So you studied the Outdoor Dating series here on the site and finally nabbed yourself an other half. Good for you! You finally can stop badgering people you barely know to go on rides or climbs or to ski movies, because you now have a built-in partner who is, by Outdoor Dating contract, bound and obligated to be available as your belayer/ski buddy/Sherpa/spotter/copilot/what have you on your outdoor adventures. Go ahead and sever all ties with your other friends; you don’t need them anymore.
If you’ve been together any time at all, though, you are probably noticing certain things about being involved in an outdoorsy relationship. You probably notice that there’s more to it than just having someone to carry half the tent. Things aren’t always rosy out there in the great outdoors when you’re with your dear. What gives? Well, I’m here to help you untangle the mess, figure out what’s going wrong, and most of all, feel normal about it, because everyone in an outdoorsy relationship experiences the same hiccups:
1. Getting mad at each other while doing outdoorsy stuff.
Every romantic relationship is subject to the inevitable exponential increase in any and all emotions experienced by the individual partners when they are together. This means that if you’re happy, you feel even happier when you’re together. If you’re angry, every single thing your partner does will make you angrier. Nowhere is this more pronounced than during an outdoor activity, and don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean. There you are, a little grouchy because you’re hungry or got cut off in traffic or just had a bad day. You and your love head off for a mountain bike ride to shake off the cobwebs. This will not cheer you up, it will just make you more angry because suddenly every single thing that person does will seem like a personal slight. Did you SEE the way he moved his head and gave you a side-eye when he turned that corner and rode out of sight? He undoubtedly took off to leave you behind on purpose. Your poor partner is simply pedaling up a hill, zoning out and enjoying himself, oblivious to the fact that you are working yourself into a blind rage just because he hasn’t said anything to you in a while and you are SURE he’s ignoring you just to be a dick. As soon as you catch up and you both stop for a break, you light into him for being such an asshole, while he has no idea what you’re talking about. And you still have to do stuff with this jerk, because you got rid of all your other friends.
2. Not having any other friends.
Oh, you ditched all your friends because you got one of those built-in partners, did you? Well, well. Look at you now. Your partner is gone for a few weeks and no one will go out and play with you. It’s been so long since you went and did something with a friend that you get a barrage of “who’s this?” responses to your texts. No one even remembers your name, let alone thinks of you when they set up an outing. You said “no” or “my partner is sick so we can’t go” or “I’d love to go on a girl’s ride! I bet my boyfriend will want to come, too!” one too many times and now look at you. You’re alone. All alone. Aren’t relationships grand?
3. Having different outdoorsy goals.
He wants to climb, you want to ride. Dammit, you ALWAYS do what he wants to do and you NEVER get to do YOUR sport. But, he can’t go climbing unless you go because he needs a belayer! Neither of you have any friends left, so one of you has to go utterly unsatisfied.
4. Speaking of being unsatisfied….
The outdoors will ruin your sex life. Neither of you ever do anything that doesn’t involve getting up early, which involves needing to sleep which means going to bed early in order to actually sleep. Nothing else. So, while you’re ripping up singletrack like a pair of superfit demons, or slogging your way around some wasteland carrying 100lbs because you have to split the load evenly just to be fair or thru-hiking some trail that a hundred other people are thru-hiking at the exact same time (and all planning to write a book about it just like you), you’re too busy/too tired/too physically grimy and disgusting to rip the sheets up like a good in-love couple should be doing. All you do together is “train.” This is your life now. You are going to share a rope line, not share a bed.
5. There’s only one kind of gift you’ll ever get, ever again, in your whole life.
And it will be some sort of gear. OK, so you’re not into flowers and candy anyway. You WANT that electronic iPhone-synced water filter more than you want a singing telegram and an aluminum balloon! It makes sense to get good, practical gifts. But you know what also feels good? Getting a gift that your partner doesn’t borrow, use, or directly benefit from. Too bad. You’ll never get those again.
6. Your relationship baggage WILL show through….
So you had a fight ONE TIME while you were skiing. The echo of that fight will linger and every time you ski, you’re in danger of repeating it. Maybe the fight was kicked off by your tantrum over a broken binding, which wasn’t even your fault, but now every single hint of a binding issue will be rife with the ghosts of your Big Ski Fight. The time he screamed at you because he struggled with a move while climbing and took it out on you? You’ll never be able to climb again without getting tense when he has to “take.” This stuff is hard enough without injecting relationship dynamics into activities that are supposed to be fun, but it’s unavoidable. Oh, believe me on this one. Heads will ROLL.
