My older son and his wife evidently believe that an element of competition adds a fun, festive note to their nine-year marriage.
Joe, 35, and Nicole, 32, regularly bet on the outcomes of even the most trivial happenings. Once on a Florida family vacation, for example, they placed a wager on whether or not I (an unwitting party to their contest) would find a shark's tooth during my evening stroll along the shore. When I did so, Joe's lack of confidence in my beach-combing skill left him with a week of dish-washing duty when the couple returned home.
Recently Nicole lusted after a fancy new phone at the same time that Joe eyed an expensive fly-fishing reel. But both refused to purchase the desired goods outright; instead, they wanted to feel they'd earned the right to buy, so they staged a nine-part challenge they dubbed the "Galletta Gender Games."
My husband, Fred, and I served as referees, timers, question-posers and performed such miscellaneous functions as sitting on the opponents' ankles during the sit-ups portion of the rivalry.
It didn't bode well for Joe when he detailed the donnybrook's rules and, in an eerie echo of his father's world-class language-mangling, said, "To the loser go the spoils."
Nicole did nail the early legs of competition when she 1) guessed to the penny the dollar sum of the pair's breakfast tab, 2) was the first to find and pay for three predetermined titles in the mall bookstore, and 3) beat Joe at five rounds of the Rock Paper Scissors game.
Comparing his losses to "like being down 0-3 in the basketball playoffs," Joe swilled a Gatorade and opened his shirt collar, perhaps to reveal manly chest hair, as he began to mount his comeback.
In quick succession, he clawed his way back into contention by a) picking more blueberries than Nicole within a five-minute interval, b) catching more sunfish during a 15-minute period, and c) doing 23 sit-ups to Nicole's 21 in 30 seconds.
Nicole, whose foul-shot average was 89.6 percent as a high-school basketball star, retook the competition's lead when she sank four free-throws in 10 attempts, while Joe could manage only two. But he tied the Triple G challenge back up by answering correctly more trivia questions than his opponent.
Still, Joe's effort fell short when Nicole won the final decisive round of the contest by paddling her canoe from Point A to Point B faster than her husband, who, for some enigmatic reason, rowed backward and standing up, gondolier-fashion.
After the wedded warriors left for the Verizon store, I kept thinking about the nature of competition, and I realized Nicole probably would appreciate her phone far more as the spoils of Spouse Wars than if she'd won it by, say, simply tossing a coin. And it occurred to me that she and Joe may be onto something big with these Galletta Gender Games.
My sense is that true competition can only occur when participants vie on a level playing field; it's not a real rivalry if one side enjoys way more advantages than the other.
So, I'm seeing Joe and Nicole's competitiveness as a hopeful sign that their marriage is successful, a happy match of equivalent individuals that may just have a good chance of enduring.
Because given the choice between a union of two equals and a pairing of dominant and submissive partners, I'm putting my money on the former to last, every time. No contest there.
Email Jan Galletta at jan firstname.lastname@example.org.