Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Climbing Ethics - Dating in The Climbing Community

Climbing Ethics - Dating in the Climbing Community

By Aubrey Wingo

You are a climber. You are strong and adventurous. You are always looking for new projects but take failure pretty hard. You are conversational with everyone but independent in your goals. Overall, you sound like a pretty well-rounded person. Now imagine that you are dating yourself, with obviously some differing character traits, but in general, this is what one should prepare for in the climbing community. Among my own personal observations, a little Internet research, and a poll I took with 34 respondents in our community, take the time to read if you are planning on dating a wall crawler.


I always find the dating climbing gym to be similar to Tickle Me Elmo (sadly, this might be an outdated comparison...perhaps the iPhone 5 is better, but you get the idea). A new stock of Tickle Me Elmos hits the shelves and all human restraint is lost. When a new climber (and I’m not talking about the typical walk-in customer) walks into the gym, the heads turn, murmuring begins, and that person is now a piece of fresh meat. Let’s not even open the door for comment if this particular climber is a female (that’s like putting a tennis ball in front of a bunch of puppies). Some of you might read this and think, how barbaric! However, don’t be scared of the socialization mob that is about to hit. If you want to look at it scientifically, first, the most “advantageous physical traits”, such as being fit or strong, are, by human nature, attractive. Thus, any active climber is more than likely going to be attracted to other active climbers. There is also the theory of propinquity, though typically it relates to the workplace and residency. Rock climbers, at least currently, are a dime a dozen, and on top of that, for the climbers in the Aiguille and Florida community, there’s not exactly an ever-changing population of climbers in our area. Essentially, “the proposition of propinquity says: Other things equal, people are most likely to be attracted toward those in closest contact with them. In general, as frequency of interaction between two or more persons increases, the degree of their liking for one another increases.” Basically, what I am saying is, in theory, within our human nature, and shall I say our climber nature, it is common to be attracted to other climbers.


Let’s get past all of the obvious dating advice. We are going to date who we are physically attracted to. We are going to date who we are mentally attracted to. We are going to date who we share life goals with, similar habits, favorite eating establishments, whatever. To get down to it, you need to decide FIRST whether dating a climber is in your interests. This may or may not change depending on if you yourself are a climber or not (this is more for the climbers, but thanks for reading!). Here are a couple questions to ask yourself:

-Does your potential mate like rock climbing?
Sharing common interests are certainly going to be a plus, but does this person understand your passion for the sport? Not every potential girlfriend/boyfriend is going to be interested in surfing DPM all day or interrupting a phone conversation with “Watch this move! Watch this move!” If your mate doesn’t like climbing, or the idea of it, prepare to be bombarded with text messages every climbing trip to make sure that you are not in your own starring roll in “127 Hours”. If your mate is psyched to sit on the couch with you to watch a Sunday marathon of the First Ascent series, great catch!

-What are your potential partner’s short and long term goals?
If you are a climber and you want to keep your active climbing style, you and your mate are going to have to prioritize climbing inadvertently in both your lives, climber or not. Say your girlfriend wants to be a farmer (hooray?).... in Kansas. You might have to take a step back and look collectively at your goals and see if, in five years, you are both going to be on the same page. No one wants to live somewhere they are miserable and aren’t free to do what they want to do.

-Is your potential partner shy or introverted?
No one ever said that these traits are a bad thing. However, in the climbing community, we are pretty social creatures. Communicating openly, sharing beta, giving a spot; all these things require you to be a more extroverted person. Chances are if your mate isn’t very conversational or outgoing, you are always going to be belaying or spotting or traveling with that person. Some people are completely secure with that as climbing does provide an intimate relationship different from others scenarios, but just keep that in mine when its “you” time.

-Does your potential mate mostly boulder or rope climb?
This is always one of my favorite dilemmas. One of you prefers bouldering and the other top rope and lead. Welcome to the world of compromise. It is no doubt that a strong climber should be well balanced in both fields, but some people think of bouldering as “practice climbing” and some people think roped climbing is just one boring continuous move after another. So you have a couple choices: You can either a) opt out of dating a person who’s interests in climbing aren't compatible with yours or b) suck it up and crawl out of your bubble. I guess not wanting to date someone because they only boulder would be like not dating someone because they only listened to rap music, which is acceptable; you date someone with common interests. However, if you mostly boulder and your mate wants to get on a rope, why don’t you just be a sweetheart and give them a catch?

These are just a few questions to ask yourself before you “tie in” with your potential mate but it’s a start. Once you have determined that this person answers many of the questions above and you have found similarities among your attraction, now you can prepare yourself for the balance needed in being in a climbing relationship.


