Welcome to Tough Love. Every other week, we’re answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: There’s this girl I just started seeing. We’ve gone for drinks a few times, and I think she’s great, but she wants to do something a little more exciting for our next date. Her suggestion: a 12-mile run on our local trail network. I run casually (well, I guess I should identify as more of a jogger), and I’ve hiked the route she mentioned, but I can’t imagine running it—least of all with someone I genuinely want to impress. About half a mile into any run, I’m soaked, huffing and puffing, red in the face. I’m not sure date number four is the time I want to reveal that side of myself. But I’m afraid if I ask her to go for a low-key hike instead, she’ll think I’m wimping out. What’s the move?
A simple answer is your best bet. “That sounds great, but I’m not sure if I can keep up with you! How about X or Y instead?” No need to be embarrassed, although that’s easier said than done. It’s in the nature of dating to be 1) trying to impress the other person, and 2) easily embarrassed, and those two things are, of course, flip sides of the same coin. Since your runner girl is also a human being, she’s probably insecure, too—wondering if it seems like she was showing off, or second-guessing if she should have taken the risk of suggesting a date. Which is all to say: take a deep breath. You like someone! You’re going on a date! This is all very good news.
Now it’s your turn to suggest an alternative, and your best bet is to stick with the idea of something active in the outdoors. There’s nothing wimpy about hiking, but you could up the adventure quotient by suggesting a new or tricky trail, and up the thoughtfulness quotient by packing a picnic. You went for drinks—is there a special beer she likes? Slip two into your backpack next to your half-frozen water bottle and surprise her when you stop for a break. Or how about an early morning bike ride that starts by headlamp and ends with watching the sunrise?
You’re gonna do great, kid. But let’s step back for a moment and talk about fitness and dating.
I was an unathletic kid who grew up to be a semipro athlete, so I’m pretty familiar with the insecurities that come from comparing your fitness to other people. And I can tell you, having been on both sides of this equation, it feels like a much bigger deal to be the “less athletic” person than it does to be the “more athletic” one. (PSA: If you’re faster than somebody else, and you stop to wait for them, make sure they get a chance to rest, too, before you start moving again!) The reason unequal fitness levels feel so much more shameful than, say, unequal cooking skills is that fitness is intimately wrapped up with body image, which is wrapped up in a value system of worth and failure and even Judeo-Christian ascetic morality. This shit goes deep.
So in case you’re not 100 percent clear on this: There is. Nothing. Shameful. About. Any. Body. No matter how slowly you run. No matter if you didn’t run at all, or if you physically couldn’t. You are hot stuff, and this girl is lucky to get to know you.
Which isn’t to say that if a person loves running, they shouldn’t seek out a partner who also loves running. If you love being active outdoors, and your partner does too, that opens up a million opportunities for things to do together—maybe you’ll get into thru-hiking or skiing or kayaking or wildlife photography or something else entirely. But even if by some miracle you meet someone who’s hooked on your favorite activity and does it at the exact same level, and you fall in love, and you decide to spend your lives together, your bodies will grow and age differently. You’ll get sick or pregnant or busy, or you’ll go on a health kick, or your partner will, and part of the beauty of relationships is watching each other evolve, experiencing another life parallel to your own that, like yours, changes in ways you can’t predict.
Who knows? If this turns into a longer relationship, someday she may be the one asking for a low-key hike. And she will be no less spectacular.
Q: Official stance—can you hit on strangers on the chairlift?
The appropriate way to hit on someone in an enclosed space is to politely invite them out of the enclosed space. In this case, it’s easy: Does your chairlift cutie want to ski together? How about grabbing a hot chocolate at the lodge? If your cutie happily agrees, you’re golden. And if they demur? Smile, wish them a great day, and be glad chairlift rides are short. (If you don’t happen to be on a high-speed lift, hang in there. This too shall end.)
Q: My significant other has threatened to break up with me because I have too much gear and my storage locker is out of control.
That’s not a good reason to break up with someone. That said, it’s true that you don’t need all that gear, and there are people out there who can make good use of it. Make a date with your SO to sort through your locker and either sell or donate the stuff you don’t use. You’ll probably still have relationship problems, but at least your storage locker will be clean.
Q: How many dates until I can snot-rocket in front of someone?
When it’s right, you’ll know.
Your turn—ask away at email@example.com.