A long-distance relationship they thought was doomed was breathed new life. The cure? A classic kids’ game that keeps their marriage juicy nine years later.
If we had been in the third grade, and the note had to be passed back four desks before reaching mine, the note might have read like this:
Boy: Do you like me? Circle YES NO or MAYBE
And I would have circled YES and passed the note back up four desks to my future husband’s desk.
But since we were in our early thirties when we met, and the “note” was being passed over an email server on the Internet, it looked more like this:
Future Husband: What’s your favorite position? Why does it work for you? Details please.
(My apologies, dear reader, you don’t get to know the details, but I’m really glad my husband does).
The rules of the game were simple:
- We could ask each other anything
- We had to answer all questions, including our own
- We had to be completely honest
This game of “Pass the Note” was more than just a way to play, flirt, and get to know each other in the beginning of our long-distance love affair. It was the foundation for good communication, intimacy, and an in-touch sex life that has lasted nine amazing years together so far.
When my husband and I met, it was as close to love at first sight as I think exists. The chemistry and connection between us was like lava: hot, fluid, and much heavier than expected. In fact, it was so hot and heavy we didn’t know what to do with it.
Neither of us were in a position for a serious relationship—I had just returned to UCLA to finish my degree in American literature, and my then-future husband, who was freshly divorced, had just moved into his campervan to live the outdoor bachelor life. Given the disparity in our goals and lifestyle, we both assumed from the beginning that we had no future together. Yet, despite how seemingly wrong we were for each other, the attraction between us made it impossible to yield to such a trivial concern. Who needs tomorrow when today is so damn good, right?
Ironically, this doomed approach allowed us to be more fearless in Pass the Note. We figured we had nothing to lose anyway, so we might as well bare it all. And, boy, did we.
We asked questions that you would never want to answer—and remember, we had to answer our own questions, too.
What’s your biggest regret?
What’s the most shameful thing you’ve ever done?
What was the most embarrassing moment of your life?
What do you hate about me?
You’re probably wondering why you’d ever want to sign up for this geeky brand of torture, but I can assure you that there was something incredibly cathartic about metaphorically disrobing in stark light. It was the same kind of relief and satisfaction you might get after pulling out a painful splinter or a rotten tooth. Rather than meticulously presenting ourselves in hopes that the other would fall in love with our constructed ‘profile,’ question by question, obsessively hitting send and receive, we stripped away all illusions and said, here I am: flawed, brave, tender, open, and beautiful.
Of course, email made this easier. Given the electronic, non face-to-face, medium of the conversation, we had the opportunity to take our time and be our best selves in answering questions. Instead of being defensive or evasive, we were able to confront these questions and answers with compassion and grace.
For example, when the question of how many people I’d slept with finally arrived in my inbox, I audibly gasped.
First of all, I had no idea what the number was, but I was sure it was more than it was supposed to be. Plus, I was mad that I was so rattled by the question. I mean, who cares? I thought. I’m thirty years old. I’ve never been married. I like sex. On and on, I kept justifying my number to myself until the internal monologue stopped and I was left with only a number, no more no less.
Would I be a better person if the number were lower? No, “my number” bears no relevance to my character. But the beauty of Pass the Note is that I went through that process in private before I responded.
I wrote back the next day with the strength to be honest. I was open and composed. I admitted that the question had scared me, and then I answered it without explanations or justifications. He wrote back shortly after with his number, which was notably lower. We discussed how the numbers made us feel, and why. He explained that guys are fearful of being less experienced than their partner, and I explained that women are fearful of being branded either frigid or a whore, which, silly as it may be, tends to make both sexes lie about their number.
In result, something happened that we never expected: we fell in love with the strength it took to reveal these vulnerabilities and the empathy offered to understand them. We fell in love with the whole of each other, not just the pretty parts, but everything—the whole shit and shebang.
For me, the most valuable gift from the game was the trust it instilled in my fearful heart. When my husband tells me he loves me, I know I can trust him. I know he loves me for me, and not the package I sold.
Many people think that if they reveal their scariest secrets and most tender parts that they’ll turn their lovers off, but that’s just not true. Maybe you’ll scare off the immature douche bags that aren’t looking for real intimacy anyway, but that’s a blessing, not a pitfall. The truth is, the byproduct of intimacy is passion. As we inched closer and closer through cyberspace, one email at a time, we couldn’t wait until the next time we got our hands on each other.
Granted, between the harrowing questions, we broke it up by asking sexy questions that for all intents and purposes, were intense foreplay for what almost always resulted in phone sex. If we had been face-to-face, we would have been way too shy and embarrassed to ask such downright kinky questions, but through email, it felt safer. We learned what turned each other on, what felt good and what didn’t, what our fantasies were, and what we wanted to try next.
We could also ask strategic questions to gauge where the other’s heart was at in this knee-wobbling business of falling in love. My husband, particularly, used humor to broach the subject of ‘feelings.’
I would frequently receive questions like:
Who would you save first if both Kiki [my dog] and me were hanging off a cliff?
If both Kiki and me needed a kidney transplant, who would you give yours to?
Or my personal favorite:
What if my penis fell off in a tragic water-skiing accident? Would you still want to be with me?
And, of course, we asked political, spiritual, and even simple “what’s your favorite flower?” kind of questions. Our responses revealed our passions and fears, how we processed the world and saw ourselves in it, and what we saw as our responsibility towards other humans and the planet. We learned how to joke and play and tease around these big questions that ultimately matter most when deciding whether or not you want to spend the rest of your life with someone.
From the archives — Pass the Note. Friday, April 07, 2006 8:10 PM
Future Husband: Are we playing Pass the Note at 8pm on a Friday night? Looosssseeerrrrsssss. At least we have each other.
Stevie: I’m more than happy to play pass the note on a Friday night. Matter of fact, I prefer it.
Future Husband: Okay, here we are, two Friday night losers.
Stevie: I’m on restriction. What’s your excuse?
Future Husband: I had friends in band camp once, but they all go to different schools, so, I don’t really have anyone to hang out with, so, yeah….
Stevie: Wanna sneak out, smoke pot and have sex?
Future Husband: I’m not allowed to smoke. By sex, you mean like with you and me? Together? Ummm, I could do that. I mean yeah, I can see that happening… only I’m not allowed out after 9:00. I could sneak out and stuff, I mean yeah, I could.
Stevie: Meet me outside my window in 15 minutes. If the porch light turns on, RUN!!
Future Husband: Oh my god we’re losers! We’re role-playing on email on a Friday night and I’m playing a pip-squeak geek! Help!!!!!!!!!!
Is this making you horny?
Stevie: It’s making me laugh, for sure. And, yah, a little horny. Let’s keep playing!
Today there’s not much my husband and I don’t know about each other, but we still occasionally use Pass the Note to bridge the gaps. We have this history between us. We know how to be our best selves and communicate with compassion and honesty when a face-to-face dialogue isn’t working.
So, even if you and your lover live in the same town or even the same house, whether you’ve been together for months or years, try playing a game of Pass the Note. You might be very surprised at what you discover.
And nine years later, you’ll go back and read the correspondences that you’ve saved in an email folder, and you’ll fall in love all over again.
Written by Stevie Trujillo
The article was originally published with the Good Men Project; republished with permission.
[featured image: via Alessandro Valli on flickr]