Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Perfect Partner

“I feel bad if I’m losing. And I also feel bad if I’m winning. It’s kind of an impossible situation.”

This sentiment was uttered by one of my tennis mates. I’m not sure which one, but I’m pretty sure it’s a true statement for all of us. There’s never any pleasing us, in tennis.

If you appear to enjoy winning, you can easily be branded as Too Competitive. If you seem not to care whether you win or lose, you risk being Not Competitive Enough. So besides all the craziness that goes hand-in-hand with feeling worthy of or entitled to a win, you have the added worry of how you’re perceived. And of not disappointing your partner.

If this isn’t the most stressful aspect of Ladies Doubles, I don’t know what is.

In that way that Tennis is a microcosmic version of Life, it seems that we all bring to the court all our habits or insecurities that we bring to our relationships. Am I doing enough? Will you still like me even if I screw up? Should I take risks to please you? Should I just play it safe even if it means blowing the point? Do you have my back? Is it ok if I whine? How much can I whine? Can I trust you to tell me to back off?

It’s endless.

Some of the women I play tennis with don’t even like doubles for that very reason. “I don’t like having to deal with the whole partner thing,” they’ll say. “I’m better when I’m on my own.”

I’m definitely better with a partner. But it has to be just the right partner. Someone who wants to win, but not too much. Someone with an excellent sense of humor. Someone who is supportive if I’m making mistakes, and who will maybe offer advice, but only if it’s advice that I like and doesn’t make me feel bad or incompetent. (Are you getting the sense of what it must be like to be my husband?)

I need someone with unconditional positive regard, but not someone who tells me how great I’m doing too often because that really botches up my game. But she has to tell me sometimes, because otherwise I will assume she thinks I suck. But it has to be genuine, because if not I’ll know she’s just saying nice things because she feels sorry for me for spending all this time and money and still being such a bad tennis player.

I don’t really respond to tough love or to being chastised, although sometimes I need a little kick in the butt to remind me to stop doing stupid things. I need someone who abides by the same laws of tennis karma – calling the opponent’s balls “in” if they’re questionable, understanding that it will all work out in the next point.

And of course it helps if she’s a partner who’s fast and can cover the whole back of the court.

I play tennis with a lot of different women – different ages, different levels, different strengths, different styles. I don’t really ever feel disappointed in my partner, even if she is acting spacey or playing lazy or is just having an off day. I imagine none of the women I play with do.

Yet we are all so worried all the time that we’re letting each other down. That our ability to hit a backhand on any given day has anything at all to do with how much we need and adore each other.

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