As I walked from the parking lot toward Evans Hall for the Jeromeville Christian Fellowship meeting, I quickly realized that I was probably underdressed wearing just a t-shirt and jeans. October days in Jeromeville were usually still warm and summerlike; I had worn shorts to class that morning. But the nights were quickly becoming cooler, and the sun was setting earlier. It was almost completely dark by the time JCF started that night, and I felt a chill in the air. Once I got inside, though, I would probably be more comfortable.
I had more friends at this point of my life than I had ever had before, but I was definitely a follower, not a leader, when it came to socializing. Although JCF was supposed to be a time of worship, prayer, and Scripture, one of the things I looked forward to the most was the possibility of people socializing afterward, whatever form that may take. I did not typically initiate social activities; I was nervous, and afraid of rejection, and I was not always familiar with the kinds of things that normal people did for fun. But I also did not want to be presumptuous and invite myself somewhere that I was not welcome. And, of course, all of this socializing had not led to any better luck with finding a girlfriend. I had never had a girlfriend, and I had never even so much as kissed a girl.
Now that I was taking my Christian faith more seriously, I was constantly being told to pray about this and submit to God’s will, but so far God’s will did not involve a girlfriend for me. Nothing had ever worked out with anyone from my year or the year behind me. There were two cute sophomore girls at JCF whom I was interested in, Carrie Valentine and Sadie Rowland, but so far no opportunities had come up to make anything happen. Maybe I would have better luck with this year’s new freshmen, although that might bring up questions of whether or not an 18-year-old was too young for me. I was a 21-year-old senior hoping to graduate in 1998.
Sarah Winters and Liz Williams were working the name tag table. “Hey, Greg,” Sarah said, writing “Greg” on a name tag. At the same time, a guy named Silas walked up to Liz’s table, and she filled out a name tag for him.
“Hey,” I said, noticing something interesting. I pointed back and forth between Sarah and Silas and said, “We’re all in Math 115 together.”
“Oh, yeah!” Sarah replied.
“How do you like that class so far?” Silas asked.
“Seems pretty straightforward. Unlike Math 150.”
“I know! 150 gets kind of weird.”
“What class is that?” Liz asked.
“Number theory,” Sarah replied. Sarah, Silas, and I were all mathematics majors. I found it noteworthy that Silas had already taken Math 150, since it was usually a senior class and Silas was only a junior, a year behind me. But I knew that he was some kind of mathematical genius who had completed a lot of university-level coursework before beginning at the University of Jeromeville.
I looked around the room and found an open seat next to Scott Madison and Amelia Dye. “Hey, Greg,” Scott said. “What are you doing after large group?”
“I don’t know,” I replied.
“You’re coming to my place.”
“Just hanging out.”
“Okay,” I said. Finding appropriate situations for socializing can be difficult and scary for me sometimes, but other times it was easy, like tonight.
After large group ended, Scott told me he had some things to get ready, and he reminded me to show up at his apartment in half an hour. I walked around, looking for other people to say hi to. I saw Sadie a few rows behind me; I walked to the aisle and back toward her. “Hey,” I said after she turned around and saw me.
“Hi, Greg! How was your week?”
“Not bad,” I said. “We had a performance yesterday for chorus. They’re renaming the drama building after a professor who was instrumental in founding the department, and we had to sing this weird-sounding modern piece with lyrics that she wrote.”
“That’s cool! I heard about that in the newsroom. Oh, yeah, did you see I got my first article published in the Daily Colt this week?”
“I did! I saw your name on the article. It was the one about the girl who didn’t know she was pregnant, right?”
“Yeah! Isn’t that crazy? How do you not know you were pregnant?”
“I guess it’s possible, if you don’t gain much weight during the pregnancy. But still, her doctor told her multiple times she wasn’t pregnant. Isn’t it your job as a doctor to know what’s going on with your patient?”
“I know. At least she and the baby are okay. And I didn’t really want to write fluff pieces like this, but it’s a start.”
“Yeah. Put in your time doing this now, and then later you can write the kind of stories you really want to write.”
“I want to write about city news and politics. Last year’s city writers were way too nice to the crazy liberals who run this town.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Someone needs to tell the truth, and not just suck up to them and their ilk.”
“I never told you that story?”
“No,” Sadie replied. I proceeded to tell her about the time I got into an argument on the Quad last year with a City Council member who was against a plan to widen an underpass. Traffic backed up horribly at that underpass, but according to these elected officials, wide four-lane roads do not belong in a small town like Jeromeville. “She told me that I was ‘of a different ilk.’”
