A romantic partnership is a beautiful merging of once separate passions and interests. Research shows that sharing experiences with those you care about amplifies those activities. A study in Psychological Science found that individuals who did something positive together were more likely to enjoy it than those who did the same activity alone. And while Psychological Science sounds like a fake journal name that you’d make up if someone asked you to say where you got a fishy-sounding factoid on the spot, trust me, it’s a real journal, and that’s a real fact. That’s why doing activities in the great outdoors with your significant other is so very special.
If, however, you find that your partner doesn’t like every single outdoorsy thing that you like, you might need to trick them into participating.
This was the position I found myself in a year ago, when my wife, Miranda, and I moved to California after decade of living in New York City. After the move, I found that my childhood self, who had grown up frolicking in the mountains of Colorado, was reawakened. I wanted to run alongside elk in mountain meadows! I wanted to cycle the coastline while dolphins clicked me encouraging clicks! And I wanted to do these activities with my wife. For her part, my wife also appreciated our newfound sunshine and proximity to nature, but her enthusiasm didn’t quite match my desire to sign us up for numerous endurance events that would compel us to enjoy the outdoors. I waited a few months for her to come around, but soon it became clear I would need to resort to more drastic measures.
I used deceit, bribery, and general trickery to get my wife to share a variety of outdoor endurance sports with me, and I broke down my strategies into easy to follow steps that you can apply to tricking your own partner. I know that “tricking” sounds bad and not like the sort of thing you are supposed to do to a loved one, but in the end they’ll thank you. Trust me. Psychological Science (not fake) backs me up on this.
#1. Sign Up Your Partner for a Running Event Without Asking
Miranda hates running. I know this because early in our relationship, I asked if she wanted to go for a run with me. She said, “No, I hate running.” A good relationship is all about communication like this.
But a good relationship is also about pushing each other to grow as people and do things outside our comfort zones. Have you seen the movie As Good As It Will Be Getting? I did, a long time ago, and while I don’t remember it exactly, I think there is a lesson in there somewhere about how Robert De Niro loves Jodie Foster because she makes him want to be a better person. What I’m talking about is like that, except with getting your partner to do physical activities that you’re into.
Why do I want my wife to run? For one thing, I try to do it every day, and that’s just daily hang-out time we’re missing out on. I love my wife, and it’s fun to do things with her. Also, I’m hoping that our future children will set various records in distance running. Nothing too crazy—I just want my first kid to be the first person to run the Leadville Trail 100 under 15 hours, and I want my second through fifth kids to form a record-setting distance medley relay team. It will provide a better example for them if both my wife and I are avid runners, don’t you think?
So, as a first step toward this goal, I decided that Miranda and I should run a fun race together. Heck, not even a race, just an organized fun run. And as all runners know, the most fun of the organized runs isn’t even called a race or a run. It’s called a trot.
This brings me to the gaslighting. I know gaslighting gets a bad wrap, but, bottom line, it works. Besides, dear reader, in an earlier paragraph, you already said that by reading on you were okay with gaslighting—don’t you remember?
“Hey, I signed us up for the turkey trot like we talked about,” I said to Miranda over breakfast in early November.
“What are you talking about? We never talked about doing that. You mean running? I hate running.”
“Weird. Pretty sure we talked about it. Anyway, we’re signed up for it. I think it will be fun!”
See? A little deceit up top, but then, before you know it, you and your significant other are trotting along in harmony.
At least, in theory, that’s how it should go. It turns out I went a little too far in the withholding information department. The night before our trot, Miranda was not thrilled to learn that I’d signed us up for the 10K trot rather than the 5K trot.
“I never would have agreed to do this if I’d known we were going to do the 10K and not the 5K,” she said.
See, the great thing about gaslighting is that Miranda has already forgotten she never agreed to do the trot in the first place! I didn’t bring that up, though. I just double-downed on the gas I was lighting.
“Huh. Really? Pretty sure I mentioned it was a 10K. Anyway, too late to change!”
Heading into any endurance event, from a 10K to a 100K, attitude is important. Miranda’s attitude was somewhere in between “I don’t want to be doing this” and “Why did you make me do this?” To her tremendous credit, however, she completed the trot, all ten Ks of it. Somewhere around the fourth K, it occurred to me that maybe we should have gone on a few training trots together ahead of time, but I didn’t dwell on that. I had a new distance runner to convert!
Afterward, as we glumly walked past the empty tables where evidently faster trotters than us had enjoyed post-trot bananas, bagels, and Vitamin Waters, I decided to see if my plan had worked.
“So, what’d you think of running?”
“Still hate it.”
“What? But…you did such a good job! You finished! Why’d you hate it?”
“Because my knees hurt and my feet hurt and I hate running.”
“Oh. Right. But, um, do you want to sign up for another run?”
“No. And no signing me up and then gaslighting me that I agreed to do it again.”
The jig was up. Running was a bust. I’d need to try something else.
