The Other Women Of Magic: Dating A Pro Player
"Are you playing Magic tonight?"
Aaron's eyes roll and he responds, "Yes."
"Know what time you'll be home?"
Aaron's eyes roll again and he sighs. "No."
And so goes the Tuesday ritual that began many years ago, also known as MAGIC NIGHT. Now, the above conversation is a comforting joke between the two of us. At one time, that same conversation marked what would usually turn into a horrendous argument.
Although I have never complained about internet writing on the subject of Magic, I decided to heed both my husband's and Friggin' Rizzo's calls to write my story of Magic; share yet another aspect of this diverse community. If you are looking for enlightening discussion of the latest Tech or Savage Beats, you have come to the wrong place. If you are a Magic player at any level with a non-Magic-playing significant other, then I invite you to grab that significant other, sit down, and have a good read together.
Only recently has it come to my attention that Magic: the Gathering is a common source of tension in many relationships. I met a player at Worlds in Belgium this past summer who confessed that he divorced his first wife (and the mother of his child) over this game due to her lack of understanding. Back in the day, I thought I was the lone girlfriend waiting for her man to return from some "Qualifier Thing" in Columbus or for him to quit shuffling those damn cards and go out every now and then. My travels over the last year have acquainted me with several other females who have felt the resentment, jealousy, and sometimes happiness towards this game. Our Magic/relationship battle stories so closely paralleled each other that I am inclined to write this story - the story of the Other Women of Magic. (Actually, I used to refer to us as the Women of Magic, but that title was already appropriately claimed by women who actually PLAY Magic, so I have modified it accordingly.)
In telling this story I hope that both parties in such relationships can learn from our experiences and escape some of the battles we have suffered.
Why Don't We Just Play Magic?
That seems to be the easiest solution, and one typically provided by the Magic-playing partners. We have all tried to learn this game and may have even played it, initially but there are three main reasons why, I, at least, was not bitten by the Magic bug.
Aaron and I had already been dating for over two years when Magic found its way into our lives and eventually began to choke our relationship. I didn't notice it at first because I was too busy: Reason #1 as to why the Other Women of Magic don't play this game. It all started out very innocently. Aaron had a broken leg and needed something to do to pass the time while it was healing. I was balancing a full course load, marching band, heading the fundraising committee of my business fraternity and working twenty-plus hours a week. I was glad that he had Magic and plenty of willing roommates and friends to play it with him... Until I caught up with him at the end of the day.
Who has time to both play Magic AND nurture a relationship after all of that?
Okay - so I have reached the point where all of you Magic players send me your resumes and lists of things you do besides play Magic, or where all of the female Magic players illustrate how insanely busy they are and still manage to play this game and be happy with their men. But I could not stomach the thought of spending my free time learning a "game" that was more difficult to me than Economics of Corporation Finance. By nature, I am not a gamer.
What Is A Gamer?
A gamer can be a scary thing to someone who has never encountered one before. I was one of those people. I was raised as part of a fairly strict Roman Catholic family; past times that conjured images of demons, goblins and pentagrams were not exactly on the list for Family Fun Night. Dungeons and Dragons was something Aaron played with his EX- girlfriend in a galaxy far, far away. And a long, long time ago, the gamers in my high school were also the ones claiming to be Satan's helpers and had Ninja stealth training exercises in my backyard, attempting to peek in my bedroom window. So, reason #2 as to why we Other Women don't play Magic: the gaming community is abstract and even exclusive at times.
Aaron was not one of them. I refused to believe that my boyfriend, section leader of the Pitt drum line, exceptional artist, party organizer, known by all close to him as the guy who will approach you at a party, glass in hand, devilish grin on his face saying, "Here - drink THIS!" could possibly belong to that group of gamers. I was wrong. It took years for me to be proud of the fact that I was wrong.
Perhaps if my initial experiences with the gaming community were a little more positive, I would have been more accepting. Magic Night used to be held on Tuesday evenings in the Pitt Student Union. I thought it would be fun to drop by, give Aaron a peck on the cheek, and see what this was all about. It took Aaron several minutes to look up from his game, recognize that I was even there, and to then give me a short and not-so-sweet brush off. After several weeks of this, I just stopped stopping by. I felt a little pang of jealousy, but decided to ignore it for the time being.
