You’re psyched on climbing. It’s what you spend all your free time doing and your non-free time thinking about doing. So naturally, you want a partner who understands and even shares this same obsession. Finding a girl who’s already passionate about climbing and dating her is difficult. For one, the climbing gym or the crag seems to be one big sausage fest and when you do see some climbing ladies, they are usually climbing with their boyfriends, or another male partner who appears to be their boyfriend.
So what’s a climbing-obsessed, single dude to do?
You look elsewhere and eventually, you met a girl. She’s cute and funny, but she doesn’t climb. Yet. You start to plot and think, ‘this could totally work…I’ll take her climbing, and she’ll fall madly love in with the sport and become as obsessed as I am. She’ll really get me. Then we’ll buy a Sprinter van and live on the road, traveling around the country as a happy climbing bum couple.’
*Insert bucket of cold water thrown on your face to rouse you from this dream state here.*
My friend, this is a BAD idea. I have yet to meet a guy friend for whom this scenario worked out. (If you’re the first- please be sure to comment and let me know if you think I’m full of it.) In fact, most of the time when a guy tries this, it goes so horribly wrong that you’ll be lucky to escape without a flood of tears and a fight so loud everyone at the crag/gym heard it. At best, you can expect to not get any for awhile. At the worst, you will have turned her off to the idea of climbing forever and then you’ll be back at square one.
Why doesn’t this work? Because of your arrogance and your ego. You see, if you are going to successfully make your non-climbing girlfriend into a climbing girlfriend, rule number one to remember is: it’s not about you.
I know, this would seem obvious, wouldn’t it? But when you over-estimate her ability and sandbag her on a climb that is too hard for her to ‘challenge her’- that’s your ego wanting her to transform into your awesome lady-crusher overnight. In the beginning especially, you’ve got to set her up for success, so that each climb becomes a positive reinforcement that she is strong and capable.
However, sometimes even if you do choose appropriate climbs, it may not work out. Why? Because you’ve neglected the emotional component. There are a lot of things to learn when you first start climbing and that can be overwhelming. Add to that the fact that one mistake can have very dire consequences and that most of us experience a very primal fear when fighting against gravity, and one’s first experience with climbing can leave them feeling very vulnerable. If you dismiss her fears or push her too hard when she is already feeling very anxious, this could result in her feeling dismissed- and ultimately betrayed. She’ll wonder if she can really trust you, because after all, why would you put her in this very dangerous, very scary position if you really cared about her? This kind of vulnerability and betrayal could be so great that the relationship never completely recovers from it and you break up. No beuno.
So, what can you do to ensure that your girlfriend has a positive experience with climbing that makes her want to come back for more?
1. Spring for a day with a guide. A guide’s job is to ensure that their clients have a fun and most importantly, SAFE climbing experience. That you cared enough about her safety to hire a credentialed professional will go a long way to making her feel safe and most importantly, that she can trust you with her safety- or at least to think about it and plan for it. Also, most professional guides are pretty adept at quickly assessing a climber’s comfort level and climbing ability, since that is a big part of their job. And because they generally know their home crag area well, they will probably be able to pick routes that match her ability level and natural strengths, setting her up for success and that whole positive reinforcement bit. The other thing that is great about hiring a guide is that by bringing a third person into the mix who is not emotionally involved in your relationship, it takes that whole vulnerability thing down a couple of notches. Meaning, your day is less likely to end with tears and a very-public shouting match. The bonus for you is that you will be able to learn some skills that improve your climbing and rope work too. This is what we call a win-win, kids.
2. Find another lady crusher to take her out. Most women I know love to climb with other women and would be happy to bring another lady into the fold. One of the cool things about climbing with another lady is that it can be incredibly motivating. We see another lady achieving and doing something awesome and we think, ‘if she can do that, maybe I can too…‘ So climbing with another lady is more likely to inspire your girlfriend to want to try- and keep- climbing. Also, climbing with the girls is just fun. We can giggle, tell dirty jokes and just have a great time. Again, the more positive the experience is around her first few outings, the more likely your girlfriend is to be become interested and stick with it. Climbing with another chick is also likely to help her see that climbing can be her own thing- that she can enjoy it and participate in it with and apart from you, instead of for you. Some women really like to please, so she may feel pressured to climb to make you happy, despite not having any real interest in it herself. This is not a good set-up if you’re already planning on using your honeymoon as an excuse to go climb in Thailand. If you don’t know any lady crushers to set her up with, there are lots of events going on for female climbers. Chicks with Picks and Chicks Climbing are a guide service that caterers specifically to female climbers and offers instruction for every level from beginner to advanced. They have Girlie Gatherings all over the country throughout the climbing season. SheJumps is another organization that wants to get more women outdoors. Look for a Get The Girls Out climbing event near you. And if you have a gym near by, most have a ladies night. Not only can your girl get discount admission, but she is more likely to met other woman psyched on climbing too.
3. Respect her wishes and don’t force anything. If after all I’ve said above, you still insist on taking your girlfriend climbing yourself, you still have a shot of making it into a positive experience. Leave your ego at home and make the day about her. Whatever projects or things you want to accomplish- save them for another day and different partner. Be willing to belay her all day on 5.4 if that’s what it takes. Be supportive and encouraging, but don’t force her beyond what’s comfortable for her. Remember, if climbing is new to her, she’s already out of her comfort zone. So if she gets half way up a climb and wants to come down, kindly offer for her to perhaps try one move higher and if she declines, allow her to come down immediately. Don’t push too hard by making her stay up there until she completes the climb, or shout the beta for each move of the climb until she tops out- unless she has expressly asked you to do those very things. If she says she’s done after one climb, respect that and leave. (Bonus points if you take her to do something she really wants to do afterwards.) Also, don’t take her multi-pitch climbing her first time outside. Especially if it’s just the two of you, it can be really daunting to know when it’s OK to break down your anchor- the one thing holding you to cliff- and begin climbing when you’re on a ledge off the deck all by yourself. It can also be really scary when you’re struggling and your partner feels so far away. If you have to do multi-pitch for some reason the first day out, consider using a few tricks the guides use. Always set up your anchor in such a way that you can keep your eyes on your climber the entire time. If you have to, break up a pitch into mini-pitches and belay halfway up so that you can keep a good visual and proximity to her. If you don’t have the skills to do either of these, please do not take your girlfriend climbing and refer to #1.
Now that you’re educated on how to not screw it up, get out there and introduce your girl to climbing! And when she’s spending all of your money on climbing gear and Patagonia/Prana stuff, don’t say I didn’t warn you 😉