to muster up all our powers of persistence to stay on task no matter the obstacles or distractions. I realize how unsexy I am making this process sound. Let me ask you a question. Have you experienced a sexy heartbreak? I didn’t think so.

My son Kendall is on the path to joining the US Army’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) as a parachute rigger. As someone who has experienced a parachute malfunction, I emphasized the importance of being detail-oriented to my son. Lives will depend on his meticulous planning, preparation, and training. Plus, he will jump with his rigging. He is playing for keeps as a rigger.

The phrase “playing for keeps” likely comes from the childhood game of marbles. Players draw a circle on the ground with marbles and then put some marbles inside.  Afterward, they take turns trying to knock the marbles out of the circle by flicking their own marbles at them.  If they successfully knock a marble out, they might get to keep it if they win.  At the beginning of a game, players can decide if they are “playing for keeps” or not. Another phrase from the competition is “playing for all the marbles.”

In the late stages of the Cold War, I worked for US Army in West Germany. I marveled at the risks I shrugged off, highly confident in my planning, preparation, and training. One in-country briefing sticks in my head. I was told point-blank not to screw up because the United States was not going to war over me. I would rot in a Soviet prison if I failed. I was a twenty-something playing for keeps and risking all my marbles. I wholeheartedly believe in my adaptability, preparation, training, and persistence in facing daunting uncertainty. With that mindset, I have succeeded beyond my wildest expectations and failed so miserably that I embarrassed myself. It happens. I pick myself up, and I improvise, adapt, and overcome.

There are no redos in life. No mulligans. We can only move forward into uncertainty. No guarantees. However, we can envision our future like my lady Tiktoker and earnestly move in that direction. The challenge before the lovely actress is her last attempt to grasp her vision failed severely. The pain of that mistake continues to echo in her head and heart.  Learning to take rejection as redirection is challenging but necessary.

However, the real challenge for relationships is our working definition of love. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, love is a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties. Or an attraction based on sexual desire: affection and tenderness felt by lovers. This ridiculously opaque definition does not seem to encapsulate the essence of what we are trying to achieve when we drop the “L” bomb. What does "I love you" mean to you?

Let me offer a better definition of love in the graphic below as a place to begin a discussion or debate about the gravity of the word and our loyality to our relationship bonds. I have looked at love from the standpoint of “an evolution" of the dictionary's definition of strong affection from friendship to a romantic partnership. I fully appreciate that most relationships are not romantic but platonic, but all relationships begin with a basic “why” of strong affection.

Offering the word “love” to a friend should be saturated with the first three ideas. Using “love” with a potential romantic partner should contain all five. Redefining “I love you,” undergirded with the 5-points of evolution above, transforms a feel-good, opaque phrase into a term of gravitas and weight.

Saying a redefined “I love you” does not suggest everything will work out or people won’t hurt or disappoint us. Words can’t offer guarantees. But it does mean we have a good set of expectations attached to the phrase, and offering an “I love you” does proffer that the person understands that they should be playing for keeps.

Until next time. Travel safe.