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    Couples Who Can Play Together Stay Together: Love Spikes

    By John Chen–

    Brandon Styles and Kevin Masek were married, along with 32 other gay and straight interracial couples, in a ceremony officiated by Queen Latifah at the 56th Grammys in 2014. The Awards dedicated that special night of music celebration to marriage equality with the theme “Same Love” performed live by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.

    The couple’s story began seven years ago, when Kevin was doing residency at Stanford. He browsed a popular dating website ( https://www.match.com/ ) and came across Brandon’s profile. He immediately went into a swoon, affected by Brandon’s good looks and propensity for volleyball. This sport was one that Kevin enjoyed playing socially throughout college and medical school, especially “beer sand volleyball.” With great anticipation and excitement, Kevin sent a simple message asking Brandon if he liked to play volleyball. He did this while thinking, “Either we will be together forever, or [Brandon] will break my heart.”

    Brandon, in turn, had broken up with his high school sweetheart a few years earlier. When he received Kevin’s message, he was unsure of the writer’s intentions, but found Kevin’s profile musings humorous. After a couple of days, Brandon finally responded to the message, because playing competitive volleyball had been a big part of his life since his early teens and during his college years at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

    Although there was an instant connection, Brandon and Kevin did not play volleyball until the third date. That is when Brandon planned a beach kayak trip to Santa Cruz and they [censored] on the open water because it was romantic and they were all alone! On the beach, they met lots of people playing volleyball, and the date took an interesting turn.

    A former collegiate club volleyball player, Brandon was skilled and catlike with his bumps, sets and spikes. A former social beer volleyball league organizer, Kevin possessed skills and an understanding of volleyball that were, let’s just say, on the far other side of the continuum. There might have been an eye-roll or two from Brandon, but Kevin thought that he did not play too badly.

    Over the years, Brandon and Kevin’s love grew along with Kevin’s volleyball skills. Kevin took it upon himself, along with Brandon’s help and support, to become a better volleyball player. It was always their hope to play competitive tournaments together, on the same team. Brandon would set the ball and Kevin would spike it down for a kill; a perfect match and a perfect fit.

    Six years later, Kevin achieved the same level rating as Brandon via the North American Gay Volleyball Association (NAGVA). The transition from playing on separate teams and levels to playing on the same team was fairly, but not completely, drama-free for this dynamic duo. They went on to win tournaments in San Jose and Austin, and achieved a number two team national ranking. Their on-court chemistry mirrored their personal relationship, where consistency, positive support and communication were key to their championship run as well as to their marriage.

    “When Kevin got uprated, it was validation for his hard work and improvement on the court,” Brandon told me for the San Francisco Bay Times. “There was never a doubt that we would play together. It’s something I would absolutely love. Kevin has come a long way since that first volleyball date where he made me run and dive all over the place.”

    From Kevin’s perspective, he always wanted to play alongside Brandon, but previously felt that he was never good enough. He shared with me: “The night before our first tournament together in San Jose, I couldn’t sleep. I was upset. I felt insecure and pressure because people around us whispered that I wasn’t good enough or questioned my uprating. After winning the tournament, Brandon told me that I was just as good as anyone else because no one on our team was a weakness. His words meant the world to me.”

    Playing together, Brandon and Kevin pushed each other to be better, but not every outing now is drama free and results in a win. Brandon was very candid in telling me that, because Kevin is his husband, his “words mean more and expectations are higher to execute plays. Since I am the setter, similar to the quarterback, I am more vocal and direct on the court, especially when errors are made.” Playing sports together and being on the same team, he added, “bring in a whole new layer of complexity in our relationship. Because things are said in the heat of the moment, we have to reconcile what happened on the court quickly if we want to be successful.” Brandon stressed that they cannot, and will not, let 

    problematic issues linger, which can spell disaster.

    So many couples cannot play together because they fight without resolution to the detriment of the relationship they built. In order to hurdle such obstacles, Brandon and Kevin are constantly working on what they call communicating consistency and effort. Communicating consistency means to consistently say supportive things, even when all is not going well. Communicating effort, on the other hand, means to always make an effort to recognize feelings of anger and frustration, and to say something positive. Brandon admits that communicating consistency and effort “is often a struggle,” but having both he and Kevin commit to these actions makes the relationship even more worthwhile.

    The Match website (take that, eHarmony!) brought Brandon and Kevin together, but ultimately it is their success on the volleyball court that continues to strengthen their love and dedication to one another. So, what relationship lessons have we learned today? 1) Learn to play volleyball. 2) Get on a dating site and look for another volleyball enthusiast. 3) Find four other players and form a team. 4) Work on communicating consistency and effort.

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