What if relationships were like Calvinball?

If the traditional forms of relationship are not working for you, and you need a role model; you don’t need to go far to find one. You only need to read some old funny pages. There you will find a perfect trusting relationship illustrated in Calvin and Hobbes.

Calvin and Hobbes is a wonderful comic strip, published in the 80’s and 90’s by Bill Watterson. Calvin is a mischievous ADHD-like six-year-old boy. Hobbes is his stuffed tiger.

Early in the series, we find that Calvin doesn’t get the whole team sports thing.


We soon see Calvin and Hobbes create a new kind of game, called Calvinball. Here’s Calvinball:


Calvinball is the perfect game for those who can’t tolerate organized sports. All you need to know is that there are no rules; rather, that the rules are liquid and supple. You make them up as you go along.

You can imagine that can lead to some disputes:


But, generally, the players have a great time.


No one keeps score in Calvinball. The fun is purely in the joy of playing the game. Because there are no winners or losers, you don’t need rules. There are no scapegoats, as there are in organized games, and no reason to control the other player. Calvinball fosters community, rather than competition. In this, it is an illustration of a different way relationships can work.

Traditional relationships, which your parents may have portrayed, have been scripted by hallowed convention, sanctified by religion, and legislated by governmental bodies. They’re the equivalent to organized sports. They may be fine for many, but they may not be fine for you. If that’s the case, you can tear up the script, quit the league, and play Calvinball.

If your relationship has become a zero-sum interaction, if it’s become competitive, if there’s been a lot of blaming going around, then you might want to play Calvinball with your partner. Because there are no ordinary rules, they can be made as you go along, Calvinball can only be played in a spirit of trust and mutuality. A rousing round of Calvinball might clear away the stultifying convention and rock-ribbed power structures that keep you and your partner stuck.

Look at what happens when Calvin invites his nemesis, Roslyn, to play Calvinball. To Calvin, his babysitter, Roslyn, is the personification of evil.



Roslyn is a little skeptical.


But, quickly, she gets into it.


By playing along with Calvinball’s non-rules rules, entering Calvinball’s trusting, non-competitive, relational space, she begins to effect change.


And, by the end, everything is different.


If you go a little deeper, all games and relationships are Calvinball, anyway; even organized sports and traditional marriages. In the final analysis, rules only have authority to the degree that people chose to follow them.

(Thanks to Bill Watterson and Richard Beck)

Published by Keith R Wilson

I'm a licensed mental health counselor and certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor in private practice with more than 30 years experience. My newest book is The Road to Reconciliation: A Comprehensive Guide to Peace When Relationships Go Bad. I recently published a workbook connected to it titled, How to Make an Apology You’ll Never Have to Make Again. I also have another self help book, Constructive Conflict: Building Something Good Out of All Those Arguments. I’ve also published two novels, a satire of the mental health field: Fate’s Janitors: Mopping Up Madness at a Mental Health Clinic, and Intersections , which takes readers on a road trip with a suicidal therapist. If you prefer your reading in easily digestible bits, with or without with pictures, I have created a Twitter account @theshrinkslinks. MyFacebook page is called Keith R Wilson – Author.

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