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 have a new boyfriend. He’s really great: sweet, smart, good taste in music, a talented cook, saving the world through his job, and, like me, loves climbing. But here’s the thing: He doesn’t seem to understand that my love of climbing does not make me a 5.12 crusher. I keep telling him I’m not very good, but he says he doesn’t care or that he doesn’t believe me. We’re going on a several-day climbing trip soon, and I’m worried for three reasons: 1. How can I make it clear that I can’t hang on the same routes as him, and how can I guarantee he won’t be disappointed when that happens on this trip? We’re out there for a lot of days! Just the two of us! I don't want to hold him back. 2. That’s a lot of time together and it’s forcing us into the poop zone sooner than I’m typically comfortable with. What’s the best way to talk about bathroom stuff without being embarrassed? 3. My hair will be very greasy by the end. How best to hide this look?
Congrats on the new guy! He sounds like a wonderful fit. For your three-part question, here’s a three-part answer.
1. Your guy may be used to women understating their skills so as not to threaten the male ego, or he may just think you’re being modest. My hunch is that when you tell him you’re “not very good” at climbing, he’s hearing it as a value judgment—a self-criticism—and he’s trying to build your confidence by disagreeing. In fact, it sounds like you mean the statement neutrally. You’re not getting down on yourself; you’re just describing the level of climbing that you prefer. In the future, you can give concrete examples of your skill level (“My perfect day of climbing means sending a few 5.10s at the crag”) rather than use subjective phrases like good or not good, and make it clear that you feel just fine about your skills, thank you. There’s no judgment here; you’re both just figuring out the best way to share your love of climbing with each other.
2. The poop zone. Godspeed. Honestly, I’m kind of a prude when it comes to talking about bathroom stuff. This is somewhat unusual for an outdoorsperson, I know, especially one who’s been on extended expeditions in close quarters with other folks. It’s not that I find bodily functions embarrassing or gross—we have bodies, they function, I get it—but in situations where privacy is limited, I try to create the illusion of it when I can.
At home I’ve adopted a relationship motto that I picked up, if I recall correctly, while flipping through a fundamentalist Christian marriage book. The motto is: preserve the mystery. If my husband tries to come into the bathroom while I’m in there? “Preserve the mystery,” I remind him through the door. Should I have to pee behind the truck on a cross-continental road trip with friends? “Preserve the mystery!” I wail. I’m fond of the phrase because it expresses that I don’t take myself too seriously while at the same time makes the other person go away and maintains a little dignity. Plus, it’s funny. It’s never failed me. Consider it yours now.
In conclusion: you’re only in the poop zone if you want to be in the poop zone (and if you do, that’s your business). We have euphemisms for a reason. Use them as you see fit, keep a sense of humor, and if it comes down to it, remember that bodies being bodies is not actually a big deal.
3. You’ll look adorable at the end of the trip. I guarantee it. Tan, dirty, with greasy hair and a big smile? He won’t be able to look over at you without thinking how cute you are. That said, as someone who who spends a lot of time wearing hats and not washing my hair in the wilderness, I have a couple tricks up my sleeve. For my hair texture—I have fine hair, but a lot of it—I like to start a trip with my hair down or braided, then switch to a messy bun after a couple days to avoid the whole Afghan-hound look. When it’s brisk out, a wide headband does wonders (and though I’ve never pulled off the look myself, I have friends who swear by a Rosie-the-Riveter-style bandana). When it’s hot, remember that fine dust makes the best dry shampoo; it soaks up oil and gives your hair texture at the same time. Get your hands dusty, brush through your hair with your fingers, and embrace the mess.