Musings on Bunko

April 23, 2012
Okay, folks, I’ve been minding my own business for too long. I feel it’s time to stir the pot a bit. If there’s a different take on this, I’d be THRILLED to have you respond, either on facebook or on this post. There may be aspects I’ve never thought of, that ought to be addressed, so GO FOR IT! Feel free to disagree, (politely).

Musings on Bunco

A friend asked me recently, “So you don’t ever play bunko?” The week before I had been invited to substitute for someone in the local bunko group. I’ve been asked to fill in about a half dozen times, but always declined. In the most recent case, I had said, “I never, ever play bunko.” I don’t remember if the friend that asked about it was the one I had said it to or not, but I don’t think so. She went on to explain what she enjoys about their bunko group. As she spoke I sensed that she was a little defensive. But my feelings about Bunko are somewhat complex, believe it or not, and I have never been able to think of a way to explain it to my friends without sounding ‘holier than thou.’ I know most of these gals don’t think of it this way. I understand why they like it and for that matter, I’m sure if I went, I’d enjoy the sociality too. But I never will. Here’s why.

Right after my husband (finally) finished college, we moved into a rental house in a neighborhood of older homes that were mostly all rentals in Merced, CA. We were thrilled. For the first time in our married life, we had our own fenced back yard. We had THREE bedrooms and TWO bathrooms. Oh GLORY! What luxury!  Our daughter didn’t have to share a room with her two brothers! There was a rickety playhouse, a swing set and a doughboy pool in the back yard, too. Raptures!

The 1200 square foot palace was not without its detractions. The psychedelic orange and brown indoor outdoor carpet in the entryway and kitchen and eating area didn’t really go with the yellowish green “sculptured” carpet in the living room. It went fine with the burnt orange shag in the family room. But the brilliant pink color scheme in the one bedroom and the brilliant blue in the other kid room did clash with the puke green sculptured carpet that adorned the bedrooms.

The good news was that we had a burnt orange couch that went great in the family room, a yellowish green couch I successfully repaired to put into the living room and the wooden dinette set went with everything!  We spent less than a hundred dollars and got all the rooms at least sparsely furnished.

We went to our new ward (church congregation assigned by geographic area,) and soon learned that there were three other families our age in our neighborhood. I was quickly called into the primary presidency and Jeff was called into the young men’s. I soon learned that the primary president was in a garden club and most of the more established women in the ward were in a book club, too. My two favorite past times! But the book club ONLY read church books.

 I was uneasy, hoping I wouldn’t feel pressure to join the book club. Our monthly income was about $900 net, and our rent was $480, all by itself. Tithes, Gasoline, utilities, car insurance for our one car, a ten-year-old Datsun added up. I made all the children’s and my clothes and food came from whatever was left. The children were little and had low expectations for birthdays.  There was no money, not one cent, to buy books. And if I had birthday money, I didn’t want to spend it only on Church books.

 I quickly found three children to babysit while their mom worked full time. They were the exact ages of my kids and a perfect fit. Jeff got a raise after three months with the company and soon was promoted to field auditor. This meant that he was out of town every other week, but his per-diem allowed us to save money. He drove a company car on his trips, too, so I had full use of the car when he was gone. But despite our easing circumstances, I never was invited to join the book club.

I was made the Primary president, and found a very dear friend in one of my counselors. (Bunko? Remember, Beth, you’re writing about bunko?) Okay, I’m getting there. At about this time, a new gal moved into our neighborhood. She had two young children, so as primary president, I went right over to meet her and hers. I learned that she had just barely managed to get melanoma into remission. They had rented their house temporarily while they looked for something to buy. She MUST stay out of the sun, and wear sun screen and hats at all times. She was as fair and blonde and light blue eyed as you can imagine, and extremely beautiful.  And she was lonely.  She asked if there was anything like a book club going in our ward. I was relieved. I felt like I could NOT cut the pie of my life into one more slice. I told her that I would ask the former Primary president about her book club, but I knew that many of the women were in that one. She thanked me with great relief.

