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Love In A Time Of Football 

When I was 18 years old, I pretended to like football because of a boy. It was the 2014 World Cup and we were sitting in his parent’s living room, the romantic tension between us gathering dust at the feet of our innocence- when he turned his head from the game we were watching to ask me, “What’s your favorite team?”

“I don’t know,” I responded. It’s true, I didn’t know. All I knew in that living room was that I liked him…a lot. 

Later that evening, he dropped me home in his mum’s car and planted a wet kiss on my forehead. I waited for his car to leave the wrought iron gates of my parents’ home before running frantically to my father, slowing my gait as I approached in my best impression of  not-a-lovestruck-teenager for one cannot be too overtly infatuated in front of an African father. 

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Do You Follow The Ball Or The Players?

My father was sitting square in front of the television in his big leather recliner seat watching Argentina play Belgium in the quarter finals. I sat on the couch next to him and tried my best to follow the game. I remember Papa turning to me, part bemused, part bewildered. It was the first time he had ever witnessed me take interest in anything remotely athletic. It was the first time we’d sat down and watched a match together. I squinted my eyes at the TV, not quite sure on whether I was meant to follow the ball or the players. I thought the pundits’ commentary was distracting, how does one come to their own conclusion about the game with their continuous stream-of-consciousness voice overs? 90 minutes felt like an excruciating lifetime. 

A little past half-time, I turned to my father and asked, “Papa, which team do we support?”

I saw the bewilderment return to his face, “Why the sudden interest?” 

“I’m just curious,” I shrugged.

My father explained that his World Cup team was Brazil and that he was just watching this particular game to see who his team would battle it out with in the semi-finals. It was in that moment that Divock Origi, then striker for the Belgium team, crossed the screen. The camera zoomed in on his sweaty lean physique, his dishy eyes and boyish smile calling me from continents away. I decided that Belgium was my team. 

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Will You Love Me More Because I Watch Football?

For all the questions I badgered my father with about the game, I received a rudimentary education on the 101s of football that evening. I couldn’t wait to tell my crush, through the medium of casual nonchalant texting, my new found knowledge. I thought he would think I was so cool for being a girl who liked football, and subsequently, he would like me more. 

You might think 18-year-old me was a vapid and naive teenager for tweaking aspects of her personality in order to impress a boy. Granted, you’re not wrong, but it happens a lot more than you think. I randomly asked 10 women from my office and circle of friends, across the ages of 18-40, what was essentially a set of two questions.

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Unachekingi ball? If yes, why? If no, why not?

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Have you ever pretended to like something to impress a boy and what was it?

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Has a girl ever faked an interest in your interests and could you tell?

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Did you find it endearing or did it turn you off?

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Have you ever faked an interest in a girl’s interests and why or why not?

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Science Inasema Watchini Ball Pamoja…

According to The Burden of Empathy: Partners’ Responses to Divergence of Interests in Daily Life by Francesca Righetti et al (2016), when people encountered divergence of interests with one’s partner, as compared with when they did not, they experienced higher negative mood and stress and, consequently, lower relationship satisfaction.

“Most of the divergence of interests that couples encounter in their everyday life reflect the inescapable necessities of human (social) life: how to organize their free time, which food to consume, who will clean the kitchen today, whether to spend time together or not, and so on. However, these situations have a negative impact on the individual and on the relationship satisfaction. This is further exacerbated by empathy. People who feel the discomfort, not only for themselves but also for others, are more likely to be negatively affected by these situations. These findings emphasize the burdens (rather than the benefits) of empathy by showing that situations that pose challenges to relationships—situations in which preferences diverge—seem especially discomforting and even stressful to those who are more prone to share the feelings of others. This discomfort may eventually undermine relationship satisfaction, even though all this may just have started by a pretty mundane divergence of interest, such as deciding which TV show to watch.”

  • The Burden of Empathy,  Francesca Righetti et al (2016)

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Looks Like Itabidi… 

In her piece ‘Should You Fake Shared Interests Just To Please A Partner’ behavioral analyst and author of ‘Red Flags’ Wendy L Patrick writes that mismatched interests can only be concealed for so long before they begin to take a toll on relational satisfaction. According to her, in order to maintain relational quality, shared activities must be mutually enjoyable. A “fake it till you make it” approach is simply not sustainable.

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And Yet… 

All of this just to say that, I still don’t watch football. I just don’t understand the game. And that’s fine. Maybe it means that my crush wouldn’t have liked me as much at the time but that’s only speculative hindsight. The ‘me’ he liked for liking football was not the authentic me, because I would have wanted him to like. Eventually, the World Cup season ended with Argentina winning the cup (much to my father’s chagrin) and I couldn’t hold up the veneer of pretending to like football for much longer. Not for La Liga. Not for the Premier League. Not for The European Cup of Nations. And certainly not for FIFA. 

When we parted ways, I breathed a sigh of relief akin to releasing a fart you’ve been holding in the whole day, because I didn’t have to pretend anymore. So for the men and women who don’t like football (and not for a lack of trying). For the men and women who do. Do not change. Do not try to change anyone either. They will like you just as you are, and you-them. I hope (against science?).

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