My wife Sheila and I were having a serious conversation about something (I can’t remember what—possibly a plan for the rest of our lives, possibly why the cat sneezes all the time) when all hell broke loose on the television in another room. David Ortiz had hit a game-tying grand slam in the eighth inning of game two of the American League Championship Series. I stopped mid-sentence and ran to the TV. I watched the replay, laughed at the cheering security guard in the Red Sox bullpen, marveled at a significant postseason baseball moment, and completely forgot what I was saying in the conversation with my wife. I still don’t remember.
Sheila and I have been married for 12 years, and everyone who knows us will tell you that I married way out of my league. (She’s the Detroit Tigers to my West Michigan Whitecaps.) And I don’t mean this in a braggy way, but she hasn’t divorced me once.
This got me to thinking: How do a sports fan and non-sports fan make a marriage work? I should point out that I have no idea, but here’s how it has worked for me.
ADVICE FOR SPORTS FANS
Never rank the best days of your life (out loud).
I always tell people that the best days of my life are—in no particular order; I cannot stress this point strongly enough—the day I got married, the births of my two children, and October 28, 2008, when the Phillies clinched the World Series for the first time in 28 years. If I were ever to truly rank these days according to how much I actually enjoyed them, I’m not sure the result would be well received.
Pick your battles.
Left to my own devices, I would basically watch sports, up to and including Olympic curling, all the time. And I would weigh 300 pounds and likely be dead really soon. If the secret to a good marriage is compromise, you have to determine what matters most to you (in my case, the entire baseball season, including spring training) and defer to other interests when you’re less into what’s going on in the sports world (pretty much the entire baseball offseason, with the possible exception of the Superbowl). If you have to forego watching Boise State football play Saint Mary’s Sisters of the Poor on ESPN 8 in order to celebrate your 10th anniversary, then so be it.
Avoid defining your relationship with sports metaphors.
This includes any reference to winning, losing, or splitting the uprights.
Don’t try to make your significant other a fan.
Sheila has tolerated my borderline-obsessive sports fandom for the duration of our relationship without really developing an affinity for sports herself. She attends games with me (this is how I know that Coors Field in Denver sells wine and has a salad bar) and she wears the Phillies gear that I buy her, but more because it’s comfortable or adorable than because she cares about any particular team.
The thing is, I already have friends to talk sports with and I write a sports blog, so I have no reason to force sports fandom on someone who doesn’t naturally take to it. Besides, that’s what kids are for.
Marry a saint.
I’m the first to admit that Sheila has a remarkable skill for shrugging off a lot of nonsense, including the time I planned an entire week-long spring break family road trip to Arizona around spring training baseball. I don’t know how she does it.
ADVICE FOR NON-SPORTS FANS
Note: I gleaned most of the points below from talking to Sheila and my sister Katie, both afflicted with sports-fan spouses.
Don’t fake it.
Your sports-fan spouse does not want to talk sports with someone who is just pretending to be a fan. This is where you get into a situation where someone says something they can’t take back, like calling a run a point, and the relationship is over. Accept that you and your significant other don’t share every single interest and don’t dwell on it.
When you’re being regaled with a pitch-by-pitch account of a particularly remarkable scoreless fourth inning, don’t be afraid to say, “I just don’t care.” Your sports-fan spouse is definitely going to finish the story, but we’re aware that you’re thinking of something else while we talk.
Take up knitting. Or something.
You almost certainly will encounter a situation where your significant other just wants to see “one more out” or “the last 30 seconds” or “this last thing.” You may not give two damns about whatever it is, but know that your spouse wants you there.* But bring a book or Words With Friends or some other project and hang out, because the last few moments of any sporting event will take 100 times longer than what you are being told.
*NOTE: If your spouse’s team’s fortunes take a turn for the worse when you arrive, it is your fault and you need to get out of there right away. If your spouse’s team’s fortunes unexpectedly improve when you arrive, plan on your presence being required in exactly that same spot for the rest of your life. Or at least the rest of your spouse’s life.
Your words have power.
Know that if you say, “Oh, good, they’re going to win!” they will definitely lose. And it will be your fault.
Know that you married a psycho.
That’s the plain and simple truth. Our moods are going to be affected by millionaires in pajamas playing a game and we’re going to spend a ton of money buying plastic junk at ballgames, and you’re going to have to deal with it because you chose us. Just know that when you get sentenced to life in prison for smothering us with a pillow, your cellmate will almost surely be a sports fan. Because karma is a bitch.
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