It’s been kind of an odd spring out west. Colorado weather has been drunk, and I’ve been waiting for the rock to dry out for a few days.
Ted and Kendra Eliason spent a gray morning with me at a coffee shop. Kendra and I tittered over an article Ted showed us titled “Why You Should Never Date a Rock Climber”. Best reason so far is number five: “If you’re the jealous type, forget about dating a climber chick. You love it when she sports that tight, skimpy Spandex while working up a hot sweat. But dude, she does the same thing when you’re not around, in front of all the other guys. A few of them, BTW, are hotter, stronger, smarter and richer than you are.”
More tittering and tee-heeing. But, beyond our laughter, there was also some sadness in the realization that maybe there was some truth in the rest of the article.
I used to have trouble fitting dating into my climbing life when I was living in Brooklyn. I worked ten to twelve hour days because it meant that I could to give myself three day weekends. Getting off of work at 7 p.m. was typically an “early” night, and then I’d head straight to the gym. Rest nights were spent at the apartment, home-cooking meals and excitedly planning and mapping out the next trip.
At some point, I had dabbled briefly in the NYC dating scene, but it was never serious. Once, I casually dated a musician, thinking how wonderful it was that he had his music and passions in life and I had mine. Ultimately, the guilt of leaving the city every weekend and coming home dirty/too tired to spend real quality time together dissolved the could-be relationship. I’ve met a few climbing guys and quickly became enthralled with the idea of meeting the quintessential partner on the road, falling in love and traveling the country. But was that realistic, too?
“Love”—I never had a grasp on what it really meant. Color me naive, but I could have sworn I was meant to marry my first real “boyfriend” in my early twenties. My heart gradually fell into a state of disrepair as the baggage started piling up on the Kathy highway, but I told myself that this was okay because we meet the right people when we’re ready. If I stop trying so hard and if I have the foresight to get out of my own way, I tend to find what I need rather than what I think that I need.
I recently discovered that three of my previous boyfriends are married or soon about to be, and while I couldn’t be happier for them, it still hurts in the way you would expect it to when you find out a former love has moved on.
I guess that I moved on too, but not in the same way. I moved on to chasing mountains. As much as my heart belonged to climbing and the lifestyle, I’d put up an entire blockade in front of my heart to keep myself from getting clobbered. Because of migratory habits, I was aware of what kinds of patterns to expect. I couldn’t afford to have attachments.
I have always believed in exercising caution when climbing because it’s the fall that hurts the most.
Some people love the early stages of a romantic relationship, but I exercise the same caution when I meet guys for the first time. The simple truth of the matter is: I’m afraid of having the rug pulled from under me again. So, I enjoy the high but I don’t lose myself entirely to the moment because that would mean lowering defenses I’ve built.
Maybe there is a reason why there are so many gaps between potential loves. I try to remind myself that all things good are going to be worth the wait, and I can pursue my passions in the meantime. I’ve reached a point this year where could-be boyfriends and pseudo-relationships became much less of an interest to me, but as much as I back away from the honest conversations, I crave them. Just like a bold climb, part of the scariness is beautiful.
And if something is good, why not go for it?
The scary part of a rock climb is falling and injuring yourself. The scariness of grown up relationships is the transparency of it all—advertising to the world, it seems: Here I am, person who could love me! This is me, this is who I am, here is a shortcoming between us, please don’t judge me. Please accept me.
I often look deeply at Ted and Kendra’s relationship. They both tell me that climbing is the thing that connects them. I think that’s beautiful. But I also know that there is more to building a relationship than the romantic aspects of it. It can’t be all “baby, I love you’s, a cam and a bottle of wine” (although that sounds FANTASTIC). On a Craigslist ad, it sounds so simple: “Needed: one male climbing partner, must be a good cook, love dogs, moderately enjoy offwidths. Someone who cuddles well. Someone who doesn’t judge. Will carry gear and occasionally hang draws.”
Ted told me that people play the “trust fall” game where you tell someone something personal that makes you feel vulnerable and scared, and wait and see if your spotter will catch you. Maybe, one day, I’ll figure out how to not be such a spaz and be more open with my feelings. The search to be both cared for and caregiver is an ongoing quest.
Heather Bessemer, climber, mother, friend and general badass in life told me once: “If you start accepting the crumbs of someone’s love, you start thinking that’s all you deserve. It takes a bit of time to see what people are all about. Looking for your people takes resilience and a lot of faith. It’s really about “what can I bring” or “what can I get” mentality for friends and lovers. Don’t waste your time and keep moving until you find the people you feel more with, and they feel the same.”
And when you do find someone you feel more with, don’t disregard those feelings and thoughts. Be brave enough to ask them (and yourself) the hard questions. Believe in your own self-worth to have the presence of mind and courage to say what you feel, especially if it means stepping out on that proverbial limb—as scary as it may seem. We’ve been told not to climb mountains without balancing risk and reward. Because, in both the mountains and in love, there truly can be no reward without risk.