It was the height of the pandemic during a one-off Bay Area heat wave, and my girlfriend and I were bored. Our quota of around-the-park walks had been met, and we’d made every type of TikTok recipe that came up on our FYPs. The thought of another loaf of banana bread or whipped coffee made my skin crawl. And every time we tried to forget our discomfort with a titty or two, one of us ended up overheating — prompting a run to the kitchen to fetch an ice pack to combat the oncoming wave of discomfort that hot days seem to provide. At this phase, it was also rare that a movie could be enjoyed while the sun was still out with the two of us straining our necks to see what was on her overheating laptop.
Desperate, I turned to Craigslist like any other quarantined person would and found a listing for some board games. We hopped in the car, and in less than an hour, we found ourselves on the floor staring at a dilapidated Scrabble box and a well-loved sack of letters for Bananagrams. That ever-so-enchanting smell of mildew begged us to open it up and play, but not before my girlfriend sent all the tiles into a bath of soapy water — a completely understandable pandemic-influenced action. We decided we’d try out a friendly game of Scrabble first.
It was nice. Initially.
The intellectual stimulation and forced creativity were a welcome change from screen time brain rot. Scrabble has always been an exciting way to show that my English degree might have meant something. I like to spend upwards of 15 minutes thinking of all the ways I could use each tile in one massive scoring word. Seven tiles of complete gibberish could spell out LESBIAN and could also be SALINE or ALIEN depending on where your head’s at when you play. Lesbians and Sigourney Weaver are often on my mind when I’m playing Scrabble, but that could just be me.
After a few rounds, it became clear to me that my girlfriend was rapidly losing interest as the point gap became wider. The wordsmith in me was relishing this moment, but as an Empath™ I could sense that only one of us was having fun. The other was looking for an easy out. She resigned from the challenge and started playing three-letter words. As predicted, I came out on top with a score at least 30 above hers. There was no big blowup, no fight over the outcome of the game. Only a reserved smile and a request to do something else.
A while after the events of Scrabblegate 2020, I asked my girlfriend what she was thinking. She told me that in the past she’s been the one in the relationship to excel at all things competitive in nature. She didn’t want to put me off by flipping the board or making a scene, though I think I might have preferred it for the drama of it all. I’ve witnessed couples throwing controllers after a bad game of Mario Kart and straight men fighting their inner demons after getting three-stocked in a game of Super Smash Bros — revealing actions that let you really know how they feel. But it had only been half a year of dating, and she didn’t want me to see that side of her yet, so she feigned disinterest in playing another game, and we moved on with our day.
Since getting to know my girlfriend more, I’ve been allowed to see that side of her, something that checks out for me personally. I like people who look like they have their shit together. When I think about it, I’ve never not been into people with a competitive personality. It could simply be the type of person I find myself attracted to, but I’ve always had a thing for people who could beat my ass in any and all things game related. A good friendly ass-whooping could be as compelling as receiving a late night nude. I would describe it as wanting to prove you’re just as good as them in something. Not in the sense that you want to be better than them but to show that you’re willing to try and get on the same level and can meet them where they’re at — similar to how many people desire for their partners to show all their colors. Now when we play any type of game that might involve competition, she’s not afraid of talking shit straight to my face or expressing her discontent for my wins. It makes me feel closer to her.
Most of my life I’ve believed I was just going to be mediocre at most things. I was just okay at the sports I played and got just okay grades in most every subject except English. Rarely were my exams the example that the teacher showed after a test and narry were my essays chosen for submission to whatever contest the school was having. I know now that my cunning lies in wit and rambling introspective essays, but what draws me to these people who can’t help but excel is awe and the slightest twinge of envy. It took a long time for me to understand that being attracted to someone sometimes means being in love with the things that you want most for yourself. I’m lucky enough to have found a partner who uplifts the things about me that I haven’t thought possible before.