The Atlantic

The Club Where You Bare Your Soul to Strangers

An evening with the “authentic-relating” movement, playing games designed to build intimacy
Source: Martin Barraud / Getty

It’s a Sunday evening in Austin, Texas, in a calm gray room the perfect size and shape for a circle of around 30 adults. It’s a fairly diverse group, though there are more men than women here. Most of the guests look about 30 or younger, and a majority seem to already know each other. Right now, I know nothing else about the people I will spend the next three hours with, but I’m expecting I will soon—we are all here to “authentically relate” to one another.

We’re gathered here for a game night, a cornerstone of the authentic-relating movement, which aims to give people tools to connect more meaningfully with others. The movement, still grassroots, but growing, began in San Francisco in the late 1990s and now has a presence in 50 communities in 14 different countries throughout the world. Some of the biggest outposts are in Austin, Boulder, Montreal, and Amsterdam, and authentic-relating techniques have been taught and practiced in schools, software companies, and start-ups. Sara Ness, the movement’s unofficial organizer and the founder of Authentic Revolution, the Austin outfit, estimates that 4,000 to 5,000 people go to similar game nights each week around the world. They play games like the “Handshake” game in which partners make nonverbal eye contact to “meet” the other (without shaking hands) and “The Noticing Game,” also known as “intersubjective meditation,” in which a pair goes back and forth sharing their perception of the other’s actions and answers as anxious, argumentative, confident, or guarded and so on.

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