Parallel Play Isn’t Just for Kids


“Want to read quietly next to each other in Riverside Park?” I texted a good friend one Sunday afternoon in July. I used to be exhausted from staying out too late the night time earlier than and crammed with the dread that adheres to these closing hours of the weekend — however I didn’t wish to be alone. “Meet there at 1?” she wrote again and I packed my backpack, excited to spend one other afternoon each alone and along with a good friend.

The time period parallel play often refers to younger youngsters taking part in independently alongside each other, nevertheless it will also be a useful manner to consider grownup relationships. Mildred Parten, a sociologist, first recognized the idea in her 1929 dissertation as certainly one of six classes of group play in early childhood. Although not a discreet developmental part, partaking in parallel play is a crucial a part of how toddlers be taught to work together with others, share and turn into social beings. Think about youngsters quietly constructing their very own separate towers with blocks or operating across the playground with out actually interacting. Though they’re not partaking with one another, these youngsters are additionally not taking part in fully alone.

For adults, what makes parallel play totally different than two folks ignoring one another in the identical room is a safe basis underpinning their relationship, defined Dr. Amir Levine, a psychiatrist and co-author of “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find — And Keep — Love.” “Parallel play is one of the hallmarks of secure relationships, but it has to be done right,” Dr. Levine mentioned. “It’s all about availability. If you know that the other person is available and that, if you need them, they will pay attention to you, then you feel secure.”

When you don’t have a safe relationship, making an attempt to behave independently of your good friend or accomplice whereas sharing the identical area can backfire. I’m usually reminded of a Reddit publish that went viral final yr a few 33-year-old man who destroyed the blanket his 21-year-old girlfriend spent six months knitting as a result of he was feeling ignored. Dr. Levine mentioned, “The same behavior can be seen from two different places: if the person feels secure, they will not mind the knitting, et cetera. It will feel magical to be able to do things in parallel under the same roof. But, if the person feels uncared for, then these things make them feel alone.” Theoretically, in a safer relationship, he may have taken up his personal front room interest and spent high quality time together with her.

Indeed, the existence of parallel play in a partnership could be a bellwether for a wholesome one. Sean Westaway, an I.T. director in Raleigh, N.C., mentioned he and his spouse usually play separate video video games, learn or do crossword puzzles as a substitute of arising with actions to do collectively. For Mr. Westaway, pondering of the time they spend “playing” independently collectively makes him really feel calm. No one is trying for management or getting wired making an attempt to agree on one thing to do. After spending a lot time beneath the identical roof through the pandemic, he now views parallel play as a crucial a part of their relationship.

While it might appear unusual that being actively there for your accomplice makes it simpler to hunt independence from them, it’s truly an instance of what psychologists name the dependency paradox. “There’s a direct link between feeling securely attached and the exploratory drive,” mentioned Dr. Levine. Although adults don’t play in the identical manner that youngsters do, we are able to nonetheless strategy the world with curiosity and a drive to discover. Often once we really feel protected, that drive will increase. But, Dr. Levine mentioned, “if we feel that our partner is not there for us, we develop tunnel vision and can only think about the relationship.” In this manner, safe relationships give us the peace of thoughts to develop unbiased pursuits.

Sara Fowler, a artistic author in Washington, D.C., mentioned writing alongside her boyfriend helps them spend high quality time collectively on weekends when he has to work. “Most weekends that I visit him, he sets me up with snacks and drinks. It’s honestly an A+ couple’s activity,” she mentioned. “I like supporting him in his commitment to his work and appreciate his encouragement of my writing goals. It’s a pleasant, low-pressure way to spend a few hours in his company.”

Romantic partnerships aren’t the one relationships wherein parallel play indicators a safe attachment type although. Sierra Reed, a artistic and social strategist in Brooklyn mentioned her closest mates are these she will be with and “do nothing.” She can work whereas a good friend cooks, for instance. And partaking in these unbiased actions whereas being collectively makes Ms. Reed really feel nearer to her mates, she mentioned, not additional aside. “They are the people I can just be with, feel the love and think, ‘this is perfect.’”

Parallel play may additionally present a clue as to why some roommates fared higher than others through the pandemic. “During Covid, we couldn’t get away from the people we live with as often as usual,” mentioned Dr. Jessi Gold, a psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis. “While I don’t think we always need ‘alone time,’ sometimes we need ‘being together, but not actually interacting time,’” she mentioned. “It’s a way to know that someone is there, that you aren’t alone, like a safety blanket while still being able to do what you want to be doing. It allows you not to get sick of that person you care so much about because you are doing something with them 24/7.”

For these struggling to return to social engagements post-vaccination, parallel play can present a much less overwhelming possibility than large group dinners or occasions. When Erin Pollocoff, a graphic designer in Madison, Wis., had a good friend go to from Michigan this summer time, they spent their first weekend collectively in additional than a yr studying, listening to music and portray their nails.

“It was really peaceful to just share a space with a great friend and engage as little or as much as we wanted,” Ms. Pollocoff mentioned. “She’s coming back this fall and we plan to do more of the same.”

Dr. Zheala Qayyum, a coaching director of kid and adolescent psychiatry at Boston Children’s Hospital, mentioned low-pressure parallel exercise “can help relieve stress and diminish the sense of isolation,” declaring that adults who’re extra introverted can particularly profit from parallel play. “It can give the sense of time well spent within close relationships and allows for adults to pursue the activities they would like to prioritize at that moment.”

When I feel again on among the happiest moments of my life, there’s usually a component of parallel play concerned. Being on the garden with my mates at summer time camp, our Crazy Creek chairs in a circle, listening to Jack Johnson on my Walkman. Sitting on the seaside in Nantucket with my dad and mom, every of us targeted on a distinct novel. Making bracelets in Manhattan’s Riverside Park with two mates over the Fourth of July weekend, deeply focused on the beads. In every reminiscence I really feel safe and calm, completely happy to be in my very own world with others close by. Parallel play isn’t simply one thing toddlers do, it’s what I flip to once I want a gentler solution to be with these I really like. It’s the consolation I search once I textual content a good friend asking her to spend the afternoon studying subsequent to me in Central Park.