Dealing with defeat

I don´t cry over football results. That´s a matter of principle. It might be stubborn pride, a refusal to let the enemy see my tears, let him know that he hurt me. It might be a refusal to feel my crushing disappointment. It is also a way to take out my aggression on myself; and if you know that after lousy football matches I feel ready to smash strangers in the face you can guess what that means: I restrain myself to a masochistic extent. Crying is a luxury I don´t want to grant to myself. It is a way of being harder on myself than life has already been.

You may say that if football results are my only problem, then I lead a life of luxury. That, however, is simply not the case. It is just that all my issues and problems and troubles don´t stop me from investing emotionally into football teams. I guess I take all my issues and problems and troubles with me to the stadium, and if I invest devotion, sympathy and excitement, I probably invest those issues as well.

Accepting defeat is not so hard in itself. It can even be cathartic. Nothing strengthens your bond to a team like singing for them when they lose. When the worst attacks of homicidal anger are over, I often feel calm and at peace with myself, which is a state of mind I wish I experienced more often. After matches like the one I just saw, with my national team losing the semi-final of the Euros, I often feel more like myself. I know who I am.

And yet today, knowing who I am, I cry.

I felt like crying ever since Balotelli nailed his second goal. I refused to cry, of course. I´m not going to give the cameras anything to gloat over. Also, unfortunately our fan culture is so shitty that as soon as things go wrong for our team, we start to take out our frustration on each other. It is one of the most depressing things about Germany losing football matches. If I had cried, some jerk would surely have commented on it. It is a law of human nature that you cannot cry in public without somebody making a mean remark.

So I remained my mostly stoic self (outbreaks during the match, such as “goddamnit, MOVE!” excluded) until the drudgery was over. Staying until the end, no matter what the score, is also one of my principles. On the way home I felt my feet getting heavier and heavier. I wanted to  just sit down on one of the little hills and have five minutes all by myself to sort myself out, because suddenly I felt everything crashing down on me.

I dutifully walked on until we were finally at home. It was oddly satisfying to be hard on myself, to not allow myself any reprieve. And then, when we were back at my place, there was nothing more to do. Nowhere to walk, no one for who to keep up a brave facade.

And still I didn´t want to cry.

Now it was denial rather than stoicism. I felt like a robot who will just go on do whatever routine dictates, no matter what had just happened. Just go on, then you´ll always be one little step ahead of the painful feelings, and soon the tournament will be over anyway and the defeat won´t matter anymore.

I don´t want to run away. It is dishonourable, it is harmful to myself, and it isn´t necessary, either. I know I´m a headcase, but in the end of the day I´m well capable of dealing with a defeat in football. Football-wise, I´ve dealt with worse things.

And so I let everything crash down on me. I thought about how my father would come over tomorrow, cheerfully stating: “Now that didn´t go so well last night, did it? Oh well, I guess I saw that coming!” It will feel horrible, like he is mocking me for being emotionally invested in the game, even though he supposedly supports the team as well. Being cheerful and indifferent about something another person is upset and sad about can be a form of aggression; sadism even. Each time he does that I feel impotent rage. He is doing nothing I could prove; if I called him out on it I´d make a fool of myself. I´d look like a sour loser because a game of footy can make me snap at my father. And while I can try to not be at home tomorrow, I will encounter him eventually and he will mention the game and the only thing I can do is bury my feelings so deeply that I can talk about it without giving anything away. Without having an emotional reaction whatsoever. And I´ll still feel sort of bad afterwards. A vaguely depressed feeling I cannot explain.

And this is what finally made me allow myself to cry.

I could have kept those tears in. I still let out only a few, lest anybody notice. I cannot bear the thought that anybody thinks I´m crying about the game. And indeed, I was not so much crying about our defeat, as much as it pisses me off. I was crying for myself.

It is hard to convey in words the difference between self-pity and sympathy for oneself. Maybe there is none, and sympathy for oneself is just self-pity without the stigma. It was one of those rare moments in which I saw the entire sadness of my life.

You have to imagine this, coming home from a depressing, frustrating defeat – and having to brace yourself for the emotional battering your closest relatives have in store for you.

Well, I guess I don´t have to ask most of my readers to imagine it. Many of them probably know it firsthand.

I think what made me so sad was the thought of how different it should be. Could be, even. What would it be like, I wondered, to come home to parents who are not afraid of their own feelings?

I don´t think that my father is void of emotions. I think he basically applies the same techniques as I do. He does not allow himself to feel anything; and his cheerful indifference is his way of taking out his unconscious disappointment – on me.

What would it be like to come home to someone who is supportive and tactful? What would it be like to come home to someone who doesn´t exploit your pain?

Just how much less might it hurt?

I´m way too old to feel homicidal over football matches. And I believe the lion share of my anger has nothing to do with what is happening on the pitch. I believe I feel homicidal because during those games my father´s shadow is weighing on me, turning each defeat into a humiliation. That impotent rage that makes me want to kill and smash is not really directed at the opponents´ striker, the incompetent referee or the jeering fans. And if I could somehow get rid of my father´s shadow, then maybe I could simply cry when I´m weighed down by the unfairness of a sport which, for the fourth time in the last six years raised our hopes just to crush them right at the brink of success. Cry, and then be done with it.

Instead, I´m still caught up in denial. I force myself to look ahead, look away, emotionally abandon the team, the tournament and all it still meant a few hours ago. It is despicable, lying to myself like that; telling myself that I´m not upset, disappointed and angry. That I have accepted that we lost. The fuck I have. I still get adrenaline flashes because I see us run towards the goal, I still see us somehow score an equalizer that never came. It is part of losing. It will get better over time, but bloody hell do I wish I could skip this part! This part where I´m torn between pretending the match never happened and torturing myself over it on purpose. It is absurd to what lengths I go because I´m so frightened of whatever feelings may come up naturally. Am I even any better than my parents? And isn´t it funny, in a dark kind of way, how I tie my self-respect to my ability to suffer?

I believe that being so harsh towards myself might be a way of preparing myself for the inevitable encounter with my parents. I´m telling myself that either I deserve the ordeal, the perceived mockings, or that they are a challenge to my stoicism, a test I need to undergo. Writing it down I can see the child behind the fantasies. A child who developed a cheesy, often cringe-worthy martyr attitude in order to have just any positive self-image; a child who finds a sense of safety and self-respect in being more merciless towards herself than anybody around her. A child who learned to choke her self on its own anger in order to protect it from those who exacerbate that rage for their own emotional purposes. I turn the rage inward, so nobody can feed off it. And most of the time I will fail anyway.

I don´t want to conclude this entry on such a pessimistic note, and so, although it is full of cringy pathos, I want to say this to my team: Lads, you´ve played a great tournament; you made millions of people hope and dream, and I don´t demand that you win. You can only do so much. I know you are probably ten times more disappointed than we are, and you don´t have to be brave for us. You don´t have to cheer us up, and you don´t have to feel silly when you come back home and the fans are there to welcome you. They mean it. YNWA.




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