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.
I consider myself to be outdoorsy, but I always seem to fall for girls who “have always wanted to go backpacking and climbing and stuff” but never have. I’m tired of being the impetus for these women to get into these activities, as well as feeling like they’re doing this stuff just so they can be with me. Should I just go with it or start searching for someone who already shares my interests?
Dating is terrifying. It is literally an act of presenting yourself for appraisal by a person you (hopefully) admire. My hunch is that feeling like an authority in the outdoors gives you confidence, and that confidence gives you a spark of romantic energy when you’re first dating someone new. You get to take your fling on adventures, teach her to bake cinnamon rolls over a campfire, and slip into a familiar dynamic—until you realize, all over again, that it’s not the dynamic you want.
Your new goal is to stop falling for girls and start climbing—making an effort—for women. You already know you love adventure; why not ask out a woman who does an outdoor sport you’ve never tried so you can learn from her? If that makes you nervous, that’s good. Take a slow breath. Picture a first date like a tough climb, an exhilarating challenge. And remember that your experience—your authority, your confidence—isn’t diminished just because your date happens to be an ultramarathoner and boss whitewater kayaker who also rides horses on the side. Couples grow into the sum of their experiences, and her skills will only make your life richer.
I’m a woman who does a lot of outdoorsy things, and I’m stronger than a lot of guys, though I don’t “look like” I could be as strong as I am. Being stronger than guys outside seems to be sort of quirky and weird and marginally acceptable, but what really concerns me is the detrimental effect my strength seems to have on guys indoors. For example, I had to take delivery of a giant bag of birdseed, and the delivery guy tried to help me, but he couldn’t actually carry the bag up the stairs himself. I’ve read that there’s a crisis of masculinity these days, so I thought I should support him and let him try, but he just couldn’t do it. So, having pretended that the bag was too heavy for me, I picked it up and took it in.
But Blair, he was just so sad about it. And this sort of thing happens a lot—especially if one is a faster runner or cyclist or, well, won the triceps dip competition at the gym. How can I look out for the bros so they don’t feel sad or intimidated? Should I give them unsolicited advice on how to improve? Like how losing that belly will make them faster than getting a new set of Zipps? Any advice gratefully received, because I think it’s important to encourage male participation in sport.
Repeat after me: I Will Not Give Unsolicited Body Advice.
Seriously. Woman to man, man to woman, genderqueer to genderqueer, whatever. You don’t know someone’s health, their life, or their goals—and no matter what your intentions, all you’re doing is making them self-conscious. That sadness you picked up on with the birdseed guy? Maybe it’s because he was feeling judged. Which would be correct, because you were judging him—and pretty harshly at that. He has enough issues about bodies and gender (don’t we all?) without having to deal with your projections, too.
Some men may feel shitty about being less strong than a woman. But that hangup is not your responsibility, and the more you draw attention to it—by, say, pretending you need help when you don’t—the more you’re reinforcing the idea that your relative strengths are somehow shameful, that every man should be stronger than every woman, that he is a failure and you are a hero. By patronizing these men and making assumptions about their insecurities, you’re not breaking stereotypes. You’re reinforcing them.
I get that you’re coming from a good place. You like feeling strong, and you want other people to feel strong, too. If you want to share your excitement and knowledge, you could volunteer with a high school sports team or start a weightlifting club. More important, having a community to celebrate your athleticism might also help you to be less self-conscious about it. You may not think you feel self-conscious, at least on the surface, but your hyperawareness of the discrepancy between yourself and these men isn’t about them. It’s about you.
I want you to rejoice in your power. I want you to feel a burst of joy when you toss that huge-ass bag of birdseed over your shoulder so you can go feed your colony of pet flamingos. These goals are all for you, but if you’re truly worried about American masculinity, know that an unapologetic celebration of your strength will be the best thing you can do for it. That’s how you break stigmas. That’s how you build a better culture. You do not need to console other people for their bodies. And you do not need to apologize for your strength.