For the Love of Rivalry


Rivalries. In the world of sports everybody’s got one. I would guess I was in elementary school when I first learned I had to make a decision between Michigan and Michigan State (Michigan of course), and that decision would be a lifelong commitment. I know nothing about the teams these schools are currently producing, but I still roll my eyes whenever I see a friend wearing a Spartans shirt in my Facebook news feed.

I went through a phase in the late 80s/early 90s when I loved to watch basketball. In 1989 I was a thirteen year old girl growing up in Michigan who played on her school basketball team. Staying up late to watch the Wolverines win the championship that year was some of the most exciting TV viewing of my lifetime. That’s still true.

The Pistons NBA win that year (and the next) was almost as satisfying. The following few years were the height of the Bulls/Pistons rivalry and I lived exactly halfway between Chicago and Detroit. I still have all my ticket stubs from the Pistons games I went to in Auburn Hills and yes, at least one of them was against Chicago during the best possible year to see that face-off. Choosing whether Michael Jordan or Isiah Thomas was more worthy of my loyalty is a decision no young girl should ever have to make.

But those days are over. While I could be persuaded to watch a basketball game and maybe even pay attention….I am not a sports fan anymore. I currently live halfway between St. Louis and Chicago and I don’t even care who wins a Cardinals/Cubs game (although when it comes to baseball I will always be a Tigers fan by some birthright I can’t really explain).

That doesn’t mean I don’t still enjoy a good rivalry.

What does it say about human nature that we like to pick sides so much? Any topic will do. Politics, love triangles of fictional characters, music, reality television…. pretty much everything. We get so passionate about our rivalries that we become enemies of the opposing team. We enjoy creating villains. Sometimes it’s friendly, sometimes not. And the battles between the individual supporters of each side fuels the fire.

The funny thing is that in order to have a rivalry we must first share a common interest. Take politics, for example. I don’t typically feel very fond of those who hold political opinions based on misinformation. And there isn’t a lot of love between political parties. But on occasion I have found myself in a heated debate with someone who challenged me. I didn’t end up agreeing with them in the least, but I did find myself feeling a little bit in love with them. Why? Because we are both passionate about the same thing and I was able to respect them. If only for a moment.

Some of us like it more than others, which I can only guess has something to do with our competitive nature. Sometimes our greatest rivals are also our friends. In everyday life and on social media we see evidence of it play out in careers, love, and parenting. I once saw a grown woman cry because her friend’s baby sat up on his own four days before hers.

When it comes to parenting competitions I’m out of the running. No one has tried comparing their kid to mine in a long time, which is mostly a relief. But I have witnessed a growing number of parents who are in competition over who cares more about the topic of parenting.

There is a difference between having an interest in the topic of parenting and having an interest in parenting your child. I’m very interested in being a good mother. I’m not interested in talking about parenthood at length. Some parents assume this is some kind of flaw or an indicator of selfishness. At first I thought maybe they were right; why wasn’t I Googling more parenting topics and joining mommy groups? I do participate in one online autism group that I like, but even there I find it difficult to make connections. And it’s only the one group.

It’s normal for parents to enjoy talking about their children and the many topics of parenthood. It only makes sense. It’s wonderful, even. I have a handful of parenting friends who really found their passion in taking parenthood to the next level. They have stimulating conversations and make new connections based on parenting. I have often learned from their creativity and vast knowledge. But, make no mistake; their children do not feel any more loved than mine.

They have also found parenting topics to stand their ground on. They form online groups and attack each other. They create villains. Sometimes it’s friendly, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s downright dangerous out there. All of this is normal, of course.

I’m no better. I’m probably worse because I tend to spend more time engaging in battles of religion and politics. Adding parenting topics to create a triangle of those things isn’t going to win me any new friends. But I do sometimes feel a little like an outsider among my own.

I’m not the girl wearing a Wolverines shirt at a Michigan State game; I’m the girl who showed up to write a paper on the sociology of team spirit. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t still beat you at a game of one on one.

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