One Saturday, it happened that the Student Union would play host to both a Magic tournament and the Initiation Ceremony for my business fraternity. Aaron and I made the arrangement to meet on the seventh floor, the tournament site, after the ceremony and go out to dinner together. The ceremony was over and I innocently rode the elevator to the seventh floor. On the fifth floor, the doors opened and two Werewolves pounced in and rode the rest of the way with me. Living in South Oakland of Pittsburgh will de-sensitize you to many things - werewolves and vampires excluded. My furry friends darted off the elevator as soon as the doors opened as the enemy vampires were approaching from the other end of the hall. Yes - these guys were wearing werewolf masks and growling to each other! Yes, the vampires had on white make-up, long black capes and fangs! (I later learned this activity was called "Live Action Role Playing." Whatever.) Thank goodness my conservative business suit acted as some kind of monster armor.
Not exactly sure I was still in the Student Union anymore, I warily opened the first door - whew - just a bunch of guys playing chess, who directed me to try a couple doors down for Magic players. Passing a few more vampires on the way, I checked inside door #2 - this time there were guys building elaborate displays of mountains, rivers, and trenches while some others in the corner were painting figurines; all were preparing for some sort of war. Door #3 finally brought me to the Magic players - absent of course, one Aaron Forsythe. These more-than-friendly fellows then advised me that Aaron had left already. I later found him waiting for me in the lobby. But the damage had been done. I was sufficiently freaked out by what I had seen and upset that Aaron had left me to fend for myself in uncharted gamer territory. Scarred, I forfeited any remote idea I had of ever truly being a gamer - or a Magic player, to be more specific.
A less unsettling but equally foreign experience as a non-player is eating dinner with a group of Magic players. Prior to Aaron and all of his roommates playing Magic, dinner as a group was simply, fun, food, and large portions of humor with a few basketball or baseball statistics mixed in. The post-Magic dinner was an entirely different animal, or creature, if you prefer. From my perspective, I felt like a Charlie Brown character talking to an adult:
"So what do you think of my red/green deck?" "The blah, blah, blah card would make it stronger against blah, blah, blah card in the blue/blah-blah deck." "Blah, blah, turn one, and then blah blah turn two but not enough mana to cast the blah-blah."
Me: "Um, so you guys like the new Biggie Smalls CD?"
Magic Player: "No, but I haven't listened to the whole thing yet. That reminds me I still haven't gotten all the blah blahs from the Homelands blah blah edition. And I really need the Blah Blah to complete my blah blah deck I am working on."
Me (fighting back hot tears from boredom and being ignored): " Anyone want to go see the Buzz Poets this weekend, or maybe go to the South Side?"
Magic Player: "Well, we'll see how long the blah, blah tournament takes Saturday afternoon, right Aaron?"
Aaron, looking like a trapped animal, provides a non-committal reply to no one in particular: "Yeah, we'll see."
The post-dinner argument that takes place between the torn couple is one that has been and will be repeated in many ways, possibly in many different languages. Ours usually occurred in Aaron's room. I would be pacing, spitting fire. Aaron would be pacing, searching through the ever-growing piles of cards for the ones he would need for the night's games.
Me: "WHY did you even ask me to come to dinner tonight? I thought I was going to stab myself just to stay awake before the entr?e's arrived!"
Aaron: "Because I wanted to see you and have dinner with you."
Me: "You apparently didn't want to (expletive) talk to me, though, because all you did was talk about (expletive) Magic with everyone else. Is it so (expletive) hard to recognize my (expletive) presence whenever (expletive) (expletive) Magic is remotely involved? "
Aaron: "I'm sorry. Ease up. Quit yelling, I didn't do anything wrong."
Me: "Well, are we going to do anything tonight? Like maybe go out, as the couple we are supposed to be?"
Aaron: "I have to practice for Columbus next weekend...
Me (cutting him off): "What the (expletive) have you been doing all day with these guys?"
Aaron: "My deck's not ready." Or: "I don't have a deck yet."
This conversation only gets uglier - and so can the relationship between the Magic player and the non-Magic player, if certain measures are not taken by both partners to stop the vicious cycle. I intend to address those measures later in this article.
This Too, Shall Pass?
My third and final reason as to why I did not jump on the Magic bandwagon with Aaron was very simple: I did not believe this "Magic thing" would last. I had already witnessed the passing of all-night Nintendo tournaments, Fantasy Basketball, Managing a Rotisserie Baseball League, making and selling t-shirts, learning to play R.E.M. songs on an electric keyboard, and crafting board games.
While I was always a little skeptical of Aaron's pursuits, they also endeared me to him. My soulmate was a Renaissance man of sorts. Whatever he touched, he made it more fun and interesting. But, he also did not stay with any of those pursuits very long. I figured Magic would follow suit. Why should I spend what little free time and money I had on this fad that will soon pass? He would find something else more interesting to me sooner or later. Besides, Aaron already had enough cards. If I wanted to play, I would just use some of his. Yeah, right. When we did play Magic together, I could tell it was torture for Aaron. I was so slow to take my turns and had fallen too far behind on the learning curve. Whoever said, "Ignorance is bliss" had no idea what they were talking about. My ignorance as to the stranglehold this game truly had on my boyfriend almost cost us a wonderful relationship.
