Tough Love

How to Deal with the Fragile Male Ego as an Adventurous Woman

Outside's love guide answers your most pressing questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Today, we discuss dating as an outdoorsy high schooler and dealing with sensitive men.

How to Deal with the Fragile Male Ego as an Adventurous Woman
Find a partner who's cool watching while you go out on a ledge—or who can learn to deal if it makes him feel a little self-conscious. (Micky Wiswedel)

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 [email protected].

Q: I go to a very small high school and struggle to find potential girlfriends (or any friends, for that matter) who share my outdoor interests. Any tips for finding new (more-than) friends who share my outdoor passions?

—Stuck in the Breakfast Club

I used to prepare a campfire breakfast for tour groups, and my hash-cooking mentor always said, “Everyone loves pepper, whether or not they know it.” I think we all crave the outdoors, too, it’s just that not everyone knows it yet. If your high school doesn’t have anyone as experienced as you, you might share your passion by, well, sharing your passion. Be confident and patient, and invite friends—or a special someone—along on your next excursion. I promise you that in an age where most date asks involve “hanging out,” your invitation to paddle a nearby river or traipse fencelines to look for antler sheds will stand out for its very specificity. You’re unique, which is—apart from being generally awesome—a dating-market value proposition.

There’s also the fact that you can use the outdoors to take some of the pressure off your dates. Outdoors, you don’t have to worry as much about long silences or pressure to hook up, because you’re too busy doing stuff. If there is chemistry, you’ve got freedom and space to explore it. If not, you get to hike a canyon with a cool person, which is 1,000 percent better than waiting awkwardly for the waiter to bring the check.

After high school, you can also consider applying to a Norwegian folk school. I’m big on sharing the little-known secret that anyone can attend these outdoorsy boarding schools tuition-free, and that they offer great gap-year adventure before college, or even aside from it. While an American student may have to pay for room and board, it’s a life-building experience that’s well worth that modest fee. (When I went to mine, I worked kennel chores in exchange for a steep discount.) Folk schools range in concentration from skydiving and fashion design to Arctic survival, and it doesn’t matter if you can speak Norwegian before you get there, as long as you’re open to learning. Whether or not you meet your soul mate at folk school, you’ll find great friends who share your passion for the outdoors—in a nation that shares your passion for the outdoors—and you’ll come home with enough stories to share for a lifetime of first, second, or third dates and beyond.


Q: What do you say about men who seem to become intimidated by women who are outdoorsy and independent? I get a ton of interest in the initial discovery stage about how much I enjoy the outdoors and activities, but once they find out how proficient I am, it seems to scare them off. I often find myself downplaying my abilities on the first few dates so I don’t scare them off, which I feel is wrong.

—Too Brave for the Boys

I can relate to this—maybe a little too much, at least when it comes to offering answers. But luckily, I have access to a badass, supportive, outdoorsy husband with some personal insight into the male ego. Here’s what Quince Mountain says:

You have some options:

  1. Stroke the male ego and embrace a tradition dating back to Eve’s first faked orgasm.
  2. Find someone who is clearly more competent than you are in all things and therefore never has to face his own insecurity.
  3. Find someone who recognizes your strengths and is not threatened at all.

Seems like you’re not that into Option 1: You prefer to be honest about your abilities, and who could blame you? Pretending that you can’t lift that pack on your own is one small step backward for womankind and one giant leap backward for you. Plus, it’s just too painfully awkward for us to watch.

The problem with Option 2 is that no one will be more competent than you in all things. Inevitably, you and your ultrastrong supersexy rock-star bodybuilder will be playing pickleball and he’ll whiff, or you’ll ice his ass all the way down the luge run or get the hotel key card to swipe when he can’t, or you’ll just draw a faster yak or a buckier bull, and it will be a rare but all the more painful wound to his ultrasensitive, unhardened ego, and all bets are off as to what happens next.

Option 3 is good in theory, but let’s face it: Men who have no insecurity when women outshine them are so rare in this heteropatriarchal culture that only like three zoos worldwide even have one anymore. I mean, if you find one of these, and you’re attracted to him, and he’s attracted to you, and you’re compatible in terms of language, geography, age, and interest—go for it!

But expecting to find someone who has done all the deep personal work of owning his shit even when boys just aren’t raised to deal with emotional labor or vulnerability—that’s pretty tough. It’s like if a guy expected to find a woman who has no body-image issues whatsoever.

No, I think the best you can do is go for Option 4: Hold out for someone who is human and complicated and insecure at times, but who is always working on it. Yes, he will undoubtedly in weak moments be threatened by your superior competence, but overall he should be far more interested in celebrating your success. And if the going occasionally gets tough, and you need to help him carry his emotional pack, just keep in mind that he’s hiking toward the light.

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