“You cannot make yourself feel something you do not feel, but you can make yourself do right in spite of your feelings.”

Pearl S. Buck

In the world of sports fanaticism, I’ve always been what you might call a ‘selective socializer’. This is a polite way of saying that I’ve spent most of my adult life perfecting the art of watching soccer alone, or with a very carefully curated audience. It’s not snobbery, it’s self-preservation. Imagine trying to savor a fine wine while someone nearby is blending a kale smoothie—that’s what watching soccer with the wrong crowd felt like to me.

But then came the 2014 World Cup, and with it, an invitation to host watch parties. My initial response was a hearty yes, followed by a swift and sinking realization of what I had agreed to. Picture this: A grown man, facing the prospect of watching his beloved sport in the company of others, experienceing the kind of existential dread usually reserved for root canals or family reunions.

The days leading up to the first match were a study in inner turmoil. I found myself oscillating between excitement and the kind of despair usually induced by thinking about the universe’s inevitable heat death. I even let slip a joke about my dread of group viewing to my friends, which was met with a mix of surprise and hurt from them. It was a classic ‘foot in mouth’ moment, minus the comedic timing.

As the first match day approached, a funny thing happened. I began to feel embarrassed by my reluctance. There I was, about to engage in one of my favorite activities, surrounded by people I genuinely loved, and all I could think about was how they might ruin my carefully constructed viewing experience. It was a bit like being worried that your birthday cake would be too delicious.

The watch parties, as it turned out, were nothing short of revelatory. The collective euphoria of a win, the shared agony of a loss—it was like discovering a new flavor of ice cream that you can only taste in the presence of friends. I realized, quite to my surprise, that the joy of the game was magnified, not diminished, by the company I kept.

This experience didn’t just change how I watched soccer—it altered my entire relationship with sports. The highs and lows of the games still mattered, but they paled in comparison to the highs of shared experiences. The very things I had dreaded—the commentary, the overreactions, the distractions—became the things I cherished most.

In the end, I couldn’t force myself to feel differently about watching soccer in a group, but by stepping into that situation, my feelings evolved on their own. It was a lesson in the unexpected power of letting go, a reminder that sometimes, the best way to experience something is to share it, even if it means risking a little bit of your carefully curated comfort.

In sports, as in life, it’s not just about the winning or the losing; it’s about who you’re with when the final whistle blows. And if that means occasionally enduring someone’s off-key rendition of your team’s anthem or a debate on the offside rule by someone who thinks it’s a type of salad dressing, then so be it. After all, the best memories often come from the things we didn’t know we’d enjoy, surrounded by people we never thought we’d share them with.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand & Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.