So your partner isn't quite as experienced or skilled in your sport, and you always thought that would be a deal breaker. What now?
So your partner isn't quite as experienced or skilled in your sport, and you always thought that would be a deal breaker. What now?
Tough Love

Tough Love: Am I a Jerk If I Can Only Date People Who Love My Sport?

Outside's love guide is here and answering your most pressing questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Today, we discuss dating as a climber and how to handle breakups when there's a dog in the mix.

So your partner isn't quite as experienced or skilled in your sport—and you always thought that would be a dealbreaker. What now?

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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

Q: Full disclosure: I have built almost my entire identity around my love of rock climbing. So after I dated this guy for about a month and really started to like him, I was eager to take him to my favorite outdoor wall. He’s big into skiing and has climbed only a few times, but he seemed excited about it. By maybe the third time we went out to climb, I realized that he’s really not a good climber at all—and he realized he’s just not that into the vertical lifestyle. He’s fine tagging along, but as he told me, “I’m just not ever going to be a serious climber.” I get that, but here’s the thing: I always thought “loves climbing” was a make-or-break quality in dating prospects. How do I come to terms with the fact that I like everything about him—except for that one huge point?

—Sizing Up the Problem

If I were this guy, I wouldn’t be into climbing either. It sounds like he was totally supportive of you as an athlete and psyched to learn about your sport, only to disappoint you when he tried it himself. It must have been an awful feeling. Imagine if you were new to skiing and took a go at the bunny slope, only to watch his face fall when you couldn’t (and didn’t want to) huck cliffs. Nobody’s good at something when they first start, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad at it. They’re beginners. They’re learning. In this case, your guy is learning about climbing—and you’re learning about yourself.

Here’s a chance to figure out whether you’ve built your identity around your love of rock climbing or around being good at it. There’s no shame either way; you deserve to be proud of your accomplishments. If your identity rests purely on love of the sport, consider whether it would be enough to have your partner at your favorite wall, watching and/or learning at his own pace. If your identity rests more on skill, remember that you’re badass regardless of who you date. It’s exciting to be part of a power couple, but it doesn’t change who you are as a climber.

So picture this: Maybe the person you wake up with every morning doesn’t need to be the same person you simul-climb El Capitan with. Maybe he just needs to be there cheering when you get back down. Or maybe that thought breaks your heart just a little. And there, hon, is your answer.

Q: I’ve recently started seeing one of the guys I often climb with. We both have a lot of common interests, he’s sexy as hell, and he’s a competent climber (which is why I agreed to date him in the first place). But he doesn’t have the important traits I need in a long-term romantic partner. Problem is, our friends are super excited to see us together, and he really likes me, so I’m having a hard time figuring out a tactful way to break off the romantic part of our relationship without jeopardizing our friendships (and joint gym time).

—Beta, Please

The tactful way to break up is to do it as soon as possible, before the relationship builds momentum. Accept that this guy will be sad and that he’ll need space for a while; if he always climbs on Wednesdays, start going on Thursdays instead, at least for a few weeks. There are always losses in a breakup, and this scheduling inconvenience is yours. Still, remember that you’ve done nothing wrong. Even if your friends are disappointed, if they’re good friends, they shouldn’t be disappointed in you.

Q: Are there appropriate places to break up outdoors?

There’s no good place to dump someone, and outdoors is far from the worst, because you have relative privacy and it’s a neutral space (read: nobody’s bedroom). Plus, there’s all that overwhelming majesty of nature, which can make human traumas feel very slightly less devastating. Still, as with any breakup, take precautions. Be firm, be kind, and make sure that each person can get home on their own—and is carrying their own water source.

Q: Who gets to keep the dog?

Whoever had the dog first and/or spent the most time taking care of it. If you’re even, then the dumpee gets the dog.

Q: I want to break up, but I love my soon-to-be-exs dog. Can I volunteer to be the dogsitter?

I hate to say this—but no, absolutely not. Kiss that snout one last time, and let your ex heal in peace.

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