Walt and I spent this weekend mountain climbing in Lake Placid, New York. Winter climbing involves dressing in thousands of layers and tromping up and down a mountain on snow shoes for a good eight hours. I realize that most folks don’t consider such an activity their idea of a good time, but the two of us, well, we sort of dig it, even though we end the day feeling as though we were beaten by a crowbar.
We were sitting in a wine bar on Saturday evening when we ran into a lovely couple. We got to talking about how we spent our day and they seemed genuinely fascinated by what we did, and by how well matched Walt and I are. As if we our relationship were somehow an accident, a collision of random stars.
So, I thought I’d bring back a post about this very topic I wrote a while back. I think it speaks to the idea of finding love AND being true to who you are.
Have I ever mentioned how much I love questions and comments? I do. Thanks again to Jessie for the inspiration for this post. Here’s what Jessie says:
My [dating] challenge will be to find the right balance between ‘must-haves’ and ‘realistic.’ For example, these two men [I’m dating] are active. But not athletic, which I NEED to be. Would love to have someone who shares and gets the craziness that goes with endurance sports. Otherwise, I’m afraid I’ll fall ‘off the wagon’ and become a sloth again.
Knowing what I know now, I’m no longer inclined to settle for someone who isn’t a great fit.
Part of me hates that word, settling. For people-pleasers, recovering or otherwise, it connotes a certain rigidity and intolerance that rubs us the wrong way. We, after all, take enormous pride in our ability to put up with shit, make do, and to compromise.
But I’m going to dive in so you get what I mean by the term. And I’d love to focus on the endurance athlete aspect, here, because it represents something much bigger, namely one’s lifestyle.
Endurance athletes are a funny lot. You don’t get drawn into long distance running, or biking, or mountaineering because you’re emotionally stable. No, folks like us need demanding physical activities to save us from our selves. A long run for me is a lot like what I imagine an AA meeting is for an alcoholic: it keeps me on the right track during the week and helps me manage my daily anxiety level. A few days without a trot, and I become a caged animal.
It takes another endurance athlete to appreciate the compulsion to get your 26-mile run in before you attend your stepson’s wedding. Especially when it’s raining cats and dogs, and you’re in a strange town with little idea as to where you’re going. To run-of-the-mill folks, insisting on such an activity comes across as completely insane, inconvenient, and downright selfish. Another endurance athlete, on the other hand, understands the inflexibility of a training schedule. They understand the drive. Not only do they understand, they admire your commitment. AND, most importantly, they want to come along.
I think the biggest complaint unhappy couples have is that their partners don’t enjoy the same activities. One loves an evening of Bunko; the other, driving race cars. One is a yoga fanatic; the other digs playing with spreadsheets. The only thing they seem to have in common, other than the kids, is their sense of isolation.
While none of us is looking for a Siamese twin, we are looking for a playmate. It’s sort of the point of the exercise. We want someone who will share the sunrises, and the smelly tent, and the exhilaration. We want someone to throw us that look of awe as we crest the misty hill, who points out the other athlete with the perfect form, who can get what we’re feeling just by the sound of our breath. Sure, we can do this shit on our own, or with our pals, and we do, but it’s so much sweeter as a shared experience. It’s so much richer.
This expectation is perfectly realistic. Having it doesn’t make you a high-maintenance, demanding piece of work.
There’s a saying in mountaineering that goes something like this: no one who has been to 8,000 meters on their own stays married. Such experiences practically change the DNA of a person. Such experiences can’t be explained to those who have remained below. There’s no way to understand the becoming, or the despair, or the obsession, or the existential malaise, or the bonds created with perfect strangers, or the inability to carry on with life as before. Those left behind end up resenting the shit out of you. And vice versa.
Which calls to mind your second point, Jessie: worrying that, if this guy isn’t athletic (enough), you’ll fall off the wagon and become a sloth.
Here is the big danger for people-pleasers. We do stupid shit to please others. We sense the unhappiness our actions cause another, then give up on our pursuits to keep the peace. We bend over backwards to avoid hurting people’s feelings and, in so doing, hurt ourselves.
Then the cycle kicks in. Because we have “sacrificed” what feeds us, we blame the other person and resent the ever-loving shit out of them. Then they resent us. Then we resent them even more. And we’ve got ourselves a shit show.
Even though we’ve been talking about endurance athletes, the same goes for other passions that rule one’s lifestyle. Writers who are in their heads twelve hours at a clip. Raw foodies, who spend inordinate amounts of time chopping vegetables and chewing.
You get my point.
It’s easy to forget who you are and what you need when you’re sitting across the table from a date wearing AMAZING cologne, especially after a few dry months (or years). That’s why we need to have our list of the 5 deal breakers written out before we turn ourselves loose in the market. We need to know what makes us tick, what feeds us, and what, with the wrong mate, promises to be the biggest bone of contention. It’s easier to assess these things in the cold, hard light of day. It’s easier to ferret out the incompatibilities now, and deal with them, than a few years down the pike.
Can anybody say, divorce court?
There are plenty of people out there who will tolerate your inexplicable obsessions. But imagine sharing your life with someone who totally gets them.
Here are three additional points to mull over:
- You sometimes need to say no to good in order to get great.
- Dating is an opportunity to get to know someone, to explore possibilities, to practice expressing who you are and what you want. You don’t have to glom onto the first semi-reasonable candidate and marry him/her. You can, as my friend Bridget says, catch, bless, and release.
- There are over 315 million people living in the United States alone.
Get curious. Instead of, “Will (s)he like me?” start asking yourself, “Does this combination make perfect sense?”
The two questions lead to very different results.