I’ve had this email in my ‘to keep’ folder in mail for a while. The reason I’ve kept it is that I get a lot of emails like this, and there are many people (men and woman) who struggle with what this the type of problem it contains. I’ve decided to post it here (names and details changed) as it may be of help to someone else.
I found your blog and have been reading bits and pieces for the past few days. I find your writing style and your no nonsense understanding of the internal climbing conflicts really interesting and occasionally quite profound so I thought you may be able to shed some light on a problem of mine.
I am dating a lovely girl. We’ve been going out now for a little over a year. There are some complicating factors the biggest of which is that she is the mother a little boy (who is honestly one of the nicest little kids you’ll ever meet, apart from regularly refusing to finish his dinner). So the thing that I’m struggling with really is accepting less time spent in the mountains (I say mountains but actually I’m really just a sport climber with trad aspirations, have done some but not much trad but countless sport routes single and multipitch up to a grade of 7a so I’m not amazing but I’d like to think I’m slightly above average). My girlfriend is very keen to climb but she suffers from paralyzing fear when climbing and she’s not physically able to do much more than a 4b or c. And being a mom of course she doesn’t have much time to put into training.
And added to this is the fact that at present one of my jobs is as a freelance writer which often eats up weekends. With all this going on my climbing feels like its suffering and I’m worried that I’m going to lose the fire and become a ground dweller before too long. Honestly I already feel like I’m loosing some of the psyche that I’ve had for the last 5 years. I used to mock people who dropped out of climbing due to things like playing in a band or having work that prevented them from climbing. I used to be very selfish and just go away almost every weekend. Now I’m just not getting out like I used to and that selfish part of me is nagging, I always thought I should date a climber to prevent this very problem but as you may have noticed climbing is a little thin on women and most I met were not suitable companions. But the fact remains that climbing is like a mistress and I don’t want to neglect my girlfriend but I also hate the idea that I’m slowing down.
I’m still young (26) my best climbing years should be ahead of me but am I by accepting real life normal responsibilities giving up on my climbing aspirations. My girlfriend is very keen on hiking and fully intends to come with me hiking but climbing just seems like it will be out of reach for the foreseeable future. So it seems I’m going out on my own which feels rather selfish and the truth is I do meet women who are climbers and the selfish climber in me compares them to my girl who isn’t at my side due to the nature of the difficulty of the climbing and often just needing to be a mom. And I feel I’m in dangerous territory since here are these women in the prime of their lives fit healthy and participating to a decent level in the sport that has defined my life for the last few years. Some of these women are good friends of mine and I’ve had on occasion to defend my friendships with these people to my girlfriend.
You’ve climbed at an exceptionally high level and managed to have a family and you talk about balancing those in your blog and I was honestly wondering if you could give me some wisdom from years spent climbing and balancing these things as to how I can get over my selfish itches and just be happy with my girl and her son. Or am I deluded is it impossible to balance must I choose? The first article I read of yours was how to train your mountain psyche. One of your statements was “Don’t have kids” from a time and fear point of view you make a number of valid points but you had kids so how does one stay psyched despite having those responsibilities.
Okay I think I’ve rambled enough that you probably get where I’m coming from. Feel free to copy paste stuff if there’s something relevant somewhere on your blog that I missed.
Thanks so much.
This week I had a realization of what life must have been like for my ex wife Mandy, in that my partner Karen has a mistress (she’s a woman, but not sure what woman have - maybe a mastress?) in the form of hand biking (she got a silver medal last week in the Paralympics). Just like climbing has been for me, this is something that takes up almost all her spare time, and requires months away, and dictates everything (holidays, weekends, even day to stay things like where the furniture is!). Her sport in some ways ruins my life, as it means we can’t be together as much as I’d like to be together, and I can go weeks without seeing her. For the last two or three years I’ve felt that my life has been on hold, and that I’m just circling her star.
What keeps us together is that I love her, and I know that what makes life tough is also what makes life special. The more you love someone the more you’re willing to sacrifice.
We could go to the pub every night and get pissed, sit watching the TV, do DIY at weekends, go on a package holiday each summer, but that’s not the life I want either.
The more you love someone the more you’re willing to sacrifice for them, and maybe we should think more of sacrifice rather than balance (although I guess it’s the same), but it’s important that they realize that in doing so they may kill that part of you they love. Mandy used to say she loved all of me apart from the climbing, never perhaps realizing that climbing was just the manifestation of who I was. Without it I wouldn’t be me, and if I gave it all up for her I’d only have turned into a grumpy fucker, who blamed her for letting go of something I loved.
A few things spring to mind reading your email. Have you ever thought that perhaps your girlfriend only tries to climb (when it’s obvious she’s terrified of climbing) because she loves you? There are many times that I’ve gone out with Karen on her bike when I didn’t want to, but only because I wanted to be with her. I also worry when she’s out on the road, I wonder of she’ll come back, or will get squashed by a lorry on some empty road, and again think back to all those trips and expeditions when I never rang home to say I was safe. Being with her makes me think she’ll be safer, and even if something happens, the it would be to both of us (bit like that Morrissey song!)
My mum once told me that she was in love once, but let the relationship end, thinking that she would find someone else, and that love was easy to find. Thirty years on, and having never found someone else, she tells me she is wrong. If you find true love, then hold onto it. Just like the chances of life starting on earth, the chances of finding someone who connects that well with you (most people are just annoying) is a million to one.
Going out with climbing women? I think you’d see in the other person all the bad things that are in you: an inability to compromise, always coming second to climbing. Super motivated people tend not to make great partners in life.
If you decide to reduce your climbing, then check out the stages of mourning, as you will go through these if you begin to climb less, but it’s vital that you take ownership of the decision to change your view of climbing. It’s nothing to do with her. she’s not stopping you. You’re stopping yourself. Think of it as growing up (in a good way!), and try and have a more zen view of life, after all what’s the value of a stretch of dead rock over the love of a human being.
Maybe try and pour yourself into something else for a while, like road biking, MTB, Triathlons or something. Time away from climbing keeps it fresh and fun.
It won’t be easy, but try and imagine yourself all broken down and arthritic, an old man, alone, looking back at your life, and those thousands of climbs. Would you feel it was all worth it? Or would you wish it all away for the chance of being back with your girlfriend and her son, only 26, just walking in the woods and being happy?
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Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram