The Game of Pink Elephants

My partner and I have a game which we play, the rules of which are fairly simple. If during a conversation one of us suspects that the other one is not listening, we work the words ‘pink elephant’ into a sentence then carry on speaking as if nothing unusual happened.

It can be quite tricky because as soon as your mind notices that your audience may be absent, it really is quite hard to keep the flow of conversation going as your concentration on the subject at hand is broken, and working pink elephants into your speech can be very distracting and prone to making you laugh.

Laughter, especially if what you were saying was slightly serious, is a dead give away to the other person that there is something different in your words and so if they were not listening, they may suddenly do so and catch you in the act of perpetrating a pink elephant. They can then pretend that they were listening all along. This usually leads to more mirth, as my partner and I tend to be very silly about it and enjoy playing at being indignant about the accusation of not listening, then repeating everything we heard back in a completely twisted with misunderstanding manner. A mock fight will sometimes ensue, filled with enjoyment.

My partner and I are not particularly talkative. We tend to go for long periods without saying very much to each other. Having spent a lot of time in each other’s company, we can communicate with looks, grunts, gestures, and code words. We are very similar, and I know that he knows me well and understands me. Most of the time I consider that a great blessing, however there are times when it is very annoying, especially when I am trying to get away with something. He feels the same way about me in that respect.

We are similar in character, but very different in our interests. There are a few interests which we share, but our approaches to them are from alternate perspectives. Our conversations are varied, we love to debate, argue, and analyse. Usually one or the other of us dominates the course of the discussion, depending on the subject and which one of us thinks we know more about it, which in and of itself can become a focus of our attention. If one of us dominates too much, the other one tends to switch off, which is when the pink elephants come in.

I think that we devised the pink elephant game as a way to defuse those ego bombs which have a tendency to explode and create very nasty atmospheres in a relationship, when one or the other person feels slighted, snubbed, and not given the attention which their need demands. It is comic relief to lighten a situation which could get heavy and go on and on.

When we were first learning to live together, which was difficult for both of us as we are natural loners, we kept getting stuck in what we now call – the conversation about the conversation. It would start with a simple conversation which then became complicated, entangled in misunderstandings and ego wounds. We would both get frustrated and retreat to our caves at opposite ends of our living quarters. The atmosphere would be thick with inner grumbling.

In an attempt to clear the atmosphere and solve the issues causing it, we would review the conversation which had set things in motion. Things usually got worse as both of us were playing the role of the reasonable and logical one, thus seeing the other person as being the unreasonable and illogical problem. Both of us would try to solve the matter by altering our behaviour to suit to other one. More mess ensued. Finally we realised that weeks would pass with us having the conversation about the conversation about the conversation about the conversation… and it had the potential to just keep going… nowhere. Neither knew what we were talking about anymore, and we were sick of talking a lot about who knows what.

The main issue which caused the original upset was that one of us would zone out, then try to bluff our way out of being caught not listening by the speaker. This was one of the greatest sources of misunderstanding and subsequent frustration. So we came up with the pink elephant game. It makes us both laugh. The person who zoned out doesn’t have to go on the defensive and the person who was speaking doesn’t have to go on the offensive. If what was being said was truly important, it can be repeated, perhaps in a clearer and more concise way.

And to be perfectly honest, most of the times when I notice that my partner isn’t listening to me is when I’ve stopped listening to what I’m saying too.

I used to get angry at him because his inattention made me feel boring, and no one likes to think that they are boring. But I realised that getting angry at him was my way of distracting myself from my annoyance at myself for talking about something I was not interested in and thus I was talking for the sake of talking and I found myself boring.

Some things are very hard to admit to ourselves, and it is easier to deflect onto others what we feel about ourselves. In picking a fight with them, perhaps we hope to avoid ever having to face our inner reality and opinion of ourselves, the longer the fight goes on the more we focus on what is wrong with the other person and ignore our own flaws, turning our wrongs into rights, then promoting them to righteousness. If we win the fight with the other person then we heal our wounded pride with justification ointment and cover the tracks which would lead us to some uncomfortable truths.

We’re not as attractive as we would like to be when we are naked and exposed, which is why we adorn ourselves with ego accessories… which can make us even more unattractive after the superficial gloss wears off. Yet we are also more attractive than we think we are, especially when we can laugh at ourselves, relax, and just be who we are as we are, no accessories needed. And we are attractive to others when we allow them to be who they are, without wearing a disguise for our viewing pleasure.

Pink elephants are a very useful pet to have in a relationship, at least my partner and I think so… I think he agrees with me… ?


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