Two confessions to begin this post.
One – I am not at all athletically gifted. Seriously, I fit the tall, awkward, clutzy girl stereotype. No I don’t trip over my own foot, but with any sports I’m more likely to hit myself in the face with something than actually do what I’m supposed to.
Two – I am, in all things, a perfectionist. I don’t like being bad at things.
Way back forever ago, the first time I visited B up in Minot, I noticed that there wasn’t a lot to do up there. It’s cold, it’s remote, and there’s hardly anyone there. As we were determined to have fun together, we weedled out some stuff to do, even if it wasn’t very weather appropriate. (Walking to Dairy Queen for ice cream when it’s in the 40s and raining? Sounds perfect.) On the second trip up there, I was there for a week and it was more important to find shared interests.
Now, remember, B is a professional international athlete. The only “sport” that we’re both pretty good at is shooting. But, even in a week, there’s only so many times you can go shooting. And B had to be at the gym a couple of times too. Once we (he) played softball with some of his squad, but I mostly stayed out of the way. And that was when he mentioned racquetball.
I tried that in college once. A professor cancelled a class on the condition that we went and did something physically active during the time. 3 classmates and I played. Or attempted to play. The one guy who knew how was constantly ducking taking the ball to the face. The other girl was about as talented as I am.
I felt sure that I had to be better, I mean, I was running regularly, I could play Ultimate Frisbee, surely racquetball wouldn’t be that bad. We went in and B spent 30-ish minutes trying to teach me how to hit the ball. He kept saying that he wasn’t very good with beginners, but that I was doing fine. I went home determined to learn to play as a surprise for him. My friend Sunny gave me a gift card for my birthday and I used that to buy my own equipment. And my workout sessions came to include 15-20 minutes in the racquetball court at my complex practicing hitting.
I only knocked my eye-wear off once, I think. I did hit myself in the head with the racquet a couple of times. Overall though, I thought I wasn’t doing too bad. I got to a level where I could hit the ball 4-5 times in a row before I did something stupid. I was so excited to go back to Minot and show B what I had learned.
After I moved up there in July, we went to play again. I was excited to actually get to play a game with someone. I knew I wouldn’t be great, but I expected to be okay and to have fun. Only I wasn’t. Okay that is. I sucked. B would smack the ball and I would cringe as it bounced around me. I would try to hit it, but not know the best way to approach it. He finally quit, telling me that, “I don’t have time to waste on someone who won’t make the proper effort.”
I. Was. Crushed. It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying to make the proper effort. It’s that I didn’t know how to move to be in the right position to hit the ball, so I’d twist the racquet in front of my body. I honestly thought that was the right way. It saved energy, so didn’t that make it more efficient? I guess not.
Needless to say, the racquetball equipment was hidden from that moment on. I didn’t mention playing and neither did he. It got packed up along with all of our belongings to get shipped to Germany, even though I seriously considered throwing mine away. It took B awhile to ask me to play again and he honestly was surprised when I responded with such vehement negativity. And he apologized. He wanted to try again.
We’ve been “playing” again since January or so. We’d play once a month or so. I have hated every single time. Because, he’s very good. He’s very athletic. And I am not. I can accept being bad at bowling, at pool, at video games and still do them and have fun. But getting beat 15-1 or 15-0 in racquetball every time we went did not endear me to the sport. I would come away from every game trying not to cry.
I couldn’t let go of it though. I wanted to be good at just this one thing to do with him. Every game, every missed ball, I heard the echoes of not being good enough in the reverbation of the bouncing of the ball. Every comment felt like a jab at my, poking fun at how bad I was. Only, I wasn’t laughing.
Today started out as more of the same. I went down 3-1 early and fought and fought and fought. And never scored another point. The second game was worse. I almost got a point on him, and he slammed the ball hard into a shot I had no chance of making. I stormed out of the room after that one finished. The tears were bright in my eyes.
I’ll admit it wasn’t pretty. I was hurt. I was embarassed. I was angry. I was tired of feeling worthless because of a stupid game. We were at an impasse. I finally asked him if there was anything he wasn’t good at. His quick answer was swimming and I pointed out that he avoided it. His next answer was shooting – he’d been bad when he first started but he scores expert on his tests now. I told him that didn’t count. I modified and asked if there was something that he wasn’t good at that he kept doing just because he wanted to do it with someone else who enjoyed it. He fell silent.
There we sat until he finally admitted that there was nothing. I told him I didn’t like being toyed with, that I didn’t understand why he couldn’t just take it a little easy on me. He parried with the comment that he thought I didn’t want him “letting” me win. And I don’t. I really don’t. I just don’t want to go out there and feel like I’m so easy to beat that he doesn’t have to expend any effort to beat me, even if he does.
He asked to play one more game. And he took it easy on me. He still won, but at a score of 16-14 instead of 15-0. I actually had fun. I was able to make shots to score points because he wasn’t playing so far over my head that I was back-pedaling constantly. I told him after that he didn’t have to do that anymore and he disagreed. He said that it’s more fun for him when I have fun too and he doesn’t know why he didn’t try playing more to my level earlier so that we could both have fun.
Now, my ego aches at him having to go easy on me. It rankles my pride. I just want to be good enough. But maybe, just maybe, this way I can actually learn to be good enough to actually make him work for the wins. And even if not, at least we can both have fun. Because the other way? Neither of us was having fun.
It’s hard for me to take it easy on myself. That perfectionist in me wants to be the best. Wants to be good at everything. I’m not. I can’t be. I never will be. But, at least I can have fun.