Strengths and Weaknesses
One of the best aspects of climbing is the ability to climb with others of a similar strength (or rating if you’re concerned with grades). Climbing with people who climb as strong as you will typically offer a motivating environment, working the same moves and discovering new beta together. On the other hand, a climber who might not be as strong as their surrounding party can be inspired and thus climb harder than normal. As a climbing couple, you are going to be faced with the fact that you are going to climb differently and more than likely, at a different level than your other half, and this can have positive (motivating) and negative (jealous or intimidating) repercussions. My respondents seemed to represent both sides. One motivated respondent said, “He had been climber for 10 years longer than me. It was good, he had a lot to teach me. And I had to desire to climb at his level so it worked out good even though I was not on his level. It also pushed me to learn a lot more a lot faster and gain a ton of experience.” But on the other hand, some respondents represented the other side and said, “I have only experienced jealousy when I was dating a climber previously who's climbing ability far surpassed mine.” or “Perhaps not jealousy, but intimidation by other girls who climbed harder than I did and were thus more attractive to the strong male climbers.” When climbing with your significant other, its difficult to remember that climbing is not always a competition but always work in progress.

When both members of a relationship are climbers, the most common scenario is that one person will climb stronger than the other. Typically the man is always going to be stronger than the woman, and I would say that a majority of women are accepting of this fact: men are generally stronger, taller, and more powerful. Gentlemen, women love to be dating a strong man, but you have to be sensitive to your lady when it comes to climbing, especially if she isn’t normally a climber, or is just starting out. She might not be able to do a huge lock off move or a dyno like you can. Be patient and supportive when she works her projects. Luckily for one of my respondents, this isn’t a problem: “She is definitely a beginner but it could be a year of climbing and she'll probably begin to catch up.” However, ladies, if your man is a stronger climber than you, sometimes it is going to be difficult for your man to understand why you can’t do that particular move and it is going to get frustrating for you. But use this as motivation! One of my survey respondents has the right outlook: “He was stronger than me by two grade levels in bouldering. I loved to compete with him and it only made me stronger. Not only that, we both shared good beta and understood each other's climbing style.”

On the other hand, there is a chance that the woman wears the figurative climbing pants in the relationship. Women are technical climbers while being strong at the same time. Women will need to be patient with men when it comes to smaller holds and flexibility with their men. Many girls with non-climbing boyfriends are going to have to consider their boyfriend’s feelings. Being able to do something physically better than your male counterpart is going to tear down their machismo. Case in point, one of my respondents replies, “My boyfriend isn't very good at climbing at all. When he does climb with me, he gets all pissed off at himself because he thinks that he should be capable of completing the route no problem, because he works out all the time... . So, I don't bring him around much.” Same sex couples are going to face this issue more than anyone else. When your significant other is the same gender than you, there is no man to woman strength difference; physically, as a rule, each partner should be as capable as the other. Obviously, we are all different and this generality is going to be incorrect, which can cause possible competition, and not always the healthy kind in a relationship. Just remember, that everyone is different and the one person who is going to make you excel is yourself.

It isn’t a huge shock that there are some very beautiful climbers out there. Who wouldn’t love a strong, confident climbing woman or a hard-bodied, rugged climbing man? Now more than likely, you don’t have to worry about your woman running off with Chris Sharma however there are some pretty good looking people in your local climbing community. In my survey, I was shocked to find that out of my 34 respondents, 67% said that they did not experience jealousy within their relationships (the other answers being some jealousy and then tons of it). But for those who did find jealousy, or those looking to date in the climbing world, you will probably find a scenario that fits you below.

The first scenario involves both partners being climbers. These two people are going to be surrounded by these good looking climbers the most often. One of the questions I asked in my survey was “Is/Was your significant other your main climbing partner?” and, if the respondent was dating another climber, the majority answered yes. In the Aiguille family, I would say that we are very close in comparison to most gyms, and with that closeness, circles can run together if you know what I mean. If you have been around the gym a while, chances are you are going to date someone else’s ex. I don’t think I have to go into explaining the jealousy from all angles that this causes. A healthy climbing relationship will involve a great amount of trust and communication, as any good relationship would, but this fact is heightened by climbing with belaying, spotting, and being supportive. Without it, a relationship is doomed in the climbing world. Going back to our section on Strength and Weaknesses, the green eyed monster amongst climbers can also come from a climber’s jealousy of their partner’s abilities. You are never going to enjoy climbing with your partner if you are constantly jealous of how hard they climb.

The second scenario is when a climber dates a non-climber, and there are two heads on this beast. The most common example would be a male climber dates a female non-climber. The good thing for the non-climber ladies is that at the moment, rock climbing is a male dominated sport, meaning less women oogling over your man as he scales the wall. Trustworthy boys with trusting women won’t have a problem going to the gym. Let’s face it! Would you rather have them at a stinky climbing gym or a bar? But do keep in mind, a good amount of attraction is based on similar interests and there is the possibility that a girl who climbs shares similar interests will be attractive.

