I have a lot of funny memories of playing I Never.
It’s a drinking game, played in a group. To play I Never, one person makes a statement, like “I never have been arrested,” and if the statement is NOT true for you, you’d have to drink–thereby letting everyone present know that you have been arrested (no, I have not been arrested. this was just an example). This game can have pretty high stakes, as the statements become more and more personal and the players get more and more intoxicated. It also gets sillier and sillier, and inevitably ends up with someone saying that they had “never made out with anyone in this room”–provoking a lot of staring around, and wiggling eyebrows, and laughing. I was terrible at most drinking games. I had no skill for Quarters, and I never could get the rules straight for Asshole (Who is the Asshole? Who is the Vice Asshole? How do I keep track of this?). But my complete lack of life experience served me well when playing I Never.
As the college years give way to young adulthood, then to middle adulthood, the game often turns from I Never to I Would Never. It may be played with wine and not cheap beer, but this game can have pretty high stakes too. We wear our smugness as an immunity necklace–if we would never do this thing or that thing (you know, whatever that other person is doing), then we will never have to contend with whatever it is that they’re contending with. We think–and sometimes we say right out loud, behind backs and even to faces–that we would never do/put up with/tolerate/choose/allow whatever that thing is.
It is one of the uglier parts of the human condition.
I can only speculate, since I would never spout such stupidity (this is a filthy lie; I not only would, but I have. I could list the times I’ve thought these priggish thoughts or said them out loud, and the many ways I have been tested, or even directly bitten right in the bum, by these things I would never do. but to do so would be too tedious and horrible. just take my word for it). I have been on both ends of these asinine statements, and I regret being on the (pardon my French, Rooney) asshole end of such situations more than I regret dimming my own flaming response when on the receiving end. But not by much.
I like to think that as adulthood continues, we learn not to do this so much. That what smug sentiments that are left after life has smacked the shit out of us in any number of ways, we at least know to express these sentiments in our minds, and not out loud. That our empathy muscle gets stronger and we recognize when One of Ours is in trouble, and needs to be pulled up. I like to think that we evolve, and we shift our sport-judging skills of I Would Never to other games, like What Was I Thinking!?, or Mistakes Were Made–team sports for which the success of your squad depends on your collective ability to get real about not being All That. It might be unrealistic, but I like to think.
In the drinking game of Mistakes Were Made, we would honor the diversity of our drinking tastes and our horrible mistakes, large and small–and we’d drink anything we wanted, and judge (mostly) only ourselves. We would confess the stupid things that we wish we had done differently, and everyone would drink a toast. When one’s regrets got too heavy (as they do), we would surround the gut-spiller in a hug, give them some tequila and remind them of what is excellent about them. There would be toasts of solidarity and hope. And anyone who lapsed into the smugness, or uttered anything beginning with “I would never,” would be made to chug a glass of white zinfandel. Sutter Home, mothafucka. Warm.
Because now we’re learning that being a high-horse jockey takes nothing, and that taking a shot at someone when they’re down is a shitty and desperate thing to do. And that expressing, “what the hell was I thinking,” especially when it comes to the serious stuff, like our children and close friendships, takes both vulnerability and balls. This blogger and friend has both, and three months later, I am haunted by her words and grateful for them. If she was sitting with me, playing Mistakes Were Made, there would be an ice cold glass of something bubbly for her.
Another friend recently posted on Facebook that she wishes her younger self had not been such a brat when her father told her he couldn’t afford something that she wanted, because being now on other side of that conversation sucks. This epiphany gets a whole round of Whispering Angel rose for the whole group (because I think this friend would like it)–because there are few of us who cannot identify, and few who are so arrogant as to claim that they were never that kid at one time or another, or that their kid would dare express something so ungrateful.
Yet another friend has been very candid with me about having great success, causing their own great fall, and putting themselves back together again. This kind of honesty and unflinching ownership gets a fancy-pants beer and an entire watermelon from me, along with a whole lot of respect.
Because now we are learning what Robert Frost put so perfectly–that “the afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” This could be amended to “the afternoon knows what the morning should have freaking known, or possibly did know, but overlooked, but that’s a tale for another day. We could probably continue on this learning curve until we die. But it seems that by middle age, we have the chance to become aware of it and to let that awareness drive us to have more grace, or at least a better filter for our clueless thoughts.