On Winning and Defeat
Winning is relative. I’ve discovered that.
I wouldn’t consider myself a competitive person, by any stretch, however, like anyone else, I don’t love losing even the friendliest of games.
I’ve just recently (the past two weeks) begun to play squash with a friend from work at his condo. Even before I went, I asked Mark, “Do you think I’ll be able to beat Ryan?” And Mark looked at me sadly and said, “No.” I was kind of bruised by his lack of hesitation. He attempted to patch my hurt over with some explanation of my height disadvantage, “For every step Ryan takes, you’ll have to take three, Melissa.”
I nodded, but in my heart I thought I stood a chance.
So our first week of squash, we both kind of flung ourselves around the court (I tend to do a lot more flinging than deliberate running) and he beat me four games in a row. (He also hit me with a squash ball in the arm). I took some small comfort in the fact that he kind of collapsed at the end of the four games. He’ll tell you this was due to laughter, but I truly believe I exhausted him.
This past week, during our second squash match, I lost eight consecutive games. And it was brutal. I don’t normally become angry, or too self-pitying or bitter, but I sensed the approach of all of those emotions when he began to egg me on with, “I wonder if Melissa will score ANY points this game.” (I “mistakenly” hit him twice with the squash ball during this match.) And after an hour and a half, we were finally (and incredibly) tied 8-8. And at this point the rule book says that the player who is not serving decides whether the game will go to 10 or not. And Ryan must have lost some confidence because he called that we would go to 10. He got the next point, then I tied it up at 9-9 and low and behold, I scored the winning point! I was elated and proceeded to ride my racket around the court. (This is a trick I’ve seen Mark do on many a mini-putt course).
A few days later, Ryan goes out for beers with some of our mutual friends, and Mark. I then hear, from an unnamed source that Ryan claimed that if he had truly played his HARDEST I would never be able to beat him. Immediately, a victory is ripped from my hands - a victory which I truly feel I paid for in sweat and bruises and curse-words.
My second win of the week occurred this very evening. I was sitting on the couch in front of the television, feeling bored and rather ho-hum, when Mark came in and began rummaging through the coffee table (ours acts also as a storage for board games). “What are you doing?” (I felt like a dog who senses his owners has picked up his leash and a walk may be imminent). “I was thinking we could play a game,” he said casually, knowing full well I’d be over the moon at the suggestion that we spend quality “together” time.
So he pulled out the chess board and we began to carefully set up the pieces. I began the game, as I always do, with a sense that a loss is unavoidable. Somehow, I rarely win at anything. However, my defensive moves slowly became offensive and soon I was chiming “check”…. “check” ….. “check” and then finally … “check mate”. And no sooner did the words escape my mouth but he breathed a sigh of relief and said, “I was just WAITING for that game to be over!” And the joy of the win was again suddenly gone.
So I guess winning is relative. It’s relative to the preceeding effort. It’s relative to the opponent’s ability to gracefully accept their defeat. And it’s relative to the long-term repercussions, because I would lose 20 consecutive games of chess if it meant Mark and I could have more “together” time.