Semi-Review: the Fair Play system

[Written September 26, 2023]

I came across Eve Rodsky’s books, Fair Play🌎 and Find Your Unicorn Space, and I read them both.  Fair Play concerns itself with making a systematic way to split up tasks in the household, so that partners have the authority and autonomy to truly support each other.  The goal is to make way for “Unicorn Space”, the mythical place where people get to share their creativity, feeding their inner fires.  This, in turn, brings pride and joy back to their relationships.

Fair Play seems like an extremely useful system for those who have nothing in place already.  And although the book is written with a strict focus on couples (especially heterosexual couples with children, because they have the most weight of hidden expectations on them), I kept thinking, “this would be awesome for polycules as well.”  In particular, there’s a recommendation that a couple have at most 80 of the cards in play, if at all possible.  But a third adult member could allow a household to have more cards, without overloading any individual.  #theorycrafting

Find Your Unicorn Space was an interesting read.  I’ve certainly drifted away from creative things.  (Hey, piano is hard!)  But I also learned a lot about the additional pressures on women… and how vital having creative space is for thriving.  Overall, it was a call back to my own creativity, and while I was there, I gathered some tips for better supporting my wife’s creativity.

While the “unicorn space” and “holding the task” terms immediately entered our shared language, the Fair Play system as a whole isn’t likely to be implemented.  It’s not that there's anything wrong with it; it’s only because after 15 years, there have been other books that have already improved how we live together.  For instance, How to Manage Your Home Without Losing Your Mind🌎 by Dana White had some practical advice (just do the dishes every day; have a fixed laundry day once a week) that settled our worst fights.  That sort of thing (how you do it) is outside the scope of Fair Play (who does it), yet it’s nearly as important.  Some time after that, Fed Up🌎 by Gemma Hartley gave my wife a starting point to discuss how I needed to fully own my chores, so that she would not have to be mentally tracking them all the time.  In the absence of that—if we had gotten Fair Play before Fed Up—I’m sure we would have tried (and maybe continued to use) the Fair Play system.

Although Rodsky doesn’t mention it, I feel like the Fair Play system can be customized.  There’s no card for “Gardening ☕”, unless it should be considered part of “lawn & plants”, but that seems more like landscaping to us.  (Besides, I have “lawn”, and my wife has the “plants” already.)  It hits some of the same heartstrings, but it’s not really unicorn space, either.  But a new card could easily be made up, and added in there.

I feel a little dishonest, reviewing Fair Play without actually playing it.  I worry that it “sounds good” but doesn’t work out in the real world.  On the other hand, Rodsky is a professional mediator who extensively tested the system, in her own life and with others, before writing a book about it.  The risk seems low, but I am still aware that I am applying patterns of thought that, in other contexts, can massively derail scientific progress or public policy.  I’m not sure what to make of that.