Thursday, April 21, 2011

Playing Truth or Dare

Our favorite game in junior high was Truth or Dare.

Nearly everyone at my Catholic school picked the Dare, even when playing the game in our most reckless venue of all--weekly Mass. (Years later, I've come to hope God possesses a good sense of humor. And a short memory.)

We believed choosing the Dare proved our confidence and our courage, two attributes that play heavily in a thirteen-year-old's popularity.

Even then though, I knew the Dare was the safer choice. Answering a difficult personal question with honesty? This required true bravery. At thirteen, we're far too guarded and insecure to open ourselves up to that transparency, vulnerability or potential peer disapproval. It's a self-defense mechanism which becomes even more ingrained as we grow older.

Hiding from the Truth is a game we play much of our lives.

When we confront difficult personal issues, we tend to evade. We conceal. We occasionally outright lie. Sometimes we're not honest with someone else. Sometimes we're not honest with ourselves. Denying certain Truths, especially troublesome ones, is always easier than acknowledging them.

On a night out a few years ago with a group of girlfriends, someone suggested a grown-up game of Truth or Dare. We quickly dismissed the option of Dare. What are we, kids? No, we most certainly are not. We laughed. Just as friends don't let friends drive drunk, middle-aged friends don't let middle-aged friends run outdoors in their skivvies.

The rules were simple: Each woman in the group would ask one question, and everyone had to answer. We agreed the questions should be thought-provoking yet benign. After all, we were out that night to relieve our stress, not to magnify it.

Choice of plastic surgery? Nose, boobs and all the usual suspects.

Biggest fear? We toyed with the common themes of flying, of tornadoes, of heights. But every one of us with children eventually gave the same answer.

Number of men with whom you've slept? Ah, maybe not such a benign query, this one! Of all the questions, it caused the most consternation and cringing. We tried to veil our surprise at the woman who answered "just one" as well as the woman who said she'd long ago lost count.

Then we came to my--seemingly mild--question:

If you could succeed at being anything in life (actual talent not a factor), what would you be?

We nodded and smiled at the responses: Broadway actress, singer/songwriter, president of the United States. We turned to the last friend in the circle, awaiting her answer.

"My dreams aren't as exciting as all of yours." She hesitated. "Because honestly, if I could choose to be anything, I'd still choose to be a housewife." She looked away, then added in a near whisper, "But I would want to be a happy one."

The table fell silent. None of us would ever have guessed her wish. Because most of us had no knowledge of her reality.

We weren't able to provide a solution to her situation. What we offered her that night was a roundtable of empathy and sympathy, and a bit of friendship-inspired therapy.

I can't be sure she's found peace even now, but just maybe she feels less burdened and less alone in facing the Truth. Maybe she's succeeded at the first crucial step which will allow her to face the next step, whatever that might be.

Truth or Dare is a tough game at any age.

But by daring ourselves to acknowledge one key Truth, maybe we can find answers to other important questions in the bigger game of life.

Have you ever lied to yourself?
What's the most frightening or embarrassing Dare you ever accepted? If you could be anything, without the possibility of failure, what would you be?


  1. What a beautiful post. That poor woman. I want to hug her.

    Yes, yes, of course I've lied to myself. I was so delusional I couldn't even see that I was sleeping in the gutter instead of a bed.

    I never accepted a dare, more because I didn't like someone else being in control. Of course, that never stopped me from sleeping with strangers or breaking into other people's pools for a quick midnight dip. I only wish I had jumped out of an airplane. That would have been really cool. Now I'm too responsible. It would never fit with my persona.

    I'm doing it. I'm writing and taking my pictures. It's what gets me up in the morning. What about you?

  2. I don't wanna have my thoughts provoked this early in the morning!

    But since you asked:

    Yes. All the time. Still do. I manipulate me like a small, clueless child.

    Wrote a book that no one wanted to read.

    If I knew I couldn't fail, I think I'd be a stand-up comedian or a television writer. Maybe both.

    I was going to say writer, but I think I want to know I could fail -- it keeps me trying harder and makes victories sweeter.

  3. I have lied to myself. Many times. I even do it still today.
    My dares have always been lame. Kiss so and so. Flash us your boobs. Blah Blah.
    As for what I would want to be when I grow up...I would die to be a great writer. To be able to sleep in, work from home, do whatever I wanted to spark my creative writing juices...Either that or an amazing blogger.

  4. MSB: I so love a Cinderella story like this. You've started my day with a smile! (And I'm glad you didn't jump from a plane. That would be my SECOND biggest fear.)

    Sarah: I want to read your book! And maybe we need to work on a TV pilot together. Hmm...

    Amanda: You're already on your way, my friend.

  5. Wow, that was powerful. And proof that Truth or Dare can evolve from calling boys and hanging up to a deeper discussion of life and happiness.

    But I have to say it was hilarious that you all had to hide your surprise from the woman who said "Just one"!

  6. Wonderful....Thank you

  7. Laura: Sometimes I still want to call boys and hang up. But that fun ended with maturity. And with the invention of caller-ID.

    Susan: Talk about courage...

