When I was 13 on my way out the door to play tennis with a boy my father yelled, “If you want him to like you, let him win!”

Of course I wanted him to like me. I wanted everyone to like me. And I must have internalized that message into my bones because as I grew up I never engaged in anything that required competition. No sports, no spelling bees, no poetry contests. I would let everyone win and everyone would like me.

My father must have thought if someone is a winner then someone else must be a loser and he probably couldn’t bear the thought of how hard that would be. Of course the shrinks would have a heyday with all the possibilities. Maybe he was the loser and he didn’t want me to lose legitimately.

“You can’t lose if you don’t play.”

But at some point the rest of the world, the world of scores and pennants and trophies and Grammys and Emmys and World Cups and Super Bowls must have seeped into my consciousness because I began to compete at the local pool. At first it was just an occasional meet. There would be someone in the lane next to me casually swimming their laps. But I was anything but casual. I would swim with all my might kicking and pulling, barely breathing, touching the end accompanied by a triumphant fist pump. The fist pump was in my head. So was the triumph. So were the cheering fans and the voice over the microphone: “Nancy Slonim Aronie lane three, United States gets the gold!”

I’ve been racing now for about 10 years. The other swimmers, of course, have no idea they are participating in my charade. They just swim near me and I kill myself trying to beat them. Most often I don’t. I’m a slow swimmer but a happy one.

However, the other day in the middle of my usual fantasy, something odd seemed to be happening. The woman in the lane next to me was just about even with me and even seemed to be having her own gold medal theatre piece. We met at the end, both of us huffing and puffing and I sheepishly admitted what I had been up to.

“I felt as if you were racing me as well,” I said. “Is that possible?”

She hesitated for a minute and then laughed, knowing she was busted. “That’s exactly what I was doing,” she said.

Dripping and laughing we continued, both of us, while recovering from our over exertions. And for the rest of the swim, I thought if I see her in the locker room, I’m going to ask her what her father had said to her.

Nancy Slonim Aronie is the author of Writing from the Heart. She teaches the Chilmark Writing Workshop.