The ultimate partner

How to do adventures outside with your SO; a subject I’ve thought of writing about for years, and under implicit prompting from Geargal Jill I’m taking a crack at it today.  It’s a desire many have, for good reason.  Building a lifetime partnership and outdoor adventures both rank high on the life list of anyone reading this, so why not combine them?  Rarely does it seem to be so simple.

That most of us take both things so seriously is the obviously hidden reason their combination often goes awry.  As valued as my more platonic outdoor partnerships are, adventuring with M is much more high-stakes precisely because I so dearly want it to work well.  Naturally this often leads things astray, and having it not do so is for me still very much a work in progress.

Secondly, most romantic outdoor partnerships start from a position of inequality.  Our marriage is I presume rather typical, in that M had never slept in a tent before she started hanging around with me, and for better and worse I’ve been the primary instructor in climbing, hiking, backpacking, camping, canyoneering, mountain biking, boating, and so forth.  There are obvious cultural factors which make this patriarchal state of affairs more likely than not, and which adds a potentially complicating overtone to the whole process.  I want to be a good teacher, and I want to eventually have an equal partner, but the heightened stakes of both failure and success and the inscrutable dynamic of marriage often has me generally short of patience and not teaching especially well.  The mishaps here are as innumerable as they are embarrassing.

M passing Packrafting 105 on McDonald Creek.

I do think that achieving some kind of parity in our interests in the outdoors will be essential for long-term happiness and equanimity.  That I have a two decade head-start makes this a bit complicated.  Like most of us M isn’t very fond of being “that guy,” a task which I don’t make especially easy, and her doing outdoor stuff almost exclusively in my company has given her a distorted sense of normal.  It’s important to like each other, and like the outdoors. Independently, and together.  Otherwise adventures become, emotionally, too big to fail.  Which means they probably will.

At this point my hope is that this evolving process will continue to make things easier.  In our case it’s made a lot more complicated by M’s extensive bearanoia; I’m quite comfortable going solo but she has a limited desire to go hiking by herself on days I have to work.  We’ve cut backpacking trips short on a few occasions because she just wasn’t sleeping much.  Compromise goes both ways, and the burden falls on me to take us on our trips, not my trips.  Doing this well centers on recognizing how different someone else experiences the world.  Understanding bearanoia is one thing I’ve learned among many.  Trying to understand just how much colder M can get is another, along with the seemingly categorically different rules by which her body produces heat.  It’s both a work in progress and an increasingly necessary part of my finding outdoor adventures fulfilling.

I’d value your experiences here immensely.

6 responses to “The ultimate partner”

  1. As a guy old enough to be your father, I say that you are getting way too greedy with M. Be happy with what she can do and do trips that she likes to do.

    If you want super hard-core trips, then do those with your buds.

    My wife of 25 years lets me do whatever I want, whenever I want to, just as long as she does not have to come along. My wife is a runner, whose idea of a great vacation is to sign up for a big city marathon, check into a 4 or 5 star hotel, and hang out enjoying the big city before her big race.

    We were both runners when we met in 1985 and did such trips. I have changed over the years, she has not, and I have not asked her to. I know when I have it good.

    1. Hahaha I didn’t see your comment before I wrote mine, and I think you are smart.

  2. I commented pretty extensively on the geargals blog but I think you and M are more like me and Ted. We can do stuff together, but there’s an underlying difference in ability and interest that precludes ever being full on full time activity partners. Which, frankly, think of all the fights we avoid (hee hee hee). I agree 100% that some of the deep concern about whether a life-partner is a sufficient “activity partner” is born of taking “activity” far too seriously. Also, I think it reflects a less than fully developed view of relationships and what might lead to long term success in that regard. But I am also sort of an old hag compared to some of these folks I think (?) and am probably defensive about my situation (it seems to basically work so people who think it sounds like the horror of horrors probably put me on the defensive). I will say that Ted is eternally grateful for people like you who can do stuff with me and be my activity friend so he doesn’t have to worry about it :-)

    All I know is that I used to be really into road running. Then I got into trail running. Now I really most enjoy skiing and hiking and general adventuring. If I chose my spouse in 2000 based on his common love of road running but he continued to just want to race road races after I became more interested in skiing, it would sort of suck that he didn’t go through all the same phases with me… and in hindsight it would be a lame criteria for choosing a spouse. Instead I chose my spouse based on his mellow, laid back approach to life and his supportiveness in whatever endeavor I choose and the fact that I enjoy his company (and I like listening to him play guitar and his attributes that are cool to me and much different than I am). We do some activity stuff together, and have fun, but really our best times together are just relaxing and hanging out over a beer or three. He brings balance into my life in addition to all the other good stuff. I don’t need him to go run 30 miles with me… in fact, I’d sort of rather he didn’t. He’d probably kick my ass and I’d get pissed :-)

    Ultimately, our spouses may not want to do all the same things we do all the time always, but I think we both chose pretty well ultimately.

  3. I responded to the post by Geargal aka “The Real Alaska Jill” as well, but it’s interesting because even before I then I was having a discussion along these lines with my friend Keith. Later this summer, his wife is planning a solo through-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. And my boyfriend is prepping for an expedition to Nome next March that I won’t be involved in. On one hand, both of these are adventures that would spark Keith’s and my interest as well (probably me moreso than Keith), but we also recognize the reasons why our partners want to go it alone. I understand because I also prefer to be solo in my big challenges, and enjoy company when I simply want to have fun. It’s ideal to have an opportunity to pursue both, and partners who support us in our own individual goals.

    I also told Keith that the fact Beat wants to walk to Nome isn’t what “does it” for me regarding our relationship. Honestly, I’d be just as happy for him and happy to be with him if he decided he wanted quit racing and long-distance adventures, buy a basement lab, and spend all of his time conducting mad science experiments. I’d still hope he’d go biking with me occasionally in between breakthroughs, but it’s his intelligence and passion for experiencing all facets of life — not just his passion for the outdoors — that makes him so intriguing.

    When I was younger, my initial criteria for a good romantic partner was how much awesome music they listened to, whether or not they were snowboarders, and how willing they were to stay out late at punk shows and thrash around in sweaty crowds. Thank God I didn’t marry my high school boyfriend.

  4. I started enjoying the trips with my partners once I allowed myself to change the priorities for those trips. Now, when I have a girlfriend along who is less experienced or not as strong in the activity we are doing I focus on their company. And so do they when it’s my turn of being the newbie. It becomes an “us” trip in which the main objective is to spend some great time together.

    With my partner now, even though we share the majority of our activities, I don’t invite her for a hardcore day doing one of my favourite activities, and I appreciate not being invited to join her and her buddies on a full day of ridiculously hard (to me) climbing.

  5. While I am assuredly greedy, what I worry about is the extent to which that stifled M’s own interests. She’s got an impressive adventure resume of her own and ought to be free to develop her interests without me being a nuisance.

    I’ll say that I agree with Danni (and Jill) for the public record, because we’ve talked about it before. That M and I can so well enjoy doing nothing in particular is for me one of the more valuable things. Figuring out how to get along well in a different context is another challenge and opportunity for growth.

    I always cringe at the relationship rhetoric in our culture concerning finding a perfectly compatible life partner. Making the commitment and at least upon occasion adapting to suit is far more important. At the same time, outdoor adventures, because they are so potentially stressful, beg the question of picking a partner with at least some sort of amiable predisposition.

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