Girlfriend’s survival guide: dating a sports fan

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, March 12, 2016

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Last football season I noticed a disturbing pattern developing with the Fella. He would come in the door and announce, “I’m upset.” I’d feel my anxiety rise and dread enter my heart. Oh, no! What terrible thing has happened?

“Why?” I would ask.

“The Bears beat the Giants, which makes it harder for the Packers to make the playoffs.” (Hey, sports fans, I chose these teams at random. I have no idea if a Bears v. Giants game would affect the chances of the Packers. I would rather use the energy it would take me to provide a plausible scenario by defending myself up front by writing this extensive parenthetical comment. Back to our story …).

Joy Carrico

Joy Carrico

So, he would say something like, “the [insert team] beat the [insert team] which [effect on third team].”

All my fight/flight reactions returned to normal, and I would say, “Oh,” slightly annoyed at the exchange. I might even roll my eyes a little.

I don’t like rolling my eyes at the Fella. I generally regard the Fella’s thoughts and feelings as valid and worthy of my attention and sympathetic response. So, why was I annoyed by his feelings in this particular case?

I am fully aware that he loves sports and puts a lot of his emotional energy into them. I knew this from almost the first date. In fact, after our first date, I think I knew his favorite teams in most sports – first Packers then Broncos, Stars and Rangers.

After this exchange had happened a few times, I could feel myself getting just a little more annoyed each time. Uh-oh. A resentment was on the horizon. So I considered the situation and figured out why I didn’t like it.

He may, and does, care about standings and this team beating that team and rankings. I do not.

In most cases, when watching sports with the Fella, my cheering consists of “just tell me when to hold up my foam finger.” I’m really just cheering for the Fella’s happiness. Even when I myself am cheering for a particular team (Go Rangers!), I do not go so far as to care about other teams’ wins/losses. I’m not that advanced in my sportsfandom. I just cheer when they, themselves, are playing a game.

This is my father’s fault, I think. He was a football player through high school, college and in the world’s briefest professional career. After that, he was a football coach and finally the athletic director for a school district not too far from here. He knew a heck of a lot about sports in general and football in particular.

He watched football with quiet observance. If you asked him what he saw, he could tell you with precise detail an extensive description of the play that just took place, whereas I could let you know if they passed or ran the ball, and can spot the occasional blitz.

I never heard him cheer. He sat, stone-faced and silent through every football game I ever watched with him, which is many. The most emotion I ever heard out of him was one time when Drew Bledsoe, the Cowboys’ quarterback, made a pretty big blunder. Dad shook his head and said under his breath, “That was sorry.”

Also, he never rooted for any particular team, not even the Cowboys. He liked and would follow the careers of individual players that exhibited the magic combination of good character and talent, but he never picked a team.

I asked him about this. He cared about it being a good ballgame. That’s what he was looking for. He wanted it to be well-matched and well-played.

So, as a sports spectator, I had a stoic role model. I will probably never show much emotion when watching sports, especially on TV.

The Fella is the polar opposite of my dad in this regard. He carries on as if his life is at its peak and/or at its lowest point based on whatever just happened. Watching a game with him is an experience of emotional extremes.

Dad and the Fella watched the Super Bowl together this year, and my dad had as much fun watching the Fella react as he did watching the game (which was not, by his estimation, a good one). He laughed out loud – which was a rare sight – and asked if the Fella needed an ambulance. He responded with far more animation to the Fella than I have ever seen him express over any game, even one he was coaching.

Needless to say, the Fella’s approach to watching sports was not something I was accustomed to at first. I had to get used to it, and I have done a good job. But I do not, myself, feel as he feels.

So, when he would open up our conversation with, “I’m upset,” he caused me to feel some amount of anxiety and worry. When I heard why, I became irritated. Not because he was in turmoil about sports, but because I was duped into upsetness over something that did not matter to me. He was not doing this intentionally. He was just telling me how he felt.

So, armed with my newfound knowledge, I suggested to him that he would get a much better response from me and avoid eventual resentment and possible conflict if he would just reverse his sentences. “The [insert team] beat the [insert team] which [effect on third team], and I’m upset about it.”

He started implementing the new procedure, and the results are very promising. He came home, declared, “Well, the Packers are in the playoffs, and I’m really happy about it.” I said, “That’s wonderful, sweetheart!” Each time he remembers the order of things, I have consistently responded with sympathy and with no trace of irritation or disregard.

It worked! Just last night he said something about the Mavericks and expressed frustration, in that order, and I felt genuine sympathy for him. I’m glad we figured this out in time for baseball season, because he really likes baseball.

I feel confident that he can talk to me about how he feels about any sport as much as he likes, as long as he doesn’t accidentally take me with him on his emotional roller coaster ride.

Joy Carrico is a graphic artist for the Messenger. She grew up in football stadiums, and the glow of Friday night lights makes her happy.

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