In the recent past I had garnered a reputation for going after the girls that are a little crazy and inevitably quite attractive. My reasoning was simple: I’m attracted to them and if they are a little crazy they might be able to understand things like running 12 hours a week or spending two months in a war torn Asian country climbing a mountain. However, what I think is continually being challenged, whether the people who challenge me know it or not. In the last few weeks several situation have occurred that have changed my thinking once again.
Several weeks ago I watched a few minutes of Tough Love a television series in which a man tries to teach women how to find a truly compatible man and have a relationship built on something substantial. I believe he said something like, “look for a person that makes you feel the way you want to feel, instead of trying to find someone that looks good on paper or by some other superficial measurement.” I just kind of twirled that around in my head for a while until another comment from a wise elder two weeks ago brought up it’s meaning.
My elder was describing how he was married with two children at my age (23). He said that this strained his marriage and that he was too young to really enjoy raising his kids. He suggested that I was wise for not getting myself into that situation at this point in my life. Another comment that arose during that same conversation was the importance of having buddies. His wife made him get out of the house and in his case go golfing so that he would meet people. That way he would have some of his own friends. I guess I had never really looked at a relationship as having any time apart from each other. I thought it was 100% together, but I think now that’s probably naive.
A third input to this whole equation was contributed by the book "Beyond the Mountain" that I am reading by a recent top level alpinist, Steve House. He had married a fellow mountain guide, but then she moved on to other pursuits. He was describing how his marriage was failing due to him being on climbing expeditions all the time, which caused me to think about my personal quest for the "perfect" woman. While thinking about expeditions I could not help but remember this couple that was at basecamp on my expedition this summer. He was a climber, had summitted Everest, she had never done any ice climbing yet she stayed at basecamp both at Everest and Broad Peak and I think Cho Oyu with him. That was amazing. I think most of the men were jealous that their wives or significant others weren't there.
I believe in fate, and actions and consequences having purposes or meanings. So when I learned the stories of hardship and independence, I remembered the quote from Tough Love and it finally made sense. I have been looking for the wrong things. Searching for someone that runs, climbs, and that is interesting to talk to while still being amazingly attractive is more or less a pipe dream. Oh yeah women like that do exist, I think. In fact I’m pretty sure I’ve met a few they just have never measured up to my huge expectations. (Don't I feel shallow.)
What I am really looking for is support. Perhaps it sounds selfish, but on the other hand I am looking to give support as well. Since support is a rather vague term I will attempt to describe it in this context.
This descriptions starts with a scrap of information. I have taken at least 14 people traditional lead climbing for the first time. What this means is that in general I have to teach them how to belay a lead climber, how to remove gear from the rock, and a few simple safety procedures to keep them from killing themselves (and one of them almost did one time) or killing me. Now I have always chosen routes that are not terribly hard so I am not very worried about falling. However, in that situation I am definitely putting myself out there with my safety in their hands and their safety in my hands. If anything bad were to happen the novice would probably have no idea how to solve the problem. I am supporting them.
Another way to describe support is to tell about my parents. From handing me a water bottle in a half marathon at the age of 15 to letting me go to Pakistan. There is a certain mental boldness and confidence that I have in the presence of my parents that I don’t have everywhere. I know they care about me. My parents came to all of my sporting events, plays and musicals, scholars’ bowls tournaments, and concerts that I ever had through high school. I even told them numerous times they didn’t have to come yet they still did. They have taken an interest in my education even reading my MS thesis. Years of watching and supporting me as I attempted to do stuff. All the breakfasts, suppers, driving me here and there, doing my laundry, everything they have done amounts to so much I can't put a price on it. They have supported me like no one else.
One more way to describe support is the support of someone who understands. The past few years I have had several teammates and friends who I have suffered with and they understand what I am going through. Perhaps not because they do the exact same thing, but they see me every day and see the toll that whatever stress takes on me. They understand the challenges I was going through are not easy. The understand because they were there.
When I think about the support I am looking for in a relationship the final answer is that you can not fully describe emotions. Want to hear a little secret? After most of my longest days in the mountains I have cried. You see after about 14 hours of movement dehydration, fatigue and doubt creep into your head. Several times when I have been hiking down a mountain I have stumbled for the 200th time or seen another mirage or seen a trail sign that says four miles left and I have broken down. Sometimes it just comes out as a whimper other times there are buckets of tears. Having a partner helps tremendously. With a hiking or climbing partner it is closer to 18 hours on the go. It also gets more bearable as I get older and have more of these emotional days. It still happens but it's not as life changing. Inevitably though neither person talks because both are tired. I can last longer before emotions overwhelm me when I am with someone than alone.
What I’m looking for is that emotional connection spread across all aspects of my life. She doesn’t have to be a runner if she is willing to come to the race and drive me home. She doesn’t have to be a climber as long as she is willing to come to basecamp or at least hike a 13er in the summer. Most of my running is done alone and having someone to jog with or ride a bike beside me on a few of my 20 milers would be really nice. In fact, referring to the example above both with my elder and his wife and the elite alpinist, perhaps I need a relationship that is built with differences in hobbies so that we don't spend 100% of our time together? Perhaps then we would have an understanding of each other outside of our hobbies? I don't know the answer. I've never seen myself as a mens club type of guy but perhaps a nice grade three climb in the summer with the boys is my mens club.
Inevitably, I believe who I am gifted with will be who I need and not necessarily who I want. Who am I to know what is best for me? Many times those people close to me have pointed out what is best for me while I had no idea.
So what have I learned to do in this context? Redesign my relationships away from the physical into the emotional. Yeah, that sounds good.