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    Couples Who Can Play Together Stay Together: The Love Match

    By John Chen–

    The title of this piece is not referring to swinging couples. Wait, come to think of it, Esliban Rodriguez and Toby Hays actually do swing together, but swing tennis racquets. Married with children (second child coming) and doubles partners, this tennis swinging couple has found success both on and off the court, winning tournaments and each other’s hearts. How is this even possible?

    Those of you who play tennis know, most likely through painful experience, never to have your love interest as your doubles partner unless you are into sadomasochism or planning a divorce. If you want to break up with someone and don’t know how best to do it, don’t ghost or text him. Just ask him to play doubles with you and let nature take its course.

    On a beautiful day in San Francisco exactly 10 years ago, Toby Hays saw his superman in disguise playing doubles at the annual Cal Cup, which is a gay tennis competition between the three major California cities. A native of Peru, the handsome Esliban exuded confidence, power and commanded attention on the tennis court, mesmerizing Toby with every swing of his racket.

    Inching ever closer, Toby saw his opportunity to officially meet his superman. He knew Esliban had to walk a certain path to get to his next match. Toby wanted to say hello, wish Esliban good luck and to make a strong impression. As he recently told me: “I wanted to give him a high five, but since we hadn’t actually met, I thought it would be better to shake his hand.” He was a bit nervous and unable to make up his mind. Toby described their first greeting as an awkward and uncertain “cross tapping of forearms, which was kind of pathetic.”

    Tennis being the common factor, it made sense for Toby and Esliban to play doubles together. The benefits are obvious. They get to spend time together doing something they both love. They get to travel together to compete in the same tournaments, and they get to be on the same competitive schedule.

    “In the beginning,” recalled Esliban with a chuckle, “we were super sweet and encouraging toward one another on the tennis court, saying things like, ‘It’s OK,’ or, ‘You tried your best.’ After the honeymoon, when our competitive nature took over, then things got real.” Toby added, “Esliban is the sweetest and the nicest man I’ve ever met, but put a racket in his hand, watch out!”

    “There were a few times after a bad loss when we wouldn’t talk for a couple of days,” Toby said. “It was easy to point fingers. There were a lot of ‘what ifs.’” Toby, who is a consistent player, wanted Esliban to be more thoughtful of his shot selection. Esliban, who is a more aggressive risk taker, wanted Toby to have a greater competitive instinct. When things go well between the two of them, everything is great. But when things start to go south, even the slightest disagreement can escalate.

    Although they don’t always agree on who could have done more or made less mistakes after a loss, the key for them to getting back on track is communication, compromise and understanding one another’s quirks. Esliban tells me that, despite the initial disappointment, anger and silence after losing, they always talk and work things through.

    “At the end of the day [or a couple of days, in their case], I eventually come around and realize that it’s just a game, something we both enjoy doing and doing together.” This philosophy has helped Esliban and Toby through the highs and lows, and ebbs and flows, of an ever-growing relationship. It has also helped them to win many prestigious tennis tournaments together, such as the U.S. Gay Open (USGO) and the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) Same Sex Couple National Championships.

    So, what have we learned today? If you want to break up with someone, playing doubles together might not be the answer. You may succeed for a day or two, but you may also end up building a long-lasting relationship based on love, communication, patience and winning.

    John Chen, a UCLA alumnus and an avid sports fan, has competed as well as coached tennis, volleyball, softball and football teams.