I first came up with this term about twelve years ago. I was fully immersed in coupledom, living in my first owned home, and making friends with other couples in a new area. I really enjoyed those years, for as long as they lasted, of doing up a small starter home. Every weekend my ex-husband and I would exhaust ourselves with a constant round of decorating, DIY-store visits, gardening and taking things to the dump. We’d crash into a heap on a Saturday night, gorge on pizza, then fall asleep in front of the TV. Happy days, and how I loved that first house, with its view over poppy-laden fields in Buckinghamshire.
Anyway, what I didn’t expect was that we’d become the unwitting focus of another couple, who lived a couple of doors down who were doing exactly the same thing as us. We’d been invited around for drinks and started to socialise with them pretty seriously. We became firm friends. Until, that is, before they started to compete with us on EVERY aspect of our lives.
We’d got started on our home improvements pretty much as soon as we’d moved in, and they hadn’t. Our new bathroom seemed to be the first Lifestyle Hijack trigger. I remember inviting these friends in one evening to view the results of our handywork and was surprised to find that they didn’t seem delighted by it at all. Stony-faced, they removed themselves from the scene of our ‘crime’ and before we knew it, they’d embarked on a full-scale ‘got to be better than theirs’ plan for their own bathroom, the details of which were of course, paraded in front of us at every social occasion.
I’d never come across this kind of competitive-neighbour behaviour before, but in retrospect that may have been because my friends up until that point had already bought their houses and we’d been renting so there was no cause for competition. I actively avoid competitive scenarios so when it became apparent that this couple were going to compete with us on every DIY score, we started not to tell them about things we were doing. Every house visit they made was a minefield – they’d ask where we’d got certain items, how we done certain things and whom we’d got to do them for us. We became adept at saying we couldn’t remember, we’d lost a phone number, or that the things we’d got were now discontinued.
I remember when we’d got a new Specialized mountain bike that my ex-husband had specially selected for me – it was really great and cost quite a lot of money. We had to hide it in the shed and get it out secretly for bike rides, knowing that once they saw it, they’d have to go one better. They did. Once spotted, they bought a ladies mountain bike that cost about £100 more than mine, just because.
Then came Kitchengate. I had decided to use a work bonus to buy us a new kitchen. I was so proud of it as I’d designed it myself. The day the fitters came and started to build our tiny galley kitchen was very exciting for me. Half way through, our ‘friends’ came to ‘admire’ the fitters’ handywork. Unbeknown to me, they took the project manager to one side to ask him if he’d do their kitchen ‘on the side’ – he was working for us via a big kitchen company. He agreed that he could recreate pretty much the same kitchen in their house, for a substantial discount.
When I found out, I was incandescent, but karma can be a beautiful thing. What this couple didn’t know was that this guy’s company did its best work for the big kitchen company, because they were contractually bound to provide perfection. This didn’t apply under the ‘backhander’ arrangement, so the kitchen was hastily put together by a smaller team, with lots of errors. I must confess, and this was not my finest hour, that when I saw this couple’s enraged faces running towards their house, as they’d just discovered the fitters had hit their gas pipe, was one of the most glorious moments in my life. We did our best to look sympathetic, but to be honest, we were triumphant. In my view, competition makes good people think evil thoughts. It is hardly ever ‘healthy’.
The denouement was Housegate. We’d decided to move house and decided to actively look for another while this couple were on their honeymoon in Australia (we’d been to Australia and New Zealand on ours, obvs). It gave us a good clear month to do it without them poking around as they’d inevitably start looking at the same time. The house next-door-but-one came on the market while they were away – it belonged to friends. We pretty much did a deal there and then. At the end of that month, my ex-husband went round to seal the deal with the owner over a wee dram of whisky. There was a knock at the door and the owner answered it. Guess who was standing there? Yep – the Lifestyle Hijackers, offering an increase on our offer just to get the house. I think they’d been back in the country for about an hour at that point. My ex heard every word of their gazumping campaign.
As you can imagine, the ‘friendship’ came to an end after that (the owner honoured our agreement), but I was more angry with them for taking away my innocence. Before I met them, I had no idea people could be so competitive. I suddenly became aware of how much hidden competition there is between all couples, and well, between people, really. What really bothered me is that these people seemed to have no sense of their own style or ideas on things – they just like nicking others’.
I find most competitive people ARE like that – they have to find out the detail of what you’re doing so that they can do the same, only better. It can range from having to know what exercise regime you do or where you’re going on holiday, to what you’re reading or which car you’re intending to buy. As someone who prides herself on being original you can imagine how I feel about copycats. I’ve tried not telling them what I’m doing but as a natural ‘sharer’ I find I can’t. I’ve tried only telling them once I’ve done it, but I like telling people what I’m doing before, during and after I’ve done it so this doesn’t work for me either. The same goes for people who try to get me to do the same thing as them – read the same books, go on the same holiday, do the same exercise. No, no and no. I’m doing my thing over here, thanks. The last thing I want to do is be exactly the same as you.
It has been said by more than one person that I am so intensely competitive that I’ve convinced myself I’m A-competitive. It’s something that I’ve thought about a lot. I like to do things really well and enjoy being the best at something. I avoid things I’m not very good at, like games involving hitting a ball or catching. Is it because I can’t win at them? I walk away from board games when other players are crowing competitively about winning – I find it ugly to witness and want to get away, but they would say I’m just a sore loser who can’t handle the outcome. Which is it?
All I know is that I find open competition extremely unattractive. I don’t even enjoy running with other people because I know they will start competing with me and spoil my enjoyment of the exercise. Strangers try to race me sometimes and I always stop running to let them past, thinking, ‘knock yourself out, bud’. But I do I have memories of being in primary-school sports-day races, allowing others to pass me (even ushering them through) but then breaking into a sprint just at the end and pipping them at the post. What’s that all about? Was I lulling them into a false sense of security before totally nailing them?
It is maybe a beast within me that I can’t acknowledge.