A number of years ago, I was playing a card game with an acquaintance of mine who described me as competitive. Me? Competitive? Me, the one who absolutely loves to play board games and has always thought she never really cared if she won or lost, that she just wanted to play? I mean, I’m a third child. It was forever before I played anything with one of my older sisters that I managed to win. These days, I usually play board games with Bob, and winning can’t possibly be very important to me, because it’s the rare occasion that I manage to beat him at anything.
I could ignore my acquaintance who described me as competitive, because, quite obviously, she just didn’t know me that well. But then, earlier this month, I was with my college roommate, a woman who has known me well for over 30 years, and she described me as competitive. We were harking back to our college days when our procrastination tool of choice was a Backgammon set, and we whiled away many an hour that should’ve been spent studying, sitting on one of our beds, rolling dice and moving tokens (BTW, is there anything more tactile-ly satisfying than a nice Backgammon set?). She said I always played to win. Maybe she’s right, or maybe it’s just that I was busy teaching a lot of novices how to play a game that my sisters and father had been beating me at for years, and I was merely relishing in the fact that (granted, since they were novices, it was sort of like a full-grown wolf beating chihuahua puppies, but still, it was a new feeling) I could actually win.
This gave me pause. Am I competitive? I certainly don’t want to be one of those people who sees myself one way, never considering the possibility that everyone else in the world sees me another way. But competitive? I hate competition. Never went in for sports (okay, I was never good at any sports, but still). I’m the one drifting through life tossing out her peace, love, and understanding flowers, hating it when people fight. I remember back in the days when my friends and I were all young and getting married, one of my friends had just been to the Caribbean with her fiancé. She was busy relating to me some story whose details I’ve forgotten but that had something to do with their competing for elbow space on the armrest between their airplane seats. I remember wondering (to myself, not out loud to her, of course), “Is this a good thing that you’re so competitive with him? Should marriage involve such competition?”
Fast forward 20+ years or so, and enter the Fitbit age. In case you don’t know what a Fitbit is, here you go. Basically, it’s a wearable monitor that syncs with your computer to track your activity, a glorified (read “expensive”) pedometer (but more fun than that, because, well, flashing lights and a vibrating wristband and smiley faces on your Smartphone!), if you will. You set goals for yourself (typically at least 10,000 steps and 30 active minutes a day), and then you try to meet those goals. Earlier this year, I decided to get one for Bob and one for me (ironically, I ordered our Fitbits on a Sunday, and that week, before we even got them, this hilarious article by David Sedaris, appeared in The New Yorker). Truth be told, I got one for myself because I just seem to keep gaining weight, and I’d heard from those who have them that they really do encourage you to be more active. The main reason I got it for Bob (who doesn’t need to lose any weight)? I thought he’d enjoy having it for his hikes when we go to Maine. Also, I was hoping it would inspire him to walk Clare, our dachshund, a little more often, since she’d recently begun to gain weight, and our vet told us she needed to lose it (great. Now not only must we worry about our own unwanted pounds that we never seem to be able to shed, but we also must worry about the unwanted pounds our vets want our dachshunds to shed). I knew if he had a goal to meet, he’d meet it, and maybe I wouldn’t get stuck walking Clare so often.
Our Fitbits arrived, and I began wearing mine immediately. I instantly empathized with David Sedaris. I suddenly found myself having to squash the urge to park my car in the next town over when I went to the grocery store, or marching in place while I took a shower, or walking around the house for fifteen minutes before I went to bed. I also suddenly decided I didn’t want Bob to walk Clare. At all. Not even the one time a day he typically walked her. I wanted to walk her at least three times a day, preferably four, whether she wanted it or not, and she had to walk fast enough for me to add to my active minutes, no dawdling around to sniff blades of grass or eat bugs. I’d
drag her keep her trotting — if necessary, I’d carry her, especially since, for some reason, I soon discovered that even if my watch said I’d been dragging her around walking her for ten minutes, my Fitbit would only acknowledge 3 of those minutes. None of this was a problem before Bob donned his Fitbit. He was a bit skeptical of this whole Fitbit thing, was busy with work, and was happy to let me walk Clare as much as I wanted.
Then, we went to Maine. He finally charged his Fibit, synced it, and began to wear it. And this is when I began to realize that maybe there’s a competitive streak in me that I’m just not able to see. He obsessively checked his stats and informed me where he was. Up until then, I’d mostly relied on the blinking lights that track steps, not bothering to sync for all my stats more than once or twice a day. Suddenly, I was syncing as often as he was. He’d tell me he’d hit 10,567 steps, and I’d have to hit 10,568 steps. He’d get 40 active minutes, and I’d work to get at least 41. Beating the number of miles he’d gone (due to his longer strides) or calories burned (due to his weight) was nearly impossible, but I could do it, sometimes, if I got up earlier than he did, walked up and down the driveway a few times, and went to bed later than he did. Then, we went for the hike in which I fell and hurt my knee. Horrors! That meant at least a week of his being able to rack up steps and active minutes and miles out on the trails, while I gingerly walked slowly around, hoping to get at least 5000 steps without doing any more damage to my injury.
Finally, my knee healed enough to begin walking and working out. By then, we’d left Maine. Clare, no longer hiking trails in Maine, needed to be walked again. Bob, who now understood that when he was home and working (like so many of us, unless it’s Sunday morning, working tends to mean sitting at a computer or sitting down and talking to others), meeting his goals was a bit more challenging. He decided he needed to walk Clare more often. Wait a minute. Walking Clare had always been my job. He walked her if it was dark, but this was the middle of the summer, when darkness wasn’t a factor. How dare he steal some of my 10,000 steps by insisting on walking her? He began saying things to me like, “While you finish eating lunch, I’ll walk Clare.” He began walking her while I was at work. Worse still, he began joining me when I was walking her, so I could never
enjoy my meditative, quiet walks with her get more steps in than he did.
Then, we went to the doctor for our annual physicals. Despite the fact I haven’t yet lost the weight I want to lose, we’re both in better shape (according to our blood work and our blood pressure checks) than either of us were last year. So, maybe I’m competitive. Maybe I was a little too judgmental with my friend and her fiancé when they returned from their Caribbean vacation. Maybe a little healthy competition is a good thing for a marriage.