I love playing games.
The non-drama ones, at least. The ones that involve cards, or boards, strategies and interaction with others, either in groups or one on one. The games where nothing really matters, but there is an element of challenge and friendly competition anyways. When I was a kid all the way through my teen years, my family would gather around the dining room table on a Saturday. The games always varied, though a 6+ hour marathon of Empire Builder (a game involving ‘building’ train tracks across a map of Europe, or the US, and making deliveries) was a family favorite.
Sometimes we never actually finished a game, but we would all cluster around, even helping my much younger siblings to play. Although we all wanted to win, so long as we had our soda, and our Cool Ranch Doritos, and each other, it was just a time of great fun.
A few years ago, my ex was pushing for me to start playing a game called “Magic: the Gathering” with him. Looking back, I was reluctant to get involved in another distraction. You see, I love strategy games. Especially mildly convoluted ones. I love finding the patterns in things, learning the mechanics of games, and with new cards every quarter, it keeps M:tG rather fresh. Yet the more I protested, the more he pushed. And eventually, I caved. It was my own choice, but as I’m looking back and reexamining our time together, it’s one of many subtle ways I have begun to wonder if he was sabotaging my focus on school. I myself made all the decisions that didn’t prioritize finishing my degree, but he always wanted me to do what he was doing. Whether it was beer-making, or playing a certain type of game. And he would kind of sulk if I didn’t feel up to going, or want to go. (In a healthy relationship, it shouldn’t feel like such high-pressure stakes. You should enjoy spending time with your spouse, right? You shouldn’t feel guilted into doing everything?)
Anyhow, at first joining my Ex playing in M:tG went well. I was a brand new player. He enjoyed the role of teacher. We would go to Friday night events, and I inevitably wouldn’t know exactly what I was doing, and rank fairly low. It gave us another point of contact, time one on one with a game we could play against each other at home too.
But then I started doing better than him, sometimes.
And he would get frustrated. Especially if anyone else commented, teasingly, that I was doing better than him.
I enjoyed the games. And I enjoyed the people. And not wanting to deal with my ex’s frustrations, some nights I would play cavalierly, knowing I was probably going to impact my rank. A handful of times I even threw games. Sometimes I would pretend to be worse off than I was, and allow the game to prolong a little, especially when playing against him. (All the while, resenting, just a bit, that I felt it necessary.) It never mattered to me if I lost, because even then I kind of ‘won’ by not having to deal with hubby’s poor attitude. Once he just ‘conceded’ a win to me, so I could ‘get’ a higher rank. I wasn’t terribly pleased.
Something changed this last year, however, and the importance of him winning became more and more key to him. One Friday night, he came home from playing (I had made excuses) and stormed around the house. Tried to throw away the game cards (which accumulate over years, and included my own), and stormed about declaring he should just end his life.
All over a silly game.
After that, I stopped playing. At home. With him. Anywhere. I would attend certain special game nights. The last one I played, my ex made a big deal of it. “I’m having fun, even though I’m not winning.” Yadda, yadda, yadda – simply because he knew if he had a bad attitude I would just leave. But it seemed so forced. I suppose I should give him credit for trying, but the damage had been done. He’d instilled in me almost this subconscious wariness for winning.
I cannot go back to our old game store. It kinda feels like he has first dibs, simply because he started going there first. At any rate, I decided to try out a new place, for an event this weekend.
8th out of 20 isn’t so bad. But what was better? I was able to enjoy my little success wholly. I had a great time, met some new people, and was generally welcomed. (Held off taking a Xanax, though my anxiety was ramping up at the beginning. I never used to have a problem with social anxiety, but it’s gotten bad lately.)
I am realizing now, that anytime I was with my ex in public, I would be monitoring his words. On guard for something that would betray any untoward state of mind.
It’s nice to lay that burden down. To be free to be myself, for good or ill.
No more Compromising over silly things just to avoid a conflict. That’s my new promise to myself. I don’t mean that I have to be a dick about things, but I don’t need to apologize for my strengths or successes.