You Need To Find Your Own Magic
This was Aaron's suggestion to fixing the gaping hole in our communication that I felt Magic had caused in our relationship. I interpreted it as, "Go find something to do so you won't bother me anymore." In my eyes, I didn't NEED another thing to do - see Reason #1 as to why I did not play Magic. Just for kicks I asked Aaron, "What? What do you think I should do?"
Aaron replied, " I don't know, read or something. Collect stamps."
This man wants me to read? I was twenty-two years old, fresh out of college, enjoying the benefits of a full-time job and the fact that I did not have six chapters of Political Science to read, three papers due, and some Finance problems to work out by the next day. Intellectual pursuits were the last thing on my mind. Quiet nights at home, piddling away at some hobby just wasn't going to cut it. Neither was a boyfriend who did not want to share in my adventures.
This change did not happen overnight. Aaron would gladly go out clubbing or barhopping on a Saturday night. But he would have to play a game of Magic first, and then stay up all night when we got home from the club, playing more Magic. Next, Aaron and Company would be late to the club or bar because they got too involved in their game and lost track of the time. Soon, they just stopped going out. Or when they did, they would spend the majority of the time talking about Magic. Many weekends were spent apart, Aaron traveling to Columbus in numerous attempts to qualify for the Pro Tour, or to Grand Prix in a variety of places and I would be at home, in Pittsburgh, longing for good old-fashioned wild times.
Eventually, I found a group of equally disenfranchised girlfriends and we started going out every weekend together. There was a local rock group called the Buzz Poets that was increasing in popularity at the time. We did not miss one local show for almost an entire slam-dancing, whiskey-filled year. For whatever reason, our boyfriends did not appear to miss us - that's when it all came to a head.
I Don't Need Magic - I Need Love
Soon, one of the girls in our group started cheating on her boyfriend with either the guys in the band or the ones we would meet on our various weekend excursions. She made it look so easy and so rational. If our men really wanted us, they would be here with us, not leaving us open to such temptations. My man hadn't looked at me the way THAT hottie is now - in months. I still could not cross that line. Unlike the other boyfriends of our group, Aaron was not out at some other club with his friends grinding on other girls. He was at home, or in Columbus, drinking Mountain Dew and playing cards with a bunch of guys. There were probably no female hotties within a ten-mile radius of him. Even if there were, he probably would not have noticed them. So my "club name" became Angela and my phone number was whatever seven digits popped into my head at the time. For those anxious young bucks that still could not take a hint, I flat out told them, to the chagrin of my friend, " I have a boyfriend." After which, I would have to walk away as the barrage of questions would follow: "Yeah, where is he?" "Why isn't he at your side? I would be if you were my girl. He should be with you." Aahh - from the mouths of babes......
Clubbing and the Buzz Poets lost their charm as I tired of my friend "hooking up" every weekend leaving me to fend for myself in crowded clubs and to cover for her when her man called me late at night/early in the morning looking for her. I returned to Aaron, frustrated and ready to call it quits. I knew that I could not handle both the temptations of the dance clubs and the loss of my soulmate that had occurred slowly over the past year. I wanted my buddy back - the one that would drink and dance and watch the NBA with me. Aaron wanted me to be waiting in the wings for him when he was done playing Magic. It was Crunch Time.
We did not speak for three days and nights. There were a lot of things to figure out. When we did talk again, we decided to renew our commitment and make some compromises. After hours of total catharsis and complete, bare-bones honesty, these were the lessons learned. Lessons that not only saved our relationship, but made it stronger. In sharing such intimate details I hope that I can save a few couples from the bitter end that some less fortunate than us have been unable to avoid.
Ladies: Learn to play Magic. Believe me, three years ago, I never would have thought to utter those words. If something is so important to your man that he spends countless hours and numerous dollars on it, it is not a bad idea to at least gain a basic knowledge and understanding of it. Sometimes, you will beat him at his own game. I wish now that I had not been so ignorant.
Fellas: Show some love. We just want to know that we are more important than some game. Put your lady before Magic on a regular basis. In response to Magic Night on Tuesdays, we had our Date Night on Mondays. Just as the Tuesday night ritual was not broken, the Monday night ritual was also closely adhered to. Our friends knew not to call us on Monday nights. Also, don't be afraid to pass up a weekend tournament or a Saturday of 5-Color, multiplayer mess every now and then just to spend some time with your partner. If he does do this, then ladies, don't work him over every time he wants to play Magic or go to a tournament.
