What Are We Playing For? Why Competition In a Relationship Makes Both Partners Lose

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I’ll never forget the day I had the biggest aha moment of my past relationship. It was one of those, “so that’s what this is all about” epiphanies that made me realize exactly why my ex and I had been having so many problems. Truthfully, I’d already known the source of contention for the zillion other issues going on but I still chose to ride and get sick, as he would say (as opposed to ride or die), thinking after enough support and encouragement he’d get it together. But when I found out we weren’t really on the same team, I realized there wasn’t anything I could do to change his mind about himself or his outlook on our relationship.

I recall it was a Saturday morning at the end of a week of nonstop arguing. I actually dreaded getting up that day because it was a weekend and I didn’t have anywhere to go to escape his presence and sure enough two people sitting in a studio apartment made things pop off quite quickly. Fully expecting the “no” answer I often got when I wanted to go somewhere and do something as a, you know, couple, I suggested we go somewhere. I can’t even recall where I wanted to go but I knew his finances weren’t in order because he wasn’t working at the time and so before that could even be an argument in itself I offered to treat for the suggested outing. No dice. Somehow that turned into why would you ask me to go somewhere with you when I look like this, I don’t even have decent clothes to wear anymore, blaze, blaze, blah. Then he hit me with, “you know when we first met I had more money than you, don’t forget that. I’m just down right now.”  And this is when my face reflected that, “so that’s what this is all about” aha moment referenced above, as I remarked, “I didn’t know we were keeping count.”

Now had I not known this man for two years or so at this point, I would have been sympathetic. Let me take that back, for the two years I knew him at this point I had been sympathetic to any and I do mean every obstacle he dealt with. Despite having more money than me, as he so rudely claimed, when we first met he still wasn’t on the path he wanted to be. And so who was there trying to help this negro adjust to school and build him up and put him on to some opportunities? Me. Not because I was trying to change him into something I wanted him to be but because I was trying to help him achieve the goals he already said he had when we met. Here we were in some competition I didn’t even know I had signed up for, so for him to down me after all the support I’d put in at that point, I had no words. Actually, I’m lying. I had several that I think threw him for a loop because of my naturally passive-aggressive nature. But at this point I was sick of it and I had to remind him that the only reason he felt like less of a man was because of his own ego and lack of confidence and I wasn’t going to allow him to place that blame on me or try to make me feel bad because he didn’t have anything going on at the moment.

I already referenced this character  when I talked about not dimming my light so others can shine. There were many times when I’d keep successes to myself to not add even more downpour to his already rained on parade but I didn’t realize that despite appearing to be my cheerleader at times, more often than not he seemed to be secretly wishing for my downfall just so he could feel more like a man. All the times when he talked about being the breadwinner one day, I didn’t realize in his mind that meant I was going to be Cinderella scrubbing the floors with a toothbrush as he handed me my rations, but it was clear while I took my wins as a plus for both of us, he saw them as a loss for him. That ended up meaning we both lost in the relationship.

Without moral support and a listening ear from a partner what more do you have? Clearly I was self-sufficient, I didn’t need him to survive—thankfully—but without having someone who I could count on to back me or give me advice or comfort me when I was having a bad day, I was simply being sucked dry without getting any nourishment in return. Trying to convince him that I was more concerned with his emotional resource bank than his bank account provided no reassurance and after realizing that while he was fighting for him and I was fighting for him, no one was fighting for me, that just wasn’t a good place to be.

The whole point of a relationship is partnership, Bonnie and Clyde, us against the world. From his viewpoint, it was him against the world, and that included me. It was an odd day to find out that my ex was harboring this bitterness, especially when from all vantage points, except maybe his wallet in his mind, I was already the more successful partner from the gate. Oddly, I had started to fear that he might have been getting complacent and too comfortable with the idea of me being the only one employed at the time, that day I learned the reality was quite the opposite though the implication for our relationship was no better.

After extending myself well beyond the bounds of a girlfriend to try to make both of us win, in the end, I’m thankful I only rode and got sick. Riding and dying is best left to a woman with a man who is at least comfortable with her being in the driver’s seat sometimes, and paying the car note.

Brande Victorian is the news and operations editor for madamenoire.com. Follow her on twitter @Be_Vic.

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