I’ve really been thinking a lot about friendship in the past couple of weeks, particularly the friends I made when I was young, and how friendship evolves or changes or ends as time passes. And I’ve been thinking about how often human relationships are compared to games. I mean, I get some of that analogy. I’m a sports fan. There are countless sports metaphors for life. There are rules in life that have to be followed and some limits that are made to be stretched. There are heroes and villains. There are goals to be attained through hardship and examples of grace in the face of loss. And yeah…it seems like sometimes there are winners and losers. But personally, I don’t like thinking of human relationships as something competitive and adversarial. Sure…sports and games can be fun, and all the lessons of cooperation and effort and the thrill of miraculous destiny and heroics are great.
I’ve got this on my mind today because I’ve had some emotional exchanges with my oldest friend who started out as my friend when we were children…not even teenagers yet…and the two of us loved baseball, and I connect baseball with him. And probably because I’ve been thinking about him, and I’m a sucker for baseball sentimentality, I convinced J and The Boy to watch Ken Burns’ documentary, Baseball, with me over the past couple of days at home. I love the history and nostalgia and that it so readily draws happy memories of my first best friend up to the forefront for me.
Baseball is an easy sport to use in metaphor for all kinds of life situations, including human relationships…there’s no clock winding down…you can theoretically always make up for bad pitches and errors and strike outs. Individual statistics matter in baseball, and there are individual heroes in baseball, but no one wins a baseball game alone; the field’s too big; the game’s too long; the best hitter on the team still only gets to bat once every nine times; the best hitters fail 2/3 of the time. There are a multitude of connections and parallels and conclusions to be drawn between human relationships and life and baseball. But really? The relationships in my life can’t really be overlaid with baseball. They normally feel like more elementary games.
Yeah…I’ve felt like some of my relationships are more like playing dodgeball…
Where I’m supposed to field a lot of other people’s negative and dramatic feelings with an empathetic understanding ear, without letting any of them hit me hard enough to knock me out. It’s rough and exhausting. Eventually, I always get beaned. And usually hurt. I don’t terribly enjoy playing dodgeball, and somehow I end up the villain in other people’s stories by refusing to play after a while.
And I’m not a big fan of tag, either, to be honest. Most of my relationships feel this way to me. I’m chasing people down to maintain some kind of contact with them. I feel like I’m always in this game of tag with a lot of people, and I’m always ‘it.’ I have to run them down and catch them and assert myself, and somehow, even when I manage to touch someone, I’m still ‘it,’ and I’m still running after them. No one comes running after me. And that’s never a good feeling. Dodgeball and tag are still competitions where there are losers, and I feel like a perpetual one when I’m in a relationship like these.
I’m not wholly opposed to the metaphor of ‘relationships are games.’ There’s even one I really like. A game that is just for fun. There’s no winner or loser and there’s really no pressure in it, even for someone with potentially raging social anxiety like me.
I’ve always liked playing catch.
Catch isn’t a competition. You play catch WITH someone, not against them. There’s no desire for either party to fail. In fact…you want the person you’re playing with to always succeed. There’s give and take. You want your partner to catch what you throw and then you want them to throw it back to you, and you want to throw it back to them again. No one counts who’s thrown or caught more. You just kind of play until your arm gets tired or you run out of things to say or the street lights come on or the mosquitoes get too bothersome to continue dealing with. And then you promise…when that ends…that you’ll play again soon. And you do.
Those are the relationships that always feel the best to me. The ones that are comfortable. The ones that aren’t me running someone down or dodging someone else’s drama, but ones where I get reciprocation and genuine interest and investment in not only their needs and desires and success, but mine too. I like playing catch. And I’m grateful for the handful of people in my life who play catch with me.