Every Loser Wins (Not Reflections on Nick Berry)

In the last few days, deep into a rather silly card game I was suddenly accused of being too competitive. While admittedly I had almost sunk my claws into a fellow player to lay my card down before theirs and therefore further my aim of winning at least that round, but in fact I was somewhat taken aback by the statement.

I never have thought of myself as being competitive. I think that this largely stems from a childhood that had two main reasons why I never grew up thinking about competition. First I was an only child. As such I did not have to compete for attention or anything else for that matter – although the biologist in me is knocking at the back of my head and reminding me that all offspring compete with their parents if only to maximise attention (versus that attention going elsewhere). Secondly, I was so gloriously unfit and from a household where the only physical exercise came from walking the dog (my job) and mowing the lawn (yes, me again). At school, I was completely used to being humiliated and last at pretty much any physical activity, bar a very brief period around twelve/thirteen where my early onset puberty meant that by sheer size I could compensate for lack of speed on the rugby field sometimes literally crushing the opposition before me. Then everyone else caught up and it stopped being fun again. Therefore, I hated competitive games and saw them mainly as something you needed only to survive them as best that you could.

Even now, while I love my running, I am an antisocial runner and rarely run with anyone. I’m not interested in being faster or going further than anyone else – the only person I am competing with is me.

At primary school, I was often at the top of the class and was accustomed to being the one with the best results. That area of competition soon stopped too when I ended up at Newcastle Royal Grammar where mid table respectability on the academic front suddenly seemed to be my destiny. This was even further emphasized when, after scraping into Oxford, you suddenly realise that everyone is brighter than you. It is quite a shock. You do your best to cope, get a decent degree and reserve any thoughts of competition to the playing of board games; come to think of it even there I can largely recall every single victory as there were so few of them.

Being uncompetitive at games or even at studies is one thing – one is entirely optional fun and the other you can work around usually; when it relates to love, it can be much harder to handle. My initial explorations into the weird and twisty world of romance were an unmitigated disaster. Not content with getting dumped by email after only a few weeks by my first girlfriend, I then managed to waste the next couple of years trying to ‘win her back’.

Yes, I know, I had to learn, OK? I’m not good at letting go.

I made the mistake of thinking that by generally treating her like a princess and generally doing anything she wanted (I hate to even think of the money, time and tears I spent) that I could somehow compete with the succession of boyfriends she went through. Each time she used one up I was convinced that this time it would be different, her eyes would be opened, heavenly music would come down from on high and all would be wonderful again. But no. Another man gets ahead of me – and when that man is at least 20 years older than me, that feels like a punch to the stomach. With a razor-sharp knuckle duster.

It didn’t work in the end of course, almost never does; you cannot make someone love you –  no matter how much you put yourself through in trying to change that someone’s heart. I know this now, but that was a lesson that had to be learned through pain.

So, competitive? Me? Surely not.

Nonsense. Of course, I’m competitive. We all are. We all have egos that we need to feed although we might not think about it consciously. We want attention. We want to be loved. We like to succeed and to win. It feels good and often we get more from the joy of the act of winning then we do from the prise itself. Equally, when we feel we have lost out it can be the worse feeling in the world, especially when what we have lost is something precious.

All we can do is keep competing, enjoy our victories when we have them and hope that at the end of the day we have done better than break even.