I asked the former president about the club and she said their protocol was to vote as a club for new members. Uh-oh. A month passed. The new gal asked me about it several times. I had to tell her about the vote. Finally the answer came. “No, if we grow any bigger, we won’t have room for everyone at the luncheon we ROTATE at the members’ homes. Form your own.” I realized that nobody from our neighborhood was in the club.

Remember. . .they ONLY read Church books. But no wonder they’re worried about space. . .all crowded up at the top of their Rameumpton!  I thought. The new, lonely, cancer survivor, mother of two didn’t hide the big tears that rolled down her cheeks, from me. I was sick. I was ashamed…and I promise I know NOTHING about all the air being let out of the tires of cars parked outside the next book club meeting. (That’s a lasting regret, too. I DIDN’T really flatten the tires.)

I took a vow. “I will never belong to any group that is limited in number. I will never be in a position of excluding someone who wants to join with me socially based on artificial boundaries. I will never be the cause of tears to roll on the cheeks of someone in need.”

Another factor is that I still have a child at home. I already have monthly writer’s group meetings and other responsibilities that take me out of the home, but I feel the sacred charge of motherhood requires me to limit obligations that might potentially leave him more than is necessary. Lonely teenagers are vulnerable and I want to safeguard him as much as possible. Not that he can’t be left sometimes, but the cause of my leaving needs to be purposeful. He’s on a great track now, and I don’t want him to lose his way.

There are other factors about bunko, too. I know that some bishops have forbidden (or strongly advised against) bunko groups. I’m all for social gathering, but if I’m going to meet with 11 other women, I’d much rather learn from them. The local group is filled with talented, interesting, fun, capable women whose knowledge I would love to receive. I think of those 24 hands engaged in relieving some ill in the world. And there are so many ills that need relief.

  I’m mildly uneasy with the element of gambling and competition. Dice games are at best a waste of time. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, it’s that I DO enjoy it. But it’s something in my personality that I want to diminish, not develop.  I do play games sometimes, but in my family, where  more essential ties are strengthened.

I worry that I would be trapped in the group.  What if there was bickering or gossip or tension that might make me want to leave the group? I couldn’t do it without it being pointed. 

It all goes back to the set number required. A bunko group must function with exactly 12. Once you’re in, you need to stay in and get a substitute when you’re absent. If you’re out, you can’t go in until the will of the party invites you. No, you can’t invite a friend unless you eliminate someone elses’ participation. 

I am certain that there was no ill intent in the formation of these groups. (There are actually two in our ward, one of older ladies and one of younger.) They are women who live geographically close together and have family circumstances in common. I know that if they knew about the women who were sorry not to be included, they would respond with compassion. But I can’t think how they would fix it, with the numbers limited. The thought of a possible “form your own” response, wrings my heart. If someone is in a position to ‘form their own’ they wouldn’t be seeking entrance in the existing group.

Did you see the movie or read the book, “The Help”? I LOVE that movie/book. I think any Christian in a bunko group, should be required to see it. The circumstance in the movie that is relevant is a bridge party, but the concept is exactly the same as bunko. They’re all forced to duck down so the poor white trash girl, who is desperately lonely and doesn’t understand why she has been shunned, won’t see them there.  The character happens to resemble my cancer surviving, excluded friend.

If I were in charge of the world, I would abolish groups that limit participants. I would substitute cooking groups, gardening groups, humanitarian project groups, groups that work at the local charities like the Hope center or the soup kitchen. There’s sewing, quilting, exercise, temple attendance (for the LDS)  walking, horseback riders, groups that go to restaurants for lunch, groups that meet in homes for lunch, groups that sing or play instruments, read books, write books, decorate cakes, cupcakes, cookies. There are groups that take their children to the pool or the park or zoo. How about a politically active group that campaigned for a common goal? Groups could paint or decorate.  (Wouldn’t a redecorating group be fun?)

