In this Editor’s Note, we’re going to be candid and frank. We’re talking about mountaineering/climbing and why many sportsmen in this field have issues making their romantic relationships work.
Romantic Relationships and Mountaineering
We’re going to start with why romantic relationships don’t often work. The main reasons these relationships have issues is because you’re trying to make them work. As with all “normal” relationships, if you have to try significantly hard, it is not the right place for you.
Relationships aren’t things that should ever be set out for, these things just happen. They fall out of the sky when you least expect them. So, it’s never a good idea to just say, “you know what, I’m going to get myself a girlfriend today.” Because this is ridiculous and it will not work.
But even as ridiculous as it sounds, when it comes to mountaineers, their lack of time often leads them to have to make life choices like this, in a planned fashion. Everything they do is planned. However, in love, plans might as well be powder in a barrel of water, they will dissolve.
Balancing Life, Love and the Mountain
One thing I always say is that mountaineers have a life that is neither normal nor easy to deal with. Their biggest mistake is setting out to find partners who they “think” will accept their lifestyle once they explain what they do for a living, instead of seeking partners who they “know” understand the lifestyle and already accept it.
Yes, there will be fights about not spending enough time with each other, about whether the mountain is more important. These things are inevitable, but they can be significantly less occurring if dating someone whom you know loves you because of the person mountaineering has made you. Someone who understands that climbing, adventure and travel are just as much a part of you as they are, as your arms or legs are.
If your reason for being alone is because you don’t want to fight or constantly decide between love and climbing, then you don’t really want to be alone. You just don’t want to have to choose, which is different.
Trying to make a person who does not understand the passion of climbing understand why you are leaving them to climb is futile. It will lead to fights and bitterness and darken the concept of love for the future. In many cases, it makes mountaineers stay away from attachment to avoid these things.
This is a bad way to live. If your reason for being alone is because you don’t want to fight or constantly decide between love and climbing, then you don’t really want to be alone. You just don’t want to have to choose, which is different.
In reality, you don’t have to choose at all. You just have to be receptive to people who show specific traits that are essential to making a romantic relationship in this lifestyle work. Don’t ignore them when they enter your life.
The Right Partner
The right partner will not be needy but will openly show you that no matter where in the world you are, their first and last thought of the day is of you. This should be the case even if they haven’t spoken to you that day. Someone who has to talk to you all the time to feel secure is not ideal.
The right partner is always happy to hear from you and your adventures. Thinks of you as an extraordinary person for your feats, but also humbles you by having their own extraordinary talents and passions. This is important, because, for months at a time, you may not be physically around. So, you’ll want someone who can occupy their time by engaging in their own passions that satisfy and make them happy.
The worst thing you’ll want is to pursue your dreams and passions while having someone at home twiddling their thumbs waiting for you to come home because they have nothing else to do. This kind of relationship is toxic for climbers, and it breeds resentment and questions of “why should I wait here and do nothing while he/she traverses the world?”
Try to notice these signs early, if you see that this potential partner is not happy unless you’re with them, is clingy, needs to always feel loved and secure; no matter what you do, you will never be able to fulfill their needs. You may want to, but it just isn’t possible. They deserve their needs to be satisfied as well, so it’s best to part ways early.
Why Do I Need a Partner?
Good question, you don’t. No one needs a romantic partner, but it’s nice to not always be alone. In the case of climbers, it’s actually a very warming experience. Here’s why:
Mountaineers spend a lot of time alone with their thoughts. Even when they aren’t alone, they’re in a competitive world where records and numbers take up most of their conversations. Storytelling of expeditions past is rampant. But these conversations are shells of what they could be.
In a sport so passionate and tragic, there’s nothing more relieving than being able to express your private thoughts openly with another human, who will neither think less of you for them or not care. While you’re on expeditions or trips, you can share your experiences on social media. But there’s a deeper connection to being excited to share your story with someone back home or somewhere else in the world and tell them about your day. From the small things like your frustrations melting snow and replacing bike tires, to the big scares like dodging falling ice sheets; these are all personal experiences to share.
Take these two scenarios:
After months of being alone, dirty in the wilderness; you’re tired. You are aching and melancholy fills you because, whether or not you want to admit it, you miss the mountain as soon as you leave. You can:
A. Return home and fall asleep in the bosom/chest of a woman/man who rubs your head and shoulders as you tell him/her all about your trip and experiences. He/She makes you feel loved and missed, accepted and not alone. His/Her voice takes away the bad and makes you feel lucky to have returned alive.
B. Return to an empty house, eat dinner, watch TV and maybe enjoy some time with family. But when they leave, you go to bed with your thoughts, unexpressed excitement and a feeling of being alone.
