I’ve been mulling this topic intermittently over the past few weeks. “Rivalry, hmm… what to say about that?” And then some new drama or crisis would pop up and I’d stop thinking about it.
But, eventually, it occurred to me that the reason I had a hard time figuring out what to say is that the concept is, largely, foreign to me.
I was never a member of a sports team, and when we had high school marching band competitions, the point was to do as well as we, collectively, could; not to beat any particular other team. My sisters are quite a bit younger than I am, to the point that we were never competing for the same types of attention from our parents while I was still living there. And all of my school successes (and, yeah, failures) have been individually achieved and measured, not comparative and competitive. I didn’t even realize that my high school class rank was 4th out of 280some, until Rank #5 started a petition to keep me from being able to graduate with rank; the first four seats were in the front row, then came several rows of adult-ed GED graduates, and then came ranks #5 through whatever. Apparently she wanted better photo opportunities during the ceremony. I hadn’t fully decided whether to walk in graduation until that point (I’d left high school a year early and had already completed my college freshman year) but learning about her petition made that decision for me.
So, what is this rivalry stuff, and where can I get some?
I’ve decided, over the past few days, that true rivalry requires several specific ingredients. First, you need a person or entity with a shared task or goal, one whose success will go clearly to one or the other. That is, you can’t both be on the same team; if you are and there’s still rivalry, it’s because what you’re actually hoping to win is something other than the score of the game.
Then you need that same entity to be approximately equally skilled in the specific area in which you’re competing. If you’re just going to trounce or be trounced, that’s not rivalry; it’s just sad. You need some suspense, some doubt as to the outcome of it all.
Then you need to care who wins. Really care, not just “give it your best and try your hardest,” but really want to win and make everyone else lose.
And last, as far as I can see, you need a long-term relationship. It takes more than one game, even one season, to really build up a good rivalry. It takes commitment and sustained effort, from both sides.
I’ve had plenty of people with whom I have competed, in games and in more serious endeavors, but it has always been (at least in my memory) a case of competing for a coveted privilege or prize, but not with much focus at all on the other person’s outcome. I don’t care if you get into the same college or rank in the same music competition, as long as I meet my own standards of performance.
When I’ve been equally skilled to another participant, it has been in circumstances in which it benefits me if they do well, too. Things like, parenthood. And mental health work.
I just lack some basic competitive muscle, at least the aspect of it which makes me want other people to lose. I have plenty of competition when it comes to board games or winning stupid argument about who originally released a song, but I just want to be right – I don’t really care whether the other person is wrong.
Maybe someday, I’ll open my B&B and develop a strong rivalry with another North Shore B&B. And in the meantime… whose turn is it?