All of these are open membership types of groups. They each inspire creativity, well-being or worthwhile activities, as well as positive social interaction.

Here’s my bottom line, sisters. Can’t we do better than Bunko? Oughtn’t we do better than Bunko? But then again, perhaps I’ve misjudged. I guess I wouldn’t really know. I was invited to substitute, but never invited to join.      

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  • Reply Janna April 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I started that "younger" Bunko group. Funny because in a previous ward I was the one who was left out of Bunko. I was too young or too poor or not up to standard so I was not invited.

    Then, a few years ago, I was wanting to get to know the other young moms in the ward better. I was looking for deeper friendships. I chose Bunko because it seemed the only way to get women out of the house sometimes was to "lock them in" to something. I hated the idea that it was for 12 people. I hated it because I knew what it felt like to be the one left out. But, I did it any way.

    In case you are wondering, I did not develop deeper friendships from Bunko. My friendships have come through my service in the church. Isn't that interesting?

    I'm no longer a part of the group. It is because of all of the reasons listed here. I whole heatedly agree with your post. I can say that having experienced Bunko from all sides.

    I want to start a temple going group. I figure if I am going to leave my husband and kids at home for an evening, it should be for something uplifting. At this point in my life I do not have room for much else except the things that matter most.

  • Reply Pamela Peeps April 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I belong to a Bunco group that has been on going for about a year and a half. The invited 12 are members of our church and non-members. It is not church sponsored, just a few friends getting together for fun. We need substitutes often because life is busy for us all. If we hear of someone interested in our group we usually get them in quickly. Some decide to keep coming back as subs and then permanent players, others would prefer not to come back and we still continue to be their friends. As far as the gambling goes. Each of our players give $10 a month and the host for that month buys 12- ten dollar gifts, all equally nice. The one with the highest score at the end choses their prize first, the next highest goes and so on. We all leave with something of value. It really isn't what we win, it is the friendships that are made. We often joke that it is cheaper than therapy for us. We laugh and get a little silly and have fun together. We all choose what to leave the home for. I go to Bunco for an hour and a half a month, I get pedicures without my children too. This time away now and then makes me a happier mom. I feel women need friends. I love my monthly night out. Usually When we ask someone to play we get more no thank yous than possitive responses. That doesn't hurt my feelings. we all choose what to spend our time on.If it were a church activity, I could see that it would be wrong to have a controlled number, but a game night where you are inviting people to your home,really you have to put a cap on it. Would you have an open invite to the whole ward to a dinner at your home? Probably not, there just isn't room to safely house them. It is a great way to get to know people, and kindle friendships. Unfortunately I have seen some situations handled with a book club that I belonged to where I saw a dear friend's feelings get hurt. People must learn to be kind and tactful in all situations. No one is better than another. To me, friends are good. I need mine.

  • Reply Lynda Baxter April 25, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    I hadn't read your article yet when I commented on your facebook. I thought it was very good and thought provoking. However, I thought it was a little on the harsh side. A few years ago there was an add to join a neighborhood Bunco group left on our mailbox. It was looking for a group of 12 and was handed out to every house covering several blocks in our neighborhood. I chose not to join, but I know several in the group that did. They asked me to sub, but I never did. However, they are all very nice ladies in our community. They are the ones that spend a lot of time with their families, helping the schools, giving lots of community service, and several are active in their own churches. I don't think it would be right to judge them if they want to spend a few hours a month playing Bunco just because I don't want to spend my time that way. I thought it was a great way for them to get to know some of their neighbors in a way that meets some of their emotional and social needs. If the group is full, I'm sure they'd help someone know how to go about starting their own group. It doesn't mean they won't be friends and socialize with them in other ways. I felt like a lot of your points were valid and good to ponder, but I think we also need to be careful not to find fault with those who view it differently.

