After I broke up with my boyfriend midway through my sophomore year of college, I slipped into a kind of black hole where I did a lot of school work, wore a lot of sweatpants, skipped a lot of socializing and (from what I gather) looked pretty miserable.
I think my friends were concerned about me, but they were only 20. They did what they could to keep me entertained and out of the house. I remember quite distinctly that when I came back my junior year, we somehow developed a system where if I made out with someone, I got rewarded with a diet pepsi slurpee from 7-11 the next morning.
I remember one morning, after I had finally convinced a long-term crush to make out with me. I was proudly telling my friends (over a diet pepsi slurpee) that after a long argument about whether his mental health would prevent him from being with me, I had won with the line, “Your issues need to defer to the fact that you want me.” It turned out that his issues were actually pretty powerful, and he didn’t talk to me after that day, or for the next for seven years. I only sort of remember how heartbroken I was (which was very, very heartbroken, by the way.) But what I really remember most is how triumphant I felt that morning in my bedroom with my friends, drinking a slurpee, looking into their wide-eyes and grinning, “Yes, I really actually truthfully did say, ‘Your issues need to defer to the fact that you want me.’”
As a girl who has never wanted to be perceived as the boy crazy type, I always took this moment as the primary evidence that much of the time I spent talking about boys wasn’t really about the boys themselves. It was more about the bonding with friends. More about the debates. More about rigorous analysis of details and data. More about the game.
In fact, I realized, it was almost entirely a game. And it was a lot like Fantasy Football. At the time I decided this, I had never played Fantasy Football, but from what I knew about it, it very closely resembled our hopeless attempts to understand and respond to the guys who teetered on the periphery of our lives.
- Relying on a bunch of men you don’t know for your own personal happiness
- Obsessively creating plans and making decisions to compensate for the fact that you have no control for what actually happens in the game
- Diligently looking at stats, rating performances and reading commentary because you really believe they will help you predict the future
- Always feeling like you’d be doing better if you’d only got a higher number in the draft
- The illusion of control (and intense pressure) that comes when you can determine your own lineup, but not what individual players actually do
- Asking advice from and endlessly debating the issues with friends who equally (if not more) clueless than you are
Not convinced? Let’s look at some specific examples.
- I had Darren McFadden on my team this year, and people warned me that he always gets injured at some point. Every. Single. Year. And I needed to make choices that prepared me to deal with that. But I also got advice to take the risk, because I was in a tough spot and couldn’t afford to make the right moves, and maybe THIS would be the year he finally wouldn’t get injured. Now let’s imagine there’s a guy and he has this pattern of dicking you over and some of your friends are telling you to ditch him. But some of your friends are telling you to keep him, and just prepare yourself emotionally for whatever happens. And still other friends are naive/crazy enough to keeping insisting, “people change!”
- I picked up Theo Riddick off the waiver wire and he scored 18 points that first week while sitting on my bench. And even though he never did that well again, I hung onto to him because once, a long time ago, he scored 18 points. Now think of your poor friend who is pseudo-dating a man who barely knows she’s alive but she keeps talking about how he showed up to their first date with flowers and so she knows he has a romantic side and she doesn’t want to give up because surely one day it will surface again.
- I had Dez Bryant on my team and he got badly injured the first game of the season. He was scheduled to be out for for 6-8 weeks, after which point he’d need to warm back up to playing. To be fair, I was in a tough spot here because there’s no guarantee that I could have successfully replaced, but I sure could have tried harder. Instead, I decided, “He’s supposed to be really good, and even though he’s completely damaged now, I’ll just wait for him to get better!” There are so many analogies here, I can’t even pick one. I’ll just say that I’ve a lot of conversations where we hope (usually for way too long) that some dude who is totally broken will somehow magically get fixed. (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t happen.)
Based on these lists, it’s not actually clear to me why anyone would want to date or play Fantasy Football. And yet we do, either because we’re masochists, or because we really believe that some day we’ll master it. Or maybe because once you surrender to the reality of how meaningless it all is, it’s really entertaining.
When I was younger, I was still under the illusion that if you obsessed for long enough, you could read another person’s mind, and that once you read their mind, you could do the “right” thing and get the outcome you wanted. I will never forget the day my friend sighed and said rather pointedly, “Rachel, it’s a text message. You don’t need to write a first draft.”
My mind was blown because: a) I totally thought if you spent enough hours thinking about it and consulted the right combination of friends and unbiased 3rd parties, you could write a life-changing text message and because b) I realized how much I love writing drafts of anything, and that regardless of the outcome, I thought trying to get a text message perfect was kind of fun.
Not long after that, I got into one of those “real” relationships, which as it turns out, are not as much fun to discuss with your friends. It took me a while to realize that it made me lonely. We most just analyzed “data” and discussed problems with each other, and when I did talk to my friends, our conversations were often uncomfortable and sad. It wasn’t at all like fantasy football, or even a game. It was real. And it was isolating.
I deeply missed those carefree days of wondering whether it was acceptable to keep liking a guy who only answered half of my texts messages. (I decided: no.) I grasped at any glimmer of silliness I could discuss with my friends, because so much of real life felt so heavy, I didn’t want to weigh myself down by talking about. I remember riding BART with a guy friend, the week after my housemates and I got evicted, when my relationship was meh, and the students we’d just mentored at an afterschool program had more or less told us we failed them.
We stood in silence, occasionally murmuring some expression of self-pity. Finally I said, “Ooh. Can I tell you about a guy I met in Nashville and then about his text message? And you can tell me what it really means and whether I’m overreacting and what, if anything I should say in my reply?” It was forced, and when I told him the story, it was strained. But it was an effort to keep playing the game.
More than that, it was an effort prove I didn’t have to grow out of it. At a certain point, it feels silly to have those moments with your friends, because you already know. You know that if he doesn’t text you to say he had a good time, it’s not because he lost his phone or because he secretly really likes you and is trying to be cool. You know that if cheated on his ex, he’s going to cheat on you. You know that if he sounds like an asshole, he’s not actually a sweet person waiting to come out his shell (and never will be). You know that if you’re not that into him now, you won’t be that into him later, no matter how nice he is.
It stops being fun to guess, so it stops being fun to play.
But I’ve heard that if you actually watch every football game and read ESPN all day, you actually stand a much better chance at winning fantasy football. Getting wiser doesn’t have to mean the game is over. It just means it’s that much more embarrassing when you fuck up, and maybe an even better story to tell your friends…