Dissecting the Modern American Male

Guys and Competition

A few months ago, when my newly-minted wife and I were on our Honeymoon (two months in Argentina), I had an interesting encounter with some backpacking foreigners at a bar in Bariloche.

At the table next to us were two groups of three guys, six in total, having an inane conversation about their travels, each group trying to one-up the other.

One group said:  We did a fifty meter bungee jump last week.

The other group replied:  Well, we did an eighty meter bungee yesterday.

The first group:  Well, the day before our bungee we did a twelve hour hike in Peru.

The second group:  Well, we did a fifteen hour hike uphill and barefoot.

The first group:  Well, we did a seven day camping trek in the snow without clothing.

The second group:  Well, we spent six months in a Turkish prison.

And so on…

The guys were all in their early twenties, probably after college, avoiding the economic downturn in the US and living on their parents’ credit cards for a few months in South America.  They also probably didn’t accomplish anything that they claimed.

Their conversation reminded me of similar conversations that my 10-year-old cousin has with his friends.  My dad can beat up your dad.  I bet I can run faster than you.  I play better soccer than you.

Regardless of the content of the conversation, the underlying theme is competition.  When guys are little boys, the competition is obvious and trite.  When they are in their late teens and early twenties, it is still there, about girls or sports or experiences.  In their thirties, the competition is about what job they have and how much money they earn.  In their forties, guys compete about status and wealth and where they send their kids to private schools.

It is always there.  Guys will always try to one-up other guys.  They are always comparing themselves to other guys, wondering who has what job, who hooked up with the hot girl at the Pike party, who got on the guest list for the latest fancy-shmancy club in West Hollywood.

And here is the big secret that I’m going to reveal to you girls:  All of this stems from insecurity.  The hottest guy with the hottest job and the hottest girlfriend is just as competitive and just as insecure as the guy who has nothing.  The Brody Jenners of the world are just as unconfident as anybody else and they compensate for it by competing for status with everyone around them.

So, what is a girl to do with all this frivolous excess testosterone?  There are two important questions you need to ask yourself.

First: Is my guy’s competition relevant to the relationship?  Frequently the guy is competing about his job or salary and sometimes this competition can be a healthy thing.  It can make him more driven and focused.  On the other hand, it is an issue if your guy is competing for the attention of women.  If he is peacocking around and getting his flirt on just to show other dudes that he can, maybe you should reconsider your relationship status on Facebook.

Second, ask yourself in what way the guy’s competitive nature manifests itself; in other words, how does he show his competitive side?  Some guys take competition in stride and use it as a motivating factor, like the Karate Kid.  But frequently the opposite happens as well, where guys who feel their masculinity is being threatened just ask like douche bags (again, think Brody Jenner and his little pal Spencer).

Guys will always want to compete with each other, it’s in their nature.  You just have to be on the lookout for the content of their competition, and the means in which they compete.

Pratt and Jenner compete in the "Bro-iest Bro" competition

Karate Kid image via MarliMcFitness; Pratt and Jenner photo via SocialiteLife

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