Ladies: Give gamers a chance. To celebrate Aaron's first victory at a Pro Tour qualifier, a group of gamers and myself went to the Pour House for some drinks. The group consisted of Aaron and I, Jason Hillman, Scott Teamann, and Mike Byrne. This was the first time since the Student Union incident that I had been around so many gamers. We had a great time. They were Normal and could talk about other things besides Magic. Scott had a girlfriend and Mike - a wife! Although we did have to recap the day's events, the beer flowed freely and so did the conversation.
More recently, I have had a few dinners with Team CMU and other Magic players. Of course, a portion of the meal conversations did revolve around Magic but once we discussed "sexy teeth" and another time what would happen if you could take out your eyeballs but then dropped them and stepped on them. I know, not exactly earth-shattering - but to my delight not Charlie Brown teacher talk, either. I have had the good fortune of meeting quite a few Pro Tour players over the past year and have found each to be intelligent, unique and very witty. So many of these guys impressed me that I wish I had more single friends to play matchmaker for them.
Fellas: Give clubs a chance. Or the symphony, or a play, or whatever it is your lady is into. Meet her friends and take an active interest in them. Do something else besides Magic. I cannot tell you how my heart sang when Aaron planned a night out on the town for us to check out opening weekend of the dance club "Area 51." Don't be afraid to mix Magic friends with non-Magic friends. The results will be interesting. We mixed Aaron's old high school friend and brother Neil with Jason Hillman and Team CMU. They got into a debate about Music. The night ended after many beers in Ritter's Diner at 4:30 a.m.. From the other end of the table throughout the evening, I heard, "Puff Daddy is GOOD," or "The Beastie Boys, more so than the Beatles...." Don't know when or if these worlds will ever collide again, but when they do, I'm calling Rolling Stone.
Ladies: Magic ain't going anywhere. If your man showed you this article, or is reading it with you now, they intend to be doing this for the long haul. Whether you like it or not, this game, this community will become a part of your life, too. If you are co-habitating, it may feel like Magic is invading your life. The Long Boxes of cards will appear, and then increase exponentially. Soon, commons will be used as bookmarks, coasters, or scrap paper when you need something to jot down a phone number. If your man is on the Pro Tour, striving to get on it, or is a more casual player, you will not keep your man without acknowledging this game.
Fellas: Your lady ain't hanging around forever. If you are considering either maintaining a relationship or starting a new one, be mindful of the fact that this is not easy for a non-Magic playing person to deal with. If you are co-habitating, try to keep your cards at least in the same room, preferably in one small corner of that room. Not all ladies are or should be as tolerant as I am of the Magic card clutter. We are sacrificing our time and money for you to enjoy this hobby. Don't think twice when we ask you to sacrifice a Saturday night to snuggle or watch a movie. You will not keep your woman if you do not acknowledge her.
It is all about balance. There are times when one thing will take precedence over another in any relationship. Just make sure that the same thing is not always taking precedence. Finally, enjoy Magic Night, even if you don't spend it playing it. Tuesdays are my opportunity to call my friends long distance, write letters, read, or listen to my Erykah Badu and Jewel CDs - it is my playtime, too.
Would this article ever have been written by me if my husband had not enjoyed the success that he has on the Pro Tour? Probably not. But not because of the reasons you may think.
I have not suddenly become all-accepting of Magic now that I have been able to travel to Europe and other major American cities on the coat-tails of the Pro Tour. Aaron and I had Crunch Time long before he ever first qualified for PT Chicago '98. Interestingly, Aaron's performance improved when he put the cards down a little more often spent a little more time with me. To be honest, the frustration is still there when I look at the calendar and see our summer already almost completely filled. Someday I may regret the fact that Aaron and I did not just vacation to Europe without the distraction of a tournament. But, at least I have learned it is not so far out of our grasp as I once thought it was.
However, if he had not made it to the Pro Tour, I would not have met Rose, Valerie or Jamie - The Other Women of Magic that I have kept in my heart and mind as I spilled my story onto this computer screen. (Note that each of the three mentioned females are very proficient at playing Magic, much better than I could hope to be.) If not for PT New York, Rose and I would not have spent a long, long night in Mustang Sally's in Manhattan, beers in hand, swapping eerily similar stories of our trials and tribulations we have faced on account of Magic: The Gathering.
That conversation, muddled as it was by Yuengling and Hoegaarden, is the major inspiration I drew from to tell this Story of Magic.
Game Hard. Love Harder.
- Anne Forsythe