There’s an old saying in America, “She/he is nothing to write home about,” which means the person is not interesting or important enough in your life to tell your family back home that you’ve met a special person.
I mention this because there’s always been the warm feeling of writing back home to mom, dad, family about your travels. It centers you no matter where in the world you are. In love, your partner takes the role of the family you’re writing back to. After you’ve climbed all day, ran into trouble, seen amazing things and set up camp, there’s always that feeling of wanting to share that with someone in an intimate way.
The trick is finding someone who can open these letters (or in this case, emails because it is 2017 and not 1862) and answer these calls and let you go about the rest of your day without making you feel guilty for not being with them. Which leads me to my next point.
I Feel Guilty Each Time I Leave
Most mountaineers avoid relationships because they don’t want to be tied down. They want to be able to come and go without feeling like they’ve left something behind, like a wife, a life that splits them in two. When this happens, it feels like you’re never whole when you’re home or on the mountain either.
The majority of why you feel guilty doesn’t come from you, it comes from feeling that you’re taking away a full life from the person you love, because you’re only giving them what you perceive to be half of you.
This is an okay way to be. And there are men and women out there who will accept this and never make you feel as if you’ve left them behind because they are with you wherever you go in your heart. They hold the door to the world open for you to come and go, and they’ll be there when you come home.
The majority of why you feel guilty doesn’t come from you, it comes from feeling that you’re taking away a full life from the person you love because you’re only giving them what you perceive to be half of you.
But keep this in mind. The right partner will see you as a person who is comprised of many parts, all of which need to remain active in order for you to live. When you love them, when you give them the parts of you no one else is privy to, no matter how much time you spend away, to them, you’ve given them all of you.
What if I Die?
Well, you’re going to die anyway. It’s just a matter of when and how. When you’re a climber and you’ve found someone who understands this lifestyle and is proud of what you do, you have to understand that they are not naïve.
They are aware that you can die on any given expedition. But they choose to be a part of the present time you have to give while you are alive. They, by no means, think you’re invincible just because you’re in love. They don’t think you won’t be subject to death when the time comes.
This is when you must make a small sacrifice and not make a decision you have no right to make. If there is love, if there is understanding and there is acceptance, you have no right to decide whether or not they get to love you because you fear to let them down. You have to let them make that decision for themselves. And if they choose to stay, then you just accept it and be loved, pull down the wall. Let yourself be loved while you love the mountains as well.
We have to remember, that there will always be tragedies. During the 1996 Everest Disaster, expedition leader Rob Hall left a pregnant wife behind when he died. During the 2008 K2 Disaster, Cecilie Skog lost her husband Rolf Bae right in front of her eyes.
More recently, when Tom Ballard died on Nanga Parbat, he left behind an aging father and devoted girlfriend. It isn’t that we are saying it’s okay to lose someone. But, in life, we will experience loss. We cannot hide ourselves away expecting the worse in every situation. I am sure all of these people mentioned still feel the loss of their loved ones, but life does go on. While you are here, alive, give yourself the chance to love so hard that even in death, your memory is still worth more than not having known you at all.
Have Someone Be Proud of You
If you were a child and you had a big game or event that decided your future, whether or not your parents were proud of you would not change your ability to pursue it. However, if they were, it would make that experience better.
The same applies in love. You can conquer one million mountains and be glorified by fans and the press. And you’d feel good about yourself even if they didn’t care because it’s something you feel passionate about. That feeling is heightened when there’s another person, who lives in your heart, and just thinks the world of you and is proud of every achievement you make. Their opinion of you matters beyond anyone else, and when you succeed, their proudness just fulfills you. And when you fail, they are still proud, and it is ok.
There are intimate parts of mountaineering that are worth sharing.
In this day and age, finding the right partner may be rough. In many cases, you may not even find them in your bubble, the one you create to stay away from the perils of love.
The love of your life may come through digital forms and live miles away, or they may meet you on a chance trip in another country. The world we live in is everything but conventional. A mountaineer’s perfect partner is a diamond that is rare, and it is not found close by, without a lot of patience or being willing to venture outside of your comfort zone for a partner who will leave theirs to give you their heart.
It’s Okay to Be Single
I say one final thing. All of this is not an appeal to say everyone should be in a relationship because that would be insane. It is quite okay to be single if that’s what you truly want. I do, however, encourage seeking a friend you can share your most intimate thoughts with. Share your experiences with and write home to. As I mentioned before, climbers spend a lot of time alone with their thoughts, and what goes to waste is the human side to you when you have no outlet. Love can be platonic and be just as exciting and fulfilling.