I’m in a mixed marriage.
I’m an Iowa Hawkeye alumnus. My wife is an Iowa State Cyclone alumnus.
Wait, there’s more. I’m in an Iowa Hawkeye family, she’s in an Iowa State Cyclone family. It’s the second marriage for both of us, and both of her kids are Iowa State grads while both of my kids are Iowa grads. My sister and brother-in-law are also Hawkeyes, and many members of my wife’s family are Cyclones.
It goes down the line like that. With a few exceptions, there are bunches of Hawkeyes on my side of the aisle and bunches of Cyclones on hers — and the numbers in both bunches continue to multiply.
And yet, we still somehow get along, usually quite well, mostly because my wife doesn’t care all that much about sports.
It’s not that she hates sports. She watches an occasional game, and sometimes she even enjoys it. But when the game is over and done with, she immediately moves on with her life. She doesn’t get overly excited about a win or a loss.
I’m not like that, I’m sorry to say. I let ball games get to me.
I grew up learning about sports rivalries, that had started on the field or the court and had grown to encompass entire communities, long before I was born. I grew up in Oelwein, you see, and back then, if you grew up in Oelwein, you hated Waverly. They were our biggest Northeast Iowa Conference foe, and they usually beat the heck out of us, so we hated everything associated with them. A lot of this was just fun and healthy rivalry stuff, but deep down, there was a grain of truth. If you could beat Waverly at something, whether it’s football or basketball or band or speech or debate, you’d accomplished something important.
I thought that this was just an Oelwein thing, but since moving to Charles City a year ago, I’ve discovered that it was not exclusive to Oelwein. Charles City hates Waverly, too, I’ve found out. So does New Hampton. So do Waukon and Cresco. Waverly people, bless their hearts, don’t even realize how much they are despised by the rest of the conference, because they’re too focused on hating Decorah.
That kind of competitiveness becomes a part of your identity when you grow up with it.
Back in 1998, I was sure my beloved Minnesota Vikings were going to win the Super Bowl. They were the best team in football, why wouldn’t they? I was young and naive. When they lost the NFC Championship in dramatic, heartbreaking fashion, I curled up into the fetal position on the couch and remained catatonic for five days. Friends encouraged me to seek professional help.
This is an extreme example, and I’d like to believe I’ve matured since then, but I probably haven’t. When my team wins, I’m high as a kite for days. When my team loses, I’m a grumbling, ill-tempered ogre.
When my wife’s team wins, she says, “Wow, that was great. Now help me clean the house?”
When my wife’s team loses, she says, “Aw, that’s too bad. Now help me clean the house?”
It always mystifies me, how anyone can even think about cleaning the house, or anything else, at such an emotional, life-changing moment. After a game, I need at least a couple hours, maybe more, to either celebrate or mourn. I need to replay the events in my mind, and decide which players need to be benched, which coaches need to be fired and which referees need to be imprisoned for life. I need to find some fans of the opposing team, and either taunt them, or take the taunting I so richly deserve for cheering for a losing team.
Sometimes my wife finds this cute and silly, sometimes she finds it childish, and sometimes she finds it profoundly annoying. But the thing is, we get along, usually quite well, because we are so different. If she cared about sports as much as I did, there’s no way we could be in the same house on game day when the Cyclones are playing against the Hawkeyes.
The smack talk for the big Iowa State vs. Iowa football game this weekend has been going on for a few days now, but it hasn’t been mentioned in our house. We’ve managed to find other things to talk about, other reasons to get along. For all I know, my wife doesn’t even know there’s a game this weekend. That’s how we live.
We might, once in a while, get into an argument or heated discussion about something — but it won’t be about a football game. It might be about whether or not I’m going to help clean the house after that game, but it won’t be about the Hawkeyes, or the Cyclones, or a ball game.
She respects my passion for sports, even when she finds it annoying. And I respect that she has no passion for sports, even though I can’t understand it.
And although there’s nothing perfect about it, it works. Even though our college affiliations are big parts of our identities, a Hawkeye and a Cyclone can get along in the same house.
I don’t know if that’s a lesson, or an example, or anything like that. It just seems to me, as I look around, there are a lot of people in the world not getting along, for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense. It seems like, whatever happens out there, there’s pressure to take a side. Whether it’s politics, or race, or religion, or something else, we’re told that we have to be on one team or the other. We can’t be on both, we can’t be on neither. There is no compromise.
And sure, each person has to have some ideals in life that are too important to compromise. But to never compromise on anything? For all the good that does you, you might as well curl up in the fetal position and remain catatonic forever.
I bleed Hawkeye black and gold. I’ll never agree to wear an Iowa State shirt.
But I can love someone who does.
And that’s a start, I think.