Things not to do as couples

Kletterwand/Climbing wall, Donauinselfest 2007
Image via Wikipedia

I was having a pretty nice time at the climbing wall the other night, climbing with a friend. Had a good-ish go at some fairly vertical 6as, rattled through all the 5s and the few 5+’s they had, and at least felt a bit more confident about it, even if I was only top-roping. For those who are curious about what all this lingo means, the French climbing grades that are commonly used for all UK indoor walls start at 3, and go through to 8, with intermediate levels of difficulty indicated by letters or plus signs, eg. “5+” or “7a”. It’s not an exact science, but basically anything up to 6b is pretty much beginner level if you’re not pulling the rope through yourself (i.e. “top-roping”), and/or climbing outside (climbing outside is either “sport climbing“, where some random dude you don’t know has drilled some bolts to the rock, which you use to clip the rope to, or “trad climbing”, where you’re the random dude that places a few bits of metal your life depends on).

I tried out some steep overhangs right at the end of the session, and it was a little bit disheartening, as I inevitably got stuck trying to reach for a hold on the third move. Any strength I had seemed to have run out, so we asked the pair next to us if they wouldn’t mind us jumping on the long 4 they’d just been doing.  They seemed to be a couple, one tall thin girl, and one averagely built guy. I had been watching the girl climb the 4 neatly and easily earlier, and then caught sight of the guy, who appeared to just be beefing his way up using any hold he could find.

She lowered him back down, and gave him a big hug and a kiss. “Well done honey, you didn’t get scared”. Fatal, absolutely fatal. He practically puffed his feathers, saying “No of course I didn’t get scared, I never get scared”. Wooops. Only he did look scared, technically weak and far too concerned with what she thought of him to actually be concentrating on doing anything well.

Maybe anything that has that combination of competition, skill, fear and some gender stereotypes about spatial awareness is always going to be really bad for couples.  Men are always going to hate being seen not to fit the “strong protector” role, and climbing most obviously combines strength and protection (and of course technique). There’s obviously mastering the quite crippling fear of injury or death, the significant upper body strength required to climb overhangs, the planning required to “read” the