The other way around shares the same possibility. Women who climb might find a man who climbs more attractive than one that plays golf (not that golf is bad. I like golf.). Let’s put it simply. Similar interests can lead to attraction. Climbers can be pretty good looking. Girls, how is your non-climber boyfriend going to react to when you’re surrounded by a bunch of sweaty, shirtless, ripped guys? Hopefully your man trusts you, but for all you guys out there: climbing is a very powerful sport, and if you’re sitting on the couch playing Halo, and that’s all you got going for you, I would beware. Here’s a scene: Ladies, you come home from a sick bouldering session and you finally got that V4 that you’ve been working for weeks and everyone around was so psyched for you! You come home and your man, who doesn’t climb, isn’t nearly as psyched as you are. He can’t relate to your excitement because he doesn’t understand the sense of accomplishment that climbing brings. Eventually, you’re going to want to spend more time with the people who are encouraging you, not bringing you down. Eventually your man gets jealous and starts questioning the people your climbing with - I think you see where this is going.

The Break Up
As you are aware, not all stories end up with a happy ending. In the event of a break up, as Samuel L Jackson says, “hold on to your butts,” because its going to be a rough ride. Most of the time, if you and you significant other break up, there are many other places to go to get your mind off of it. You hang out with your friends, stay active, anything to get your mind off of it. As climbers, we’d probably go to the gym, get a good climbing session in, chat in front of the newest problems, keep ourselves busy in our climbing “fortress of solitude”. Now, what if your ex is a climber? You won't have a good climbing session, because you’re thinking about your break up. You can’t chat in front of the newest problems because your break up is probably all they want to ask about, and there is no solitude in your fortress. In the worst case, if you are new to the climbing world, or aren’t very social, it could be that there went your only belay partner. In such a small community, we risk the chance that a break up is going to screw up our world and all the happiness in it. Not only does it bring stress to you, but it makes it really awkward for everyone else around you, because chances are your friends are their friends. Many of my respondents focused in on this potential nightmare, suggesting that readers should be very cautious when dating a climber.

“If you are okay with the potential of breaking up and seeing each other afterwards climb with other people, then go for it! However, if you don't have a strong relationship or ‘was just a fling’, I wouldn't recommend it. Climbing first!”

“Don't go into it because you think you don't have other options. Try and have a respectable relationship so you can remain acquaintances if you break up.”

“If you are a jealous type, do not do it. It's a really friendly community and a breakup could make climbing very uncomfortable.”

“It could be a good or bad thing. Good, because of the support and help they can provide. It really means a lot coming from a significant other rather than a friend. Bad, because if the relationship falls out, who quits climbing? Or who goes to another gym?”

“Expand your world and don’t date a climber. Plus when you break up, you will most likely have to watch them date another climber.”

“Dating in the climbing community can be wonderful, like I said before, but it is important that you think about who you are getting into a relationship with. The impact of that relationship on the social circles can have a deep impact on the overall gym/local climbing culture, believe it or not...”


Goodness gracious! You’d think that chewing glass sounded like a better idea than dating a climber. However, just remember that this article, as foreboding as it might sound, is meant to make you think about your choices in order to provide you with a happy and healthy relationship. Not all people are the same, and we all have differing opinions. I will let my respondents present the light at the end of the tunnel:

“At the end of the day, it's the same tips as any normal relationship: pick someone that will have good, clear communication with you, someone that's mature (as far as you can tell), and knows how to have a good time. Try not to take things too seriously. Pick someone you trust. Have fun. Live life. Enjoy!”

“It's great. You don't have to ask, "Hey! What do you want to do tonight?" There is always common ground.”

“If you can find the right partner, then go for it! There are few things in life more rewarding than dating someone that loves something that you do. Just make sure that you'll still be climbing if the relationship goes south.”

“It is so much fun to be dating a fellow climber who is close enough to your level of climbing to be your constant partner/belayer.”

“I love it. I don't think I could ever date outside the climbing community again.”

“Climbing with someone you trust can be really motivating. They know how to push you to work harder. And always having someone to climb with is incredibly convenient”

See? It’s not so bad. Climbers can be amazing partners, and sometimes climbers prefer to pursue their passions solo. I can tell you from personal experience.

I have been in a relationship with a climber for almost four years. He is twice as strong as me (if we’re counting grades). Sometimes he’d prefer to climb on his own, sometimes with other people, and sometimes with me. And yeah, there are plenty of times that I was jealous of him climbing with other people or upset because we would yell at each other while belaying. But with trust, communication, and love, I have the best belay partner, the best spotter, the best encourager, and I have my best friend.

Dating a climber was the best decision I’ve ever made.

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