Help! My Partner Doesn’t Love the Same Outdoor Sports as Me.
I’m not convinced I can be with someone who isn’t into the same kind of adventures as me
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Welcome to Tough Love. 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.
My girlfriend and I have been in a long-term relationship longer than most mutual friends who are now married. The past few years were long distance until the pandemic when I moved for a job in the same area. She’s certain I’m the one and has set a proposal deadline that’s since come and passed a handful of times because I’m still not certain.
Things with her are fantastic everywhere else but we have a difference in how we enjoy the outdoors. She’s recently picked up a few of my hobbies that I feel are a part of my identity, like cycling, and not others, like skiing. I’m doing everything in my power to help her enjoy them because I dream of a partner to share them with, but at times with her it’s been a rocky road.
She enjoys these new pursuits, but it hits hard when her enjoyment flips like a switch and she’s had enough but we’re downhill of the car, or an MTB trail has been unexpectedly rooty. We tried XC skiing and I handicapped myself doing it on AT gear, carrying all our stuff, but things fell apart emotionally at the tail end of the beginner loop. It’s less prevalent when we go with a group of similar sport newcomers but I still get glaring signals from her when she’s had enough. We turn back to ride her pace but it’s a great source of stress for me, especially when her frustration has been channeled at me despite my pre-riding and route planning to make things as easy as possible on her. I don’t care about her level of ability, I just want to be with someone who enjoys giving it a go. I’ve got social friends for the more extreme, type-2 fun parts of these activities.
I feel like things might be converging as she progresses but it hits especially hard when she’s sitting out part of the day and a mutual lady friend and I are getting in a few extra bike laps, or I continue to plan another ski season of solo day trips and fifth-wheeling weekends. Fat biking might prove promising for the winter season, but the same stresses apply there. We took a break and missed a proposal deadline she’s since agreed to drop completely. I’m trying to figure out if I should continue to see if things converge or start anew.
I think the outdoor sports situation might be something of a red herring here. Your girlfriend is certain you’re the one, you’re not sure, she’s setting proposal deadlines, you’re blowing past them… The core issue of your relationship right now seems less about skiing, and more about the fact that she wants to make a lifetime commitment, with you, and you think you might not want that now or ever.
But let’s start with the outdoor stuff, because it’s simpler (on the surface, at least). If I’m understanding this correctly: you’re planning trips that seem like your girlfriend’s level, she’s running out of steam abruptly, things get tense, it’s just not the fun co-adventure that you—and presumably she—are hoping to enjoy. This sounds like a major bummer for everyone, which is a shame, especially because these are excursions that would—ideally, at least—bring you together.
When people seem to get burnt out on an activity abruptly, it usually means they’ve been getting tired of it for a while, and were either trying to hide that fact or were giving signals that other people didn’t pick up on. So maybe your girlfriend’s been out there on the trail, getting tired and cold and hungry and generally unhappy, trying to compensate, pretending to have fun, until suddenly she reaches a point where she can’t fake it anymore and that’s when it seems like she snaps—with no warning, because she’s been hiding her escalating feelings. This would absolutely be jarring to those around her. Alternately, she’s been trying to hint for a while that she’s getting ready to stop, and you’re not realizing it, so finally she feels that she has to get super dramatic about things in order to get you to notice. This would also be jarring to you, although she might feel the opposite—that in fact you should have seen it coming.
In either case, things would be better for both of you if you started having frequent, explicit check-ins, leaving nothing to interpretation, because interpretations aren’t working for you right now. The conversation might look something like this.
You: “Do you want to ski on Saturday? If so, how long do you think you’ll want to go for?”
Her: “I do! I think I’ll be up for two hours, but I’m not sure…”
At that point, you could plan a ski trip that’s an hour long, with the opportunity to add more loops if she feels like it. Then, during the ski trip, you can check in again.
You, skiing: “How are you doing? Do you want to take a break? How much longer do you think you’re up for?”
Her, also skiing: “Yeah, I’m starting to get cold, so I think I only want to go for another half an hour.”
You, disappointed, but staying positive (because you want her to feel comfortable saying how she really feels): “OK, sounds good. Let’s take this shortcut back and get some hot chocolate.”
This might not be particularly exciting for you, but it is a way to help things end on good notes—possibly the only way, at least until you both get better at communicating around this stuff. And hopefully it will help lead to some mutually fun experiences, even if they feel too short to you; maybe that’s what she needs right now. But it might not solve other issues, namely that she might just not be that into outdoor sports—or at least, not in the way you want her to be. Or, I hate to say it, but she just might not be that into them with you.
Because these sports you’re doing together, they’re a test, aren’t they? You don’t know if you want to marry her; you dream of a partner to do outdoor sports with; she wants you to want marry her, and she’s trying these sports in the hopes that, well, something will change. It’s not such a stretch to imagine that on some level, she senses the stakes. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a ski trip, and it would certainly explain why her emotions tend to run high. An excursion is hardly a fun adventure if it feels like the course of your life is on the line.
Which brings us back to the initial problem, which is that your girlfriend wants to be in a relationship that she knows for sure is headed toward marriage.
You know how frustrating it is when you’re trying to plan an adventure—say, a mountain bike ride—and you just don’t know if your girlfriend’s gonna be down for it? That’s what she’s going through right now, but with her whole life.
You don’t owe your girlfriend a proposal, but you do owe her complete honesty about where you stand—or don’t stand—on the future of the relationship. The conversation will be painful and inconvenient. You may feel like you’re hurting her in the moment; you may feel like you’re hurting yourself. There’s a real chance that you’ll break up. But at least you’ll both be working with the same truth, the same information, and then you can choose what you want to do with it. Indoors or outdoors, that’s the foundation for everything else.