7…..and everyone around you will know it.
So you’re past the point where you start to wonder where all your friends went and you worked to get them back. Now you have more people who will go out and do stuff with you. Awesome! Chances are, since you’re now A Couple, though, you will be doing all those things with your friends, Together. So when you hit one of those relationship-baggage moments and you watch your man ineptly cross-chaining on a bike ride even though you TOLD HIM NOT TO because it can cause excessive wear on the chain you just replaced on his bike, every single one of your friends is going to feel the tension between you. Constant friction on group outings will get you a spot on the un-vitation list. If you’re not careful, you’re going to end up A Couple, Together, with no friends again.
8. There are tons of people waiting in line for you to break up so they can have your partner.
The outdoors world is a small one, really. Chances are you are in the same circles as everyone else in a 100 mile radius who skis and climbs and hikes and bikes. You all know each other. I guarantee that there are at least half a dozen people in those circles who think they want your partner and are swirling around in the social currents out there, waiting for a crack in your couple armor so they can pry you two apart. I had the immense displeasure of overhearing one of these plots the other day as we squeezed into a crowded ski bar to listen to a band. Do people think that the presence of other people means they can’t be heard? Anyway, these girls were staring at some poor sap across the room and trying to figure out how to get him to break up with his long-term girlfriend. “They’ve been together forever,” mused one through her beer haze, “It’s just inevitable that they break up sometime soon.” “Right,” said the other, pushing her ski hat purposefully askew, hoping the effect would be fetchingly casual, “He doesn’t know that what he really wants is you.” Oh, gross. It always makes me retch, knowing that these types of people are out there. But they are, and you’re stuck with them in this small outdoorsy world of ours. And they all want a built-in partner of their own, so they’ll do what they can to take yours.
9. What if there’s someone better?
There are potential bed partners all around you in the outdoors. I consider myself blessed that I seem to be immune from whatever attracts people to ski bums, men who speak solely in outdoor “lingo” (“whoah dude! Sick brah!”), people who live in their cars after age 30, and people who can only speak about one topic (and it’s their outdoor sport). But evidently there are a lot of people who are into that. If you are, there will never be a time in which you are satisfied with your current outdoorsy partner because there are just so many other options. This one likes to travel but is afraid to climb. That one climbs too well and makes you look weak. This other one likes mountain biking but won’t go to the downhill park very much. That one is strong and good at everything but doesn’t like road trips. You might have the perfect partner but can’t stop wishing she would give up regular climbing and join you in your main passion of bouldering. Should you call it quits because you met a hottie in the bouldering cave? Or finally stop looking and be satisfied with what you have?
10. What if there’s NO ONE better?
More horrifying, what if your current love is as good as it’s going to get for you? What if you have to look forward to a lifetime of unshaved legs and a wife who doesn’t even own makeup? What if you’re signing on for forty years of sleeping in the back of a pickup truck every weekend at the base of a crag? What if your dear partner is going to ditch you for a month twice a year to travel or climb something or just go do what they like? What if your other half won’t come with you on your trips someday (and we’re back to having no friends to fill in). What if she never likes to boulder? What if he never learns to ski? Dating people who are into the outdoors should (but sadly, sometimes, doesn’t) mean you’re partnered with someone who is independent and strong, with their own life and a healthy sense of self. You are going to have to make compromises with these kinds of people and give them room to spread their wings and fly without you, at times with you holding the rope to keep them up there. You’re also going to have to accept fully that everyone, no matter how awesome, has their limits, and you won’t ever find every single thing you want in a person in one package. If you’re always looking for someone better who has what your partner lacks, you’re in for a very long, sad, and lonely life, and that doesn’t apply to just outdoorsy people, either.
Now, I don’t mean to imply that having an outdoorsy partner is all bad. There is one really good thing about sticking it out through all those dysfunctional moments: you really do get to know one another well. There is no hiding your best and worst moments in the outdoors. If your partner stays true despite knowing just how bad you are at snowboarding and you can tolerate how he smells after a three day fishing trip, and you both find out at a really bad moment that neither one of you knows how to rappel without an ATC but you don’t end up dumping each other for being such an idiot, you just might have a keeper.