“‘Ilk,’” Sadie replied. “That’s a funny word.”
“Seriously. Jeromeville has fifty-six thousand people. That’s not a small town. That’s big enough to have traffic jams.”
As the conversation paused for a few seconds, I contemplated whether or not to invite Sadie to Scott’s house, and if so, how to do so. I did not feel right bringing an uninvited guest to someone else’s house. But I really wanted to keep talking to her. The point became moot, however, when Sadie said, “I should get going. I’m really tired tonight. I had a long day.”
“All right,” I replied. “I’ll see you next week?”
“Yeah! Have a good night!” Sadie gave me a hug, then walked out of the building.
Scott led a Bible study on campus for freshmen, and when I arrived at Scott’s apartment that night, a good sized crowd had already shown up. I recognized Tim and Blake, two freshmen from Scott’s study, sitting and talking to Scott. My Bible study that year was Joe Fox, Scott’s roommate; he was sitting next to his girlfriend, Alyssa Kramer. Kieran Ziegler, John Harvey, Brent Wang, a freshman girl named Chelsea, Silas the math major, and a few others were also there.
Blake and Scott were talking about weddings. Blake said that he had recently been to his cousin’s wedding, and Scott and Amelia were currently planning their wedding next summer. I walked to a couch and sat down, not in a mood to think about weddings. I would probably never have one myself.
After about twenty more minutes of mingling and snacks, Amelia began asking if anyone had ever played a party game called Psychologist. “Have any of you guys ever played that? One player is the psychologist, and he has to ask the others questions?” One other person had some vague memory of the game, but most of us did not know this game. Amelia continued explaining, “So the psychologist leaves the room, and everyone else decides that they’re going to answer the questions, like, in some certain way. Not necessarily if it’s true or false, but according to something else. We all know how we’re answering, and the psychologist has to figure it out.”
“I don’t get it,” Alyssa replied.
“It’ll make more sense when we start playing. Can we try it? It’s a fun group game.” No one objected. “Who wants to be the psychologist?” Amelia asked.
“I’ll do it,” John said. “I feel like I should, since I’m a psych major.”
John stepped outside and closed the door behind him. Amelia explained, “So the way I learned the game is that you answer the questions as if you are the person on your left. So, for example, Brent is sitting to the left of Greg, so if John asks, ‘Greg, are you a math major,’ Greg would say no, because Brent isn’t a math major. If John asks, ‘Greg, do you play piano,’ Greg would say yes, because that’s Brent’s answer. Brent plays piano. So do we all understand?”
“What if you don’t know the answer?” Brent said. “Like, what if he asks me, I don’t know, ‘Have you ever been to France?’ I would answer for Scott, but I don’t know if Scott has ever been to France.”
“Just say I don’t know,” Amelia explained. “I’ll go get John, and we can start playing.” Amelia went outside to tell John to come in.
“It’s cold out there!” John said. “You guys ready?”
“We’re ready,” Amelia replied. “Just start asking yes-or-no questions.”
“Okay,” John said. “Joe, is it cold outside?”
Joe appeared confused. “Yes?” he replied.
“You should probably ask people questions about themselves,” Amelia explained. “That’ll make this easier to figure out.”
“Okay,” John said. “Amelia, are you getting married next year?”
Blake was on Amelia’s left. “No,” Amelia replied.
“Hmm,” John said. “Greg, are you tall?”
“No,” I said. I was six foot four, but Brent, to my left, was shorter than average for a male university student. A few people giggled, and Brent gave me a look as if to express humorous annoyance at me calling him out for being short.
“Chelsea, are you female?”
Tim was sitting to Chelsea’s left. “No,” Chelsea replied, trying to hold back giggles. A few others laughed.
John continued asking questions that had very obvious answers. “Brent, do you have dark hair?”
“No,” dark-haired Brent said, with blond Scott to his left.
“Joe, are you a man?”
“Yes,” Joe replied. I was on his left.
“Hmm,” John contemplated. This was the first time someone had given an answer that was actually true. “Greg, are you a man?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Alyssa, are you a man?”
“Yes,” Alyssa replied emphatically, with Joe to her left. John continued this pattern of asking the same question to multiple people, and after about fifteen minutes, he figured out that we were all answering as if we were the person sitting to our left.
“I wanna play again,” Blake said.
“We can’t really play again, because everyone knows the secret now,” Tim replied.
“We could just think of a different way to answer the questions,” Amelia explained. “Who wants to be the psychologist this time?”