  • Reply GuthrieRS April 25, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    I agree with Beth about Bunko on many levels. I also have never been, but was invited to sub one time. I had a close friend who really enjoyed it in a different state, but our Bishop at the time had also counseled against it.

    I guess I still have the penny pinching mentality from when I was first married and also had to scrap by, but I don't feel the need to have to put in money to play a game. I don't have a need for getting a gift for attending a social activity. The gifts may be nice, but it is still just "stuff" that may or may not be something you want. Why can't you have a social gathering of friends to play a game (even whatever the game Bunko is) without having to buy your way in? what is the purpose of the money aspect of it?
    I know that some organizations have Bingo games where money is involved, but we have played Bingo in various situations (home, parties) where no money or prizes were involved and it was still fun.


  • Reply TEAM BOWMAN April 26, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    I would have to agree with Pamela, I would have to DISAGREE and defend myself. I do play on a bunko group and I do enjoy myself! I don’t feel bad and I don’t feel cliquish either. I have invited lots of people some who decline some who join or sub, we have had 15 people we have had 10 people, some are lds some arenot, we don’t close any doors to anyone. I f I feel like I want to spend a night by MYSELF then that’s ok. That’s what I personally need. Some may say they could find something “better to do” or they need to be at home with their family, or go to the temple, but If I want to spend 22 hours with my family one day in stead of 24 then that doesn’t make me a bad peson. I love being able to hang out with girls my age and chit chat and get different perspectives on how they are dealing with the same thing I am bc we are in a similar place in life then say an empty nester. I don’t feel sorry for the people that may feel left out, bc they are more than able to do something about it. When I first moved to Oklahoma no one invited me nor my husband for 4 years to do anything. Finally I got asked to do something, which coincidentally happened to be bunko, and I had fun. I thought to myself if I want to have friends and be social and have someone for my son to play with, then I need to get out of my comfort zone, and stop feeling sorry for my self and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. I started playdates at my house, variety clubs, invited people over for dinner, ALL which were out of my comfort zone but made me to be a better person. So we all still have are different views on whats good or bad or whats fun or not, some write books and stories, play bridge, I like to play Bunko

  • Reply Rob and Marseille April 27, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    you didn't put in your softball experience. I think that fits very nicely with the book club experience.

    I LOVE playing games, and would feel guilty if someone brought up the idea that we should be doing something better w/our time than just playing. That being said, some of my friends do a girls night once a month & the one time I did go there was too much gossip. I wished there was something to do besides sit & talk & eat (though certain people didn't control the conversation, then it probably would have been more pleasant). I do occasionally go out to lunch w/the same group of friends, but in public, the conversation is kept a bit (sometimes only a bit) more in check.

    In response to Pamela's comment, what if everyone who came brought a gift, and it became a gift exchange according to who won? I would have a hard time handing someone $10 to play a game, but bringing a gift to exchange at the party is fun!

    In response to team Bowman, good for you for getting out of your comfort zone and planning activities to get to know other people! I have a really hard time doing that, unless its not for me (the only parties I've hosted are 2 bday parties for my son, and 2 baby showers, 1 for each of my sisters.)

  • Reply Beth M. Stephenson April 27, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    The softball experience Marseille referenced was in the ward referenced in the 4-27 posted response. I was brand new in the ward and went to play in the women's softball game. In practice I hit a triple and a single. But when I got to the game, they said I couldn't play unless I wore white shoes and white pants. I didn't own either. There was a less active woman there that day, too, who had committed a similar transgression. We sat on the sidelines for half an inning and then slunk quietly away. Is anyone surprised that the less active girl never came back? That was just the first pointedly exclusive thing that happened in that ward, and not even the most dramatic. We stood it for five months and then moved away. Our new ward was like coming home. "OH YEAH! ThIS is the Church I belong to!"

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