My wife used to hate playing cards with me. "You're too competitive," she kept saying. "You get so intense, you can't just have fun-you always have to win.".
That didn't have anything to do with the way I felt, but try telling her that. All I could do was deny that I'm competitive . . . .
I suddenly realized that when the subject had come up before, the only reason I'd denied being competitive was that Kay had made it seem like such a dirty word. "Sure, women are just as ambitious and aggressive as men," she had said once, "but we've been inhibited from expressing our competitiveness. We were told when we were young that the only way we could compete was for the attention of men-to compete in any other way was 'unfeminine.' But society defines competitiveness as a brutal, winning-is-everything attitude. So, if by competition you mean imitating the macho way men behave-no thanks.".
My wife just couldn't see that competitiveness means a lot more to men than that win-at-any-cost ethic . .
Now, I am not going to deny that there are elements of adolescent insecurity or latent hostility or sexual rivalry in a lot of competition between men-all I'm saying is that there's another side to the story. Take male kidding around for instance. I always tell my friend Arthur that he exaggerates so compulsively, he'll even tell people his summer his house is at Six-Mile Harbor instead of Three-Mile Harbor. He comes right back at me: "You are putting on so much weight, pretty soon they'll have to give you your own zip code.".
We indulge in so much of this typically male insulting humor that our wives can be forgiven for thinking that beneath our surface joking there must be bitter rivalry . . . .
Male competitiveness in our professional lives is often a way to show our mutual respect. Sure, no one needs to be told that many men adopt a to-hell-with-the-bastards attitude in business; but far more often men also experience rivalry as a spur to achievement, as a means of being drawn to perform at the top of our abilities .