#2. Bribery: Convince Your Partner to Do a Cycling Event in a Place They Want to Visit
The outright deceit of gaslighting hadn’t worked, plus it made following a training plan a bit tricky. This time, I decided a different method of persuasion: bribery.
Miranda loves the desert landscapes of Southern California. I don’t especially care for them. I find them wanting for precipitation and hostile to life. However, in an effort to sweeten the outdoor activity pot, I set out to find an organized ride in a place that I knew Miranda would love. I settled on the Tour de Palm Springs, a century ride through beautiful “desert scapes.” Our five-year dating anniversary was coming up (yes, in the Dern household we honor both our wedding anniversary and our first-date anniversary), so it seemed like the perfect occasion to execute my ruse.
I approached Miranda on the couch, holding my laptop like it was a briefcase full of cash, ready to make the deal happen. “I was thinking for our five-year anniversary weekend we could go somewhere. Maybe Palm Springs?”
“I’d love that!”
“And do a bike ride!”
“That would be fun.”
“Maybe, like, this 100-mile bike ride?”
I twirled the laptop around to show her the event page. I’d chosen one of the more beautiful desert scapes from the gallery to have up on my screen.
“One hundred miles? How long would that take us?”
“Some people will do it in under six hours.”
“How long will it take us?”
“Oh, us? Well, I think the cut-off time is 12 hours, so…not longer than that!”
“Definitely not. Isn’t there something shorter?”
“There’s a 50-miler,” I said as I twirled the laptop back toward me, lest she notice that technically there were also 25- and ten-mile options.
With the promise of a weekend getaway in a vacation locale, we signed up for the 50-mile ride. This time, we had a couple months to train. However, there was one initial obstacle before we could start training: Miranda did not have a bike. And by the time we got her the bicycle—after a couple months of ignoring the problem—the ride was looming and our schedules only allowed time for one training ride, which makes it less of a training ride and more of a dress rehearsal. I set a goal of 25 miles. A fall in the parking lot as Miranda negotiated the subtleties of unclipping from her SPDs for the first time resulted in a bruised and bleeding knee. Our dress rehearsal was cut short. We’d once again pretty much have to wing it.
On the day of the ride, everything came together. Perfect conditions, friendly volunteers, and the as-promised beautiful desert scapes. We rode slow and steady, and Miranda was having a fun time. She even ate one of the Gu packets I brought for her while riding her bike. She was starting to look like a real cyclist! Had I done it? Had I converted her? I pictured cycling becoming a part of our routine, with ten-hour sessions filling our Sundays, complete with cute his-and-hers Strava data to match.
But it was not to be.
In the days that followed, the ride had taken its toll.
“My butt hurts,” Miranda informed me the following day.
“Yeah, that’s normal,” I said reassuringly.
“My butt still really hurts,” Miranda informed me the day after that.
“Yeah, that’s normal,” I said, not sure if it was.
“I don’t think this can be good for us,” she said with finality.
Like so many others, my dreams of cycling glory were popped by a perineum. I’d need to come up with a method that would result in a more thorough conversion. It was time to start thinking like a true con man.
#3. Conversational Judo, aka “Listening”: Ask Your Partner What Outdoor Activity They Want to Do and Then Do That
Gaslighting and bribery had fallen short. They focused on outcome, and while that resulted in finisher medals in two endurance events, no long-term habits took hold. I needed to resort to something more extreme: listening to my romantic partner’s wants and needs…and then using what she told me against her.
Recently, we were walking our newly adopted rescue dog, Hazel, around Echo Park. The sun was shining through the palm trees and the temperature was in the seventies. It was mid-January.
“I’m really happy here in California,” I ventured.
“Me, too,” Miranda said.
“I feel like we could take advantage of it even more, though. Don’t you?”
“Sure. Maybe we could go to the Broad museum soon.”
“Oh.” We were getting off track. I needed to casually, subtly steer this back to being about activities we could do outdoors, but, like a true con man, make it seem like taking the conversation in that direction was her idea. “But are there any, like, outdoor activities you’d want us to do more?” I asked, nailing it.
“Hmm. Maybe more hiking? I think Hazel would like that, too.”
Hiking. Of course. It combined the slow and steady enjoyment of a long bike ride with the satisfaction of the bipedal locomotion of running to get your body across a stretch of earth. I looked down at Hazel and anthropomorphized her panting to be a smile of approval.
“Hiking. Let’s do it,” I said.
The past few weekend mornings, I’ve put my latest plan into full swing. The times when I previously might have headed off on my own for a few hours with my bike or my running shoes have instead been spent on hikes with my family. We even just put our names in for the lottery to hike Mount Whitney this summer. We probably won’t get it, but if we do, we’ll have actually trained a bit for that endurance event.
Yes, I’m happy to report that my romantic partner and I are enjoying the outdoors, exercising our bodies, and having a great time sharing experiences together. And she doesn’t suspect a thing.