My husband, Dustin, is one of the most competitive people I know. We’ve known each other since I was first born, but I only really came to understand Dustin’s competitive nature when we were newlyweds. We were living in a small, one-bedroom apartment, and because we did not have children yet, we spent our evenings doing whatever we wanted.
Take note expectant parents. When people say “enjoy your flexibility before the baby comes,” they mean it. Now is not the time to be looking through baby catalogs after dinner. Now is the time to do everything you won’t be able to do again for 18 years.
On one of these childless nights, Dustin and I decided to play Monopoly. If you have also been married for more than five years, you know what a mistake this was. Newlyweds should play cooperative games, not Monopoly.
Here’s the problem with Monopoly in particular: once you are losing, you can never come back. You are just filling a seat and taking your turns so that the winner can enjoy the remaining four hours of the game. Also, Monopoly is basically all luck. If you are the first person to get around the board and buy property, you will likely win.
This is where Dustin disagrees. According to him, “saving money and spending it wisely” means you’ll win.
Related: I’ve never won at Monopoly.
So there we were, two newlyweds sitting down to a friendly game of Monopoly. Very quickly, I was losing and wanted to stop. But Dustin doesn’t quit games either. Not ever.
“This is boring,” I said. “Let’s quit.”
“You can’t quit,” he said. “That’s like the worst thing I’ve heard you say.”
So I continued to do my turns, despite imminent bankruptcy, and every time I landed on Dustin’s properties, he charged me rent.
“But I’m your wife,” I said. “You’re really going to charge me rent?”
“In Monopoly? Yes.”
That’s when I cried and Dustin said he’d never play Monopoly with me again. Fifteen years later, he hasn’t.
Right now, some readers are running to their computer to comment on my lack of sportsmanship. They’ll say this little episode matches my personality—you know, the one they know of through print alone—perfectly. They will wonder if I’m teaching my kids to be sore losers, too. But you will know better than them because you have already read this far, and I’m sure you will read to the end, for the surprise ending.
Dustin has never let our children win either. To him, a game is not worth playing if you aren’t going to play at your best.
Dustin taught Ford how to play chess when he was 4 years old, and he creamed him in every match. Ford still didn’t fully understand the game, and his dad was beating him every single time. There were a lot of tears and frustration.
“Just let him win once,” I begged. “It will keep him motivated.”
“Actually,” Dustin said, “letting him win will do the opposite. Why do you think he wants to play me every night? Because I win, and he can’t wait to beat me.”
Dustin even played Monopoly with the boys. Every time, he won.
I have since bowed out of most family game nights. I sit in another room and knit while I listen to them argue. If I were to join, I might be tempted to give Lindell a loan, or let him magically inherit some of my real estate. And now I know that wouldn’t help the boys at all. Here’s why: When Ford was 12 years old, he came into the living room one evening and said, “I just beat dad at chess.”
“That’s nice honey,” I said distractedly. “Good for you.”
“No, Mom,” he said. “Did you hear me? I BEAT dad. I did it. Eight years later, I beat him.”
Dustin came out behind Ford. He had a big grin on his face. “The student has become the master,” he said.
Ever since, Ford (and eventually Owen and Lindell, too) have known the true meaning of success. When it comes to challenging their father, nothing has ever been handed to them. They have earned every win.
Over the years, I’ve learned to revel in beating Dustin, too. I’ve won against him in Scrabble and Rummikub, and I’m still trying with Stratego.
So one day recently I said, “Let’s play Monopoly. I promise, I won’t cry this time.”
Dustin laughed briefly. And then he said, “No.”
“Afraid I’ll win?” I teased.
“I’ve been married too long now to think playing Monopoly with you will be fun,” he said. “Or that you will win.”