Silas volunteered to be the psychologist; he went into the bathroom and turned on the fan, instead of going outside in the cold. “Anyone have any ideas of how to answer the questions?”
“We could answer for the person sitting, I don’t know, three to the right,” Alyssa suggested.
“That’ll be too easy to figure out, after we did the person to the left,” John replied.
“Hey, I have an idea,” Blake said. “We all pick someone, and we look at that person’s hand. If the hand is palm up, we say yes, and if the hand is palm down, we say no.”
“That’s a great idea!” Amelia said.
“I’ll do the hand,” Kieran said. “I’m sitting in an armchair, so it’s easy to see. If my left hand is palm up, say yes, and if my left hand is palm down, say no.”
We called Silas back into the room. Kieran sat in the armchair with his palm down. “Tim, are you a freshman?”
“Greg, are you in my Math 115 class?”
“Kieran, are you a man?”
I looked around the room, where I could see people trying to hold back laughter. Kieran’s own left hand was the only thing requiring him to claim that he was not a man, and Silas had unwittingly exposed this just three questions into the game. But Kieran had the perfect response. “Hmm,” he said loudly as he furrowed his brow and scratched his chin with his left hand, palm up, as if pantomiming being deep in thought. “Yes,” he said while his palm was up. A ripple of giggles flowed through the room, since everyone but Silas knew exactly while Kieran moved his hand that way. Kieran then put his hand back down, palm still up.
Silas, confused about why everyone was laughing, asked, “Tim, do you wear glasses?”
“Greg, do you wear glasses?”
I did not. “Yes,” I said.
“Brent, do you wear glasses?”
Brent did wear glasses, but Kieran had switched his hand to the palm down position as Silas was asking the question. “No,” Brent said.
The questions went around in circles for almost an hour, with people occasionally laughing when humorous answers were given. At one point, Silas asked me if I was tall; Kieran’s hand was palm up, so I said yes. Next, Silas asked Chelsea if she was tall; she was five foot two, but Kieran’s hand was still palm up, so she said yes. That made people laugh. Kieran switched his hand as Silas was asking other people if they were tall, and he inadvertently asked me again with Kieran’s palm down this time.
“No,” I said.
Silas paused, realizing what had just happened. “Wait,” he said. “Earlier, you said you were tall.” I smiled silently, wondering if he was finally figuring this out. “Alyssa, do you have brown hair?”
Silas thought about this. “Alyssa, do you have brown hair?”
“Alyssa, do you have brown hair?”
Kieran switched his hand, grinning. “Alyssa, do you have brown hair?”
“Greg, are the Captains your favorite football team?” Silas asked. I was wearing a Bay City Captains shirt that night.
“Greg, are the Captains your favorite team?”
Kieran switched his hand. “Are the Captains your favorite team?”
This continued for another several minutes. Silas seemed to be counting how many times we answered one way before switching to the other answer, and Kieran wisely switched his hand after inconsistent numbers of questions and answers. Silas began watching things in the room more carefully, and he eventually noticed Kieran’s hand and figured it out.
“Finally!” Silas said. “That was a good one.”
“I know,” Kieran replied. “I thought I was in trouble when you asked if I was a man.”
“That was hilarious,” I said. “Brilliant performance.”
By the time our second game of Psychologist ended, it was getting late, and the crowd at Scott and Joe’s apartment began dispersing. I drove home, quietly unlocked the door because I did not know if any of my roommates were asleep yet, and went to bed.
It took me a while to fall asleep, and I thought about the events of that night as I drifted off to sleep. Psychologist was a fun game. I wondered if I would ever be able to introduce the game to a new group. I never did, though, and to this day, I have only played it that one time. The game was fascinating. At first, everything looks like nonsense, but after asking enough questions, and making enough careful observations, some order begins to emerge in the players’ replies.
Would I really never get to experience my own wedding? I did not know, but it sure felt like it. Everyone else was getting into relationships. Scott and Amelia were getting married soon, and so was Josh, one of my roommates. I knew plenty of girls, but I did not know how to make anything happen. Sadie was lots of fun to talk to, but she always seemed too busy to do fun things after JCF. Carrie Valentine was not even at large group tonight; I had not talked to her all week. When would it be my turn? Maybe life really was like a game of Psychologist. Maybe God was working behind the scenes in ways that I could not understand. Things happen to everyone that make no sense. But after asking enough questions and enough observation, an order begins to emerge. It takes time to understand what is happening, sometimes decades or more, but God has a plan, and someday it will all make sense.
Readers: What’s your favorite party game? Tell me about it in the comments.