You don’t need the sexy French maid costume

March 19, 2012

I was having a conversation with a co-worker about how to breathe life back into a team that has gotten stale. Somehow I managed to stumble across an idea that I find intriguing.

At first, I made the connection between this team’s situation and the well-known cliche of a personal relationship that has grown stale. And I semi-jokingly said that someone on the team has to put on a French maid costume just to shake things up. But my ridiculous comment got me thinking. Sexual role-playing in an intimate relationship might have something to teach us here. Why would someone need to assume a new (fake) role in a relationship to make the relationship interesting?

We are designed to find and create patterns in the world. Sometimes, pattern seeking is about finding and creating meaning in the world. And sometimes it is about efficiency. When we have to repeat a task many times, we find the best way to get it done. Or, at least, a way that works well enough for us. [Herb Simon’s “satisficing” for my fellow psych nerds.] And once we’ve found and set the pattern, we rarely stray. When we try to, we find it difficult. These patterns can be as mundane as the way we drive home from work. But some of them are about how we engage in our relationships. We develop routines and rituals for what we do and when we do it with our loved ones. We develop a way of talking and listening. We divide labor and stick to that division. Now it’s time for me to hug my loved one and say “I love you.” Now it’s time for me to tell my kid a story. Now it’s time for me to take out the garbage… Over time, we become petrified. Ossified. And therefore, so do our relationships.

This can work for a while. After all, these patterns form and stick because they work. Because they are comfortable. But eventually, our humanity pokes through the crusty shell. We want more. We want to explore and discover. We want to be surprised. We hunger for joy. And inevitably, someone ends up in a French maid costume.

Now I have no intention of deriding this time-honored practice. I think the world would be a dreary place indeed if we eliminated the prospect of ever seeing someone in a sexy French maid costume. But I think there are better ways to breathe life into a relationship.

When we fall into the behavioral patterns I described above so much that nearly everything we do is governed by a script, we are, in effect, playing a role. The role of ourselves but locked in time. We are playing ourselves from 1 or 3 or 10 years ago. We cease to truly live as human beings and we just play the role of ourselves. This is not humanity in its noblest and most beautiful form. This is not about engaging with other people and with the world. It’s about seeking comfort in the familiar. It’s actually about avoiding engagement because engagement can be messy and upsetting. But as most people eventually find out, they miss the messy. They even miss the upsetting. They want the humanity back. So they explore role playing because they want to replace the role they are currently playing with one that will allow for humanity.

But the answer does not lie in the French maid costume. Eventually, that role will become boring too. And so will the naughty teacher role. And so on. It’s not the role you’re playing that makes the relationship stale. It’s the fact that you’re playing any role at all.

Instead of swapping one role for another, we might instead try to just be ourselves. All the time. That’s right. Don’t play a role. Don’t have a script. Just be yourself. Your true self will develop new interests. You will experience new places, new foods, new ideas. You will read a new book. You will see a new movie. Your true self will sometimes act like a saint. And sometimes like an asshole. You will say the right thing. You will say the wrong thing. You’ll have great sex. You’ll have bad sex. Well, maybe there’s no such thing but you get the point. When you’re really being yourself, you will have the joy of experiencing the world anew every day but with slightly more wisdom every day. This is what you’ll bring to a relationship.

And when you give that to a relationship, the relationship will give it back to you in turn.

Such a relationship can never go stale.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Claire Farber March 21, 2012 at 10:36 AM

Once again Adam, interesting thinking! Just being, being yourself, really being there – in a moment – is not as easy as it sounds. But so satisfying when we get it. For me it comes naturally when travelling to a new place. And sometimes, for a little while, after a great yoga class. Othertimes it takes quite a lot of awareness and effort.
Thanks for the provocative post.


Adam March 22, 2012 at 4:51 AM

Thanks Claire. I agree – it isn’t easy at all. But so worth trying!


Claire Farber March 23, 2012 at 9:55 AM

Adam, Seth Godin’s blog today reminded me of your basic premise. Thought you might enjoy reading it. Here’s the link:


Adam March 27, 2012 at 6:39 PM

Claire: Are you sure that’s the right link?


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