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ISSUE 117 VOL 4 PUBLISHED 10/10/2003

Trick(ster) or Treat

By Jennifer Hancock
Online Editor

Friday, October 10, 2003

I used to be a trickster, and I don’t mean a court jester.

Last Christmas, I visited with a friend from high school. We had a few drinks, and inevitably discussed our relationships. At the time, I was dating two men. Not SLEEPING with two men, but dating. Both were intelligent, kind and attractive. Neither knew of the other’s existence; I saw nothing wrong with this. After much discussion, my friend leaned back in his chair, sighed and nodded knowingly. “You’re a trickster,” he said.

Historically, the archetypal trickster exists in many cultures, from ancient Greece to China. He (or she) often lives in folklore or fable, and his/her purpose is fairly straightforward: to question and cause the world to question. (Essentially, the trickster plays with the laws of the universe and, for better or for worse, the laws of relationships).

Simple definition: the trickster is one who is ambiguously involved with more than one person.

Rules of the game:

1. The trickster can be male or female. For simplicity’s sake, the trickster referenced here will be male, but tricksters are female too.

2. Ambiguity is key to the trickster’s success. In a tryst with a trickster, information is given on a need-to-know basis. This is the crucial distinction between the trickster and the player. The player lies to his/her partner, telling his lover they are the “only one” while fooling around with others behind their back. The trickster does not outright lie; he just neglects to mention certain information, i.e. that’s he’s a trickster. This is sometimes called honest deception.

3. The people with whom the trickster interacts on a sort of romantic level are known as “tricks.” Not only ARE they tricks, they are also BEING tricked. The word works both as verb and noun.

4. The trickster is an enemy of boundaries. He is interested in playing with the standards of relationships, not necessarily having a relationship himself. As soon as any relationship with a trick becomes clear or defined, the trickster can no longer trick, in which case, he often leaves.

5. The trickster is a hedonist, generally at the mercy of his passions. He is not necessarily promiscuous, just ambiguous.

6. The trickster is delusional. A pleasant irony: just because you’re a trickster doesn’t mean you can’t be tricked. In fact, most often, the trickster IS someone else’s trick, though tricksters themselves are rarely aware of this. The trickster dupes others and is usually duped himself.

St. Olaf thrives on trickster culture. Many feel too guilty to cheat on significant others, but are honest enough to realize they’re not interested in exclusive relationships. The trickster relationship gets many Oles what they want; a variety of people to spend time with, minus the memorization of phone numbers, obligatory caf lunches, hand-holding and birthday presents. Most tricksters do not see the benefits of an exclusive relationship, (i.e. devotion, trust, growth) and thus reduce it to a list of duties, such as those listed above.

Due to the long-distance relationships at St. Olaf, it is sometimes difficult to tell if one is a trickster. I assume that anyone in a long-distance relationship has to be pretty committed to their partner to get into a long-distance tryst in the first place, but that doesn’t mean they’re not tricking (or playing) around. It is plenty possible to trick internationally, and certainly easier. Rule of thumb: if you’re sending love letters to more than one person, you’re probably a trickster.

One cannot stay a trickster forever. Eventually, one trick finds out about the others, and the trickster must choose one or lose them all. As described in Rule 4, most tricksters bail when things get sticky and move on to other tricks.

In my case, the tricks met, became friends and, out of fear of being discovered, I left them both. Thus ended my foray into tricksterdom.

I am not for or against the trickster lifestyle. I have been both a trick and trickster myself. Tricking is a blast, but it’s tricky. And ultimately, when a relationship thrives on its ambiguous status, you have to wonder what kind of relationship it is.

– To try to trick our sex columnist, e-mail She is available for questions and comments.

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