We sat at our campground early one weekend morning. Thacher State Park had just opened a new sport climbing area and Kurt and thought it would be cool to check out something new. This, by the way, was the very same weekend that Kurt and I stopped in the Gunks on the way back to the city and he dislocated his shoulder–another story for another time.
After breakfast, we broke up the time cleaning the dishes and breaking down camp with some light conversation and impromptu cuddles. We were thinking about going to Patagonia when Kurt’s job contract in the city ended–at the end of December. January is such a perfect time to climb in the south, so I was planning on spending a few weeks with friends in Tennessee and flying down to meet him the following month.
We’d been discussing it on and off for weeks, but the more we talked about it, the more real the trip was becoming. The hair on my arms tingled in anticipation–what would it mean to me? Could Patagonia be the place where I learned how to endure anything, the wind, the cold, the snow? Would it make me a better alpine climber? Would it change me?
As I put away the unused eggs and wiped some of the breakfast dishes, I rapidly spoke my thoughts out loud; my words were firing out of me faster than I could wipe the table clean. The chatter abruptly stopped when he finally said, “You should start thinking about lining up some February partners.”
At the beginning of my relationship with Kurt, I had a very empowering moment when he left for Wyoming. We had only just met but I had decked while climbing a route in Eldorado Canyon, leaving me with a stress fracture in my left foot. He offered me his place to crash for a few weeks while he did a super commute from Boulder to the Grand Tetons. Feeling quite lonely after a recent breakup in the spring, I was especially glum to not have climbing.
We talked most days as he slowly crept north, biking and making strides through Colorado. I began looking forward to our text conversations. I suppose the beginning of any relationship can be like that–constantly checking your phone, wondering if the other person is thinking of you, contemplating the perfect responses. And then the unexplainable, unavoidable shit eating grin on your face when they respond, “Me too.”
My empowering moment began with a not so empowering one. Concerned that I was getting attached a little too quickly, I struggled as I tried to decipher my feelings, which were certainly growing. It was somewhere within the time he was in the Tetons that I realized: should things work out between us, we still wouldn’t be attached to the hip. We would have outside interests and separate lives–as it should be. We should both be free to pursue passions that weren’t dependent solely on each other.
In my early twenties, I traveled through Europe alone. I would go to bars and venues unaccompanied to see bands play. I take myself out to dinner all of the time. Being twenty-something was an interesting experience because life is this amorphous thing. It was during my twenties that I discovered how important it is to have a life independent of your partner. I learned that spending time with yourself is an act of self-love–maybe one of the greatest acts of self-love. I took great care as I learned how to nurture my friendships as well as my own heart–tending to my own garden meant pursuing my own passions.
And over the summer months, as Kurt and I were figuring out what we meant to one another, we shared a love of climbing. It was one thread of many that weaved our story together. One year later, after lazing about one careless morning, he told me something that I already knew but it still felt like a rejection, hearing the words come from his mouth. I thought to myself, he doesn’t want to be the guy who teaches his girlfriend how to alpine climb.
I already knew that in putting together a trip like that, we would be climbing together sometimes but more often, with other partners. Kurt’s experience in the alpine world outpaced my own; he’s been climbing for much longer than I have. While we pair well for some objectives, I knew we might not for this trip. His intent would be the same as it’s always been since I have known him: to push himself physically and mentally up big, scary, cold things.
Personally, I really like sunshine and warmth.
I meditated for a lengthy amount of time, and the conclusion that I came to was that he shouldn’t have to be the guy who teaches his girlfriend to alpine climb. If I, in fact, at any point in my life wished to learn, I had a plethora of resources around me. And here and there, I’ve flirted with some bigger objectives, but I wasn’t getting after it all of the time.
I wasn’t getting after it all of the time because it wasn’t the passion I wanted to chase.
“Do what you love, with love!” the theme of my blog declares. If at any point, we are pursuing the things that make other people happy instead of ourselves, something is not right. If you’ve started dating a climber and you are simply not as keen to sit at belays for an hour and hiking approaches isn’t for you, do not feel obligated to do it. Likewise, if you are a climber and your significant other is disinterested in learning how to tie in or heights stress them out, do not pressure them. If they show interest in learning a craft, trying a new sport, fine tuning a technique–that’s the time to encourage them.
But latching onto someone else’s passions won’t make them love you more. It won’t make you love yourself more, either.
I already knew the importance of being my own complete person and I often encourage my partner to do the same. That’s who he fell in love with in the first place, right? Maybe the idea of traveling to Patagonia with my significant other felt beautiful and poetic, but I couldn’t let romanticism cloud the reality of things and threaten my relationship.
If I didn’t have the passion to learn something on my own, it wasn’t Kurt’s obligation to me to teach me. Not only did that have the potential for disaster written all over it, but it was dangerous as well as unfair.
I had one more empowering moment following that weekend: that if I were to find my way to Patagonia, it would be on my own terms, at my own speed, and in my own time. We would go together, just as we had originally planned except that day I decided that I would find my own road.
**Cover photo by Nick Lanphier