  8. Sherry,
    The beauty of this group of women, wow. You are all such dear friends, and your one friend...I'm glad she is surrounded with you and people like you. Sometimes when you can say it aloud, you are closer to making a change you've been to scared to even admit.
    Lied to myself, certainly.
    Dare, no comment. I will say this though. Every once in a great while when I'm back in NY, someone will suggest the game "I never". If you have, you don't drink. If you haven't done whatever is proposed, you drink. I have sat in bars and been the only one not drinking. It's horrible. And for some reason I can't get myself to just act like I haven't whatever it is, because lying to myself at this time in my life, is worse.
    Luckily my close friends will steer the conversation in other ways, because at some point, people work really hard to see what I haven't done. Humiliating.

    And writer.

  9. Too true Sherry, about caller ID. I still remember running to look at that little white box to see who was calling! Oh, the excitement.
    Now it does give me the opportunity to put off talking to people for a few hours at least.

  10. I agree with MSB - what a beautiful post. Have I lied to myself- absolutely. As you said, "Hiding from the Truth is a game we play much of our lives."

    but I'm not sure I can recall ever responding to a dare...

    And boy do I hear you on the calling boys and hanging up thing.

  11. Lyra: You're right--saying it out loud is the toughest thing of all. And, I'm thinking it would be really interesting to go out for drinks with you sometime.

    Amanda: Oh that caller-ID. It's maddening and life-saving, all at the same time.

    Downith: Well, now you're practically forcing me to dare you to do something. Give me a few minutes. This has got to be a good one...

  12. When I was young, I always said Truth. That way I didn't have to do any embarrassing dares, and if I didn't like the question, I could lie about it.

    In college, we also used to play the game Lyra mentioned, "I Never." Often, the side-strategy was to get someone to admit to the group, something you know they did but wasn't common knowledge.

    That game was always good for some laughs and thought-provoking storytelling.

  13. Sherry, you always invoke those waves of nostalgia--but then let us flow into the current.
    Of course, much of the trouble I caused in my life was in response to four words "DC I dare you." Sometimes spoken by you.

  14. Bluz: See, the problem was that back then I felt obligated to answer Truth with the actual truth. (I'd like to say that's because I was a good Catholic girl, but good Catholic girls probably don't play Truth or Dare in Mass.) The funny thing is, you've probably now written about most the things you once kept secret...

    DC: Ha. As if it took any prodding.

  15. Beautiful story. I, too, am sad for the unhappy housewife. As little girls, we are often raised to learn how to fold the towels properly, how to raise babies, what to make for dinner, etc... But rarely does anyone explain how to make sure you're truly fulfilled while doing it.

  16. Teri: So true. Maybe the problem is that today's housewives were raised to expect happiness, but never taught how they might begin to find it.

  17. very nice. (talk about a good writer--back at ya!)

    Have you ever lied to yourself? all the time. mostly about my coffee intake not being that bad. it is.

    What's the most frightening or embarrassing Dare you ever accepted? unfortunately, i usually the one daring people instead of vice versa. i'm that friend your parents don't like you hanging out with.

    If you could be anything, without the possibility of failure, what would you be? me without the self-doubt, fear, lack of self-esteem, neurotic tendencies, and gray hair.

  18. Amy: I'll see your coffee and raise you six Diet Cokes. And I'll bet my mother would love you--she always had a soft spot for the most "spirited" girls. (Her own three daughters didn't let her down.)

  19. Happy Blessed Easter to Spirited Amy - and my three Spirited daughters as well.

    The dare I remember is at age 17 when my friend Suzanne and I (me driving) took my car up on the sidewalk on busy Sylvania Ave. going maybe half block, both moving over so it looked like nobody was at the wheel! Cold sober and no we didn't do drugs. We laughed so hard, and were so lucky. Your Spirited mother

  20. My Spirited Mother: Go to your room, young lady.

  21. Sherry, this is another great essay. Fantastic writing.

    I used to be known for not turning down a dare. Now, I know better.

    As for lying to myself, well, of course. I have learned that there's something valuable to the notion that the truth will set you free. Like your friend, telling the truth to myself was Step One.

    What would I be? A novelist. Well known, well paid, well liked, not an ass.

  22. Lisa: Thanks for your very kind words.

    That novel of yours will happen yet. I hope you'll be well-paid; I know you'll be well-liked. And smart-ass, yes, but never an ass.

  23. ... and we both went to Catholic school. Yes, indeed, I look forward to meeting you on May 13. :)

  24. Beautiful post. God I love the sisterhood.

    I lie to myself regularly I think but now that I'm old and semi-wise only about small things.

    What would I be? A person who actually has a good answer to this question. I'm gonna think on this one...


  25. Katrina: It's bound to be an interesting weekend... I'm sending you a DM on your website. Thanks for stopping by mine!

    Bobbi: Yes, indeed. Sisterhood--whether experienced around a bar table or a blog circle--is a beautiful thing.

  26. This is so beautifully written, as always Sherry. I did a lot of stupid stuff when I was younger and none of it on a dare!

  27. Another gorgeous post, Sherry. I'd be a photographer. I'd be Avedon.

  28. Deb: Sadly, I can only blame a handful of stupid decisions on youthful dares. Most of the really dumb things I've said and done were of my own adult-world volition. And I probably only learned my lesson from one or two.

    Averil: Ah, but you ARE a photographer. You're simply talented enough to wear multiple hats.

  29. One of your Best!

  30. Not-So-Anonymous: I had a feeling you might like that one. Thanks for taking the time to go back and read it!