Relationship on the Rocks

Jesse Baker
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There is significant disagreement amongst those in the climbing world regarding whether you should date your climbing partner or if conversely, you should climb with your significant other. But no matter where you land in this great debate, most of us can agree that many of the qualities that make a great personal relationship also make a great climbing relationship. So whether you’re looking for a platonic climbing buddy, a “part-time lover, full-time belay” situation, or the perfect all-around person to clip into for life, these are qualities you should add to your checklist when searching for your climbing comrade.

Jesse Baker

They love you at your best and at your worst.  Both the good and the bad in climbing life can be hard for partners to endure. Maybe you just successfully topped out on some epic, overhung mammoth. Or maybe you’re throwing a mid-air tantrum after taking another nasty whipper. If you’re in a particularly low spot, a fairweather partner might get uncomfortable with your self-deprecation and hissy-fits, while if you've just had a major success, he or she might get jealous and totally ruin the moment. But a truly great climbing partner knows how to endure both the good and the bad, the crushing and the cussing, with support and love.

They’re patient.  Climbing with a partner means spending a good deal of time not climbing. Sometimes you’ll spend most of the day wandering through the woods trying to find an elusive route. Sometimes your partner might be stuck in an gnarly hanging belay for hours while you try to send a route. But a partner worth keeping is patient, engaged and stoked, even when they’re not the one climbing.

They help pay for gas.  Seriously. If they dodge you on this, drop 'em.

Logan Mahan

But don't just take my word on it: When it comes both to climbing and relationships, I know just enough to get me in trouble. That's why I'm going to bow out and donate the rest of my word count to a few climber friends' opinions about platonic and romantic climbing relationships.

Marshall from Atlanta :

[My Girlfriend] is hands down my go-to climbing partner. I'm not convinced that it works for every couple but [she] and I get a lot of enjoyment out of going on weekend adventures, climbing in various places. The only real problem we bump into is my fault: I have a bad tendency of trying to help her too much when she is climbing. I want to see her succeed on her projects, but I get on her nerves from time to time. So in my experience, the only downside to climbing with your significant other is trying to find the balance between helping them and when to keep your mouth shut and let them figure it out on their own.

Megan from Bellingham, WA :

My boyfriend of six years is my climbing partner. We met when we were both living in a small town in Alaska. He is really supportive and I can always trust him to spot and belay. But I get really annoyed if he can climb something that I can't, or if he tries to push me more than I want to be pushed that day. I guess I am just too competitive, but I'm never that competitive when I'm climbing with other friends. Other than being too competitive with my boyfriend we don't really have any tension when it comes to climbing, and I don't really have tensions with friends that are my climbing partners.

Jesse Baker

Lauren from Portland, OR :

I think there's a better understanding between [romantic] partners about what drives them and how to best encourage and motivate one another. I met my partner at school first, but our first date was climbing. Greatest tension would probably be him pushing me harder than I want when it comes to what he knows I can do. A climbing partner should be someone who wants the best for you. Also, there are two rules to climbing: your feet WILL smell and you will fall in love with your climbing partner.

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