It’s almost here. The 2013-14 hockey season is about to begin. (Cue the Dramatic Chipmunk.)
That means it’s only a matter of time before I’m in another bar choking down another Miller Lite while my boyfriend bonds with a tatted stranger over an apparently ridiculous penalty call. (Can you feel my excitement?)
The funny thing is, I like hockey. I really do. But I see you don’t believe me. Let me explain.
I’ve always been what you might call a “casual fan.” I’ve never had an allegiance to a team that I can honestly say is my own. Most of my cheering was motivated by love. Yes, that’s right. I’m the girlfriend fan. Or if I can coin a phrase, a “girlfrand.”
As a dedicated girlfrand, I’ve stayed up late for playoff series. I’ve asked all the right questions. I used to be able to name the entire 2007 Red Sox starting lineup for pete’s sake. And all of this was done in the name of love.
Ok, maybe my motivations weren’t entirely altruistic. I always believed that if I showed the adequate amount of interest in a boyfriend’s object of fanaticism, it would be equally and enthusiastically reciprocated. (“‘Why yes, Ishaguro’s sometimes disorienting flashbacks made A Pale View of the Hills truly haunting.’ she daydreamed him saying, while eating another mozzarella stick.”)
And the universe cruelly validated that notion when I was still young and naive. When you’re 17 and dating a guy whose main interests are The Fountainhead and Roger Federer, that notion holds true. (Side note for the teenagers: anyone that interested in tennis is not a representative sample of the dating pool you just cannon-balled in to.)
But this idea of reciprocating enthusiasm for each other’s interests was turned on its head when I started dating a hockey fan. The level of obsession and involvement is unfathomable…and I’m just talking about the regular season.
When there’s no lockout, there are 82 regular season games between October and April. That’s roughly a game every other night. (And just in case you’re dating a baseball guy and think you have me beat with your 162 regular season games…I’ve dated that guy too. He doesn’t watch every game, and half the time he’s doing something else while the game’s on. Not the same.)
Now, if those 82 games aren’t enough for you girlfrands, squeeze in sportscaster analysis, blog bashing, fantasy league player trades, and general trash talk between buddies on the off days. It’s a daunting world to enter when you’ve only dated tennis nerds and casual baseball buffs.
After the shock wore off at the mass of hockey-related activities, I did find myself genuinely enjoying games though. And this wasn’t a Sex and the City “Samantha” situation. I actually wanted the Flyers to win of my own volition.
So I found myself in a familiar situation, sitting in a bar learning players’ names, new terminology, and why it was so important for players to kick the shit out of each other. (If you’re still lost on that one, I highly recommend The Code by Ross Bernstein.)
But as my liver slowly deteriorated with every Miller Lite pony bucket, I encountered a recurring dilemma: the hump. That point where, even though I’ve been dutiful in all girlfrand areas, I still find myself wondering how to convert my mild interest into true fandom. Deciding how much time to dedicate to a boyfriend’s sports obsession is truly a fine line to walk. No one wants to be that girl. And we can all spot that girl from the outer rim of the stratosphere. (Girls have an amazing ability to notice when you’ve gained 2 lbs., could use a mustache wax, and when you’ve completely supplanted your own interests for your boyfriend’s. Call it a gift.)
I can tell it’s superficial when she sports that Predators jersey (she wouldn’t know who Mike Fisher was if it wasn’t for Carrie Underwood) and my eyes threaten to stay in their rolled position when she tries to use sports vernacular casually (“He put that shot on the shelf!!”). Gag. It’s “go top shelf,” you dum dum.
So for someone like me who has plenty of hobbies and interests, it’s been difficult trying to find the appropriate boundaries.
And here’s where the hockey lockout swooped in like the Ghost of Relationship Future. Sure we still went to bars, but without the game on in the background, there was more time to talk about other things – things that I’m a fan of. I got a taste of that mutual exchange that I so longed for. Without a game every other night we were free to schedule outings to museums and movies. Hell, we could just stay in and argue over what to watch. I knew that this guy was always there, underneath the jersey and light film of Miller Lite.
Now a full season is back and with it comes a test. I am again questioning my dedication to the Flyers franchise and hockey in general. I am looking forward to watching games with him again; I enjoy my ongoing sports edification. And I can understand the attraction it holds for most fans. At the core, it’s really not about teams or the towns they come from—it’s about the sense of community and inclusion those teams afford their followers.
Unfortunately, for a gal like me, that inclusion has a high price of entry. With each sport I’ve taken a passing interest in, I find that I end up sitting on the outside of things. I feel inadequate (not to mention resentful) because I can’t rattle of obscure stats from the ‘74 season. All the bros take precedence even though I’m trying harder to keep up than anyone at the table. And then come the high fives with every goal. The jeers at penalty calls that I can’t keep pace with. The constant question, “what happened?” that I know is getting annoying. I just can’t compete, past or present. And that’s what I hate most about being a girlfrand—the realization that I will never get to fully be a part of the club.
But if I have to be honest with myself, I’d rather struggle through a Faulkner novel three nights in a row than struggle to follow 3 hockey games. And that’s why I’ll never be one of the bros. It’s time to come to terms with my girlfrand status.
I will only ever be a casual fan, which means I’ll probably only remember the names of players that I think are cute and the only trash talk in my repertoire will involve Sidney Crosby and thinly veiled suggestions to his sexual inadequacy.
But while I make peace with my girlfrand label, I also need to recognize my significant other’s “boyfrand” status. Slapping a Giroux jersey on me won’t automatically make me know the difference between the one and the two hole. Just like giving him some Torero outfit and a copy of The Sun Also Rises won’t ensure a love of Hemingway. Interest in an obsession should be enough for us both.
So on October 2nd, I will put on my Giroux jersey and cheer alongside my boyfriend and his new best friend, Joe Tattoo. I will ask (and re-ask) about penalty calls that I should understand by now and I high-five every Tom, Dick, and Harry when the Flyers score (God willing).
And on the few precious off days, you can find me in a museum with my mildly interested boyfriend in tow.