There is a reason Words With Friends is called “With Friends” and not “With Spouses”. Why? Well, I will spell it out for you.
Words With Friends is a Scrabble-like app for smart devices. The goal is to earn the most points by spelling words while maximizing letter placement upon strategically located double letter, triple letter, double word, and triple word spaces on the game board. I have games underway with my sister, my sister’s partner, and my father at all times. But, I can no longer play with Joel. (Well, I say that, and then I slowly find my resolve weakening and another game in progress with Joel. I must stay strong.)
Joel recently bragged to our neighbors that he “regularly thumped” me when we play Words With Friends. First, let’s just scale back the use of “thumping”. The occasional win is not a thumping by any means. And, “regularly” implies a degree of frequency that I most certainly do not concede.
I grew up in a game-playing family on my father’s side. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, my father, and my sister. Card games and board games of all variety. And, along with good-natured competitiveness came mild trash-talking and one-upmanship across the table from all participants. Really, could there be anything better than lobbing a zinger at Dad and getting away with it? Oh, and that lopsided fake grin that Dad wore through clenched teeth when losing, but trying to act unruffled was always a bonus.
My paternal grandparents, Granddaddy and Grandma Sweet, played a two person card game, Spit, against each other, and they had a game in progress most all of the time. They sat facing each other at opposite ends of the pale celery green sofa in the living room with their discard pile in the middle of the center cushion, while a short haired cat lounged across the back of the sofa with its tail flipping lazily. “Ah!”, one would say. “Oh, you got me!”, the other would say. “Hold on, let me get the beans off the stove.” But, they shared between them a sweetness and security to the years of countless hands that they had played with each other as their exclusive opponent. And, Grandma Sweet would routinely sit me in her lap while she worked the word scrambler or the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. So, I inherited the competitive genes, passed from them, to my father, then to me.
Now, my mother is a different story. She is as smart or smarter than the rest of us, but she wants everyone to be happy and have a good time. Can’t we all just get along? Well, no actually. Dad, my sister, and I want to win. Having fun is incidental to winning. We are three sharks–Dad is the Great White – and Mom is the minnow. None of us want Mom as a handicap on our team, bless her heart. She can’t lie and she won’t strategize. And quippy insults to an opponent? No. “Oh, that’s not nice.” (Yes, she knows I just said all of that. She is so sweet that she laughed and gave permission.)
Joel and I have not been married fifty years like my grandparents, and we haven’t mellowed out just yet when playing against each other. Joel is a formidable opponent. Studying Greek and some Latin as part of his seminary training equipped him with a broad base of knowledge in word formation. Joel, the Man of God, loves people, even the most difficult ones to love. But, he also loves to win. He’ll sneak up, trounce you soundly, and grin while killing you softly behind that innocent pastoral demeanor. Rook. Dominoes. Words with Friends. He refuses to give up and determinedly works to squeeze out every letter for every last point. He is just as competitively natured as I am, but he disguises it better behind that broad-shouldered 6’4” teddy-bear exterior.
So, Joel and I start a new game. And, then I hear the scwhing tone on my iPad which signifies he played a new word. Sometimes he is in another room of the house when we play or sometimes we are lying in bed next to each other, each hiding our iPhone or iPad screen so that our letter trays aren’t revealed. (Yes, exciting stuff, the working parents of three. We are in bed. Too tired to do anything but play Words with Friends.)
But, it is his rumbling chuckle and mischievous “oh, you’re not going to like this” that he says when he makes a devastatingly high point word that ignites a slow burn in me. You’re right. I don’t. And, so for the sake of marital harmony, I declared I wouldn’t play him anymore. I lose occasionally to my sister or her partner, or my father, but I don’t have to kiss them goodnight and sleep next to them.
Schwing. Darn it! Joel just made a word and I hear him chortling in the other room. Now let’s see….how many points is D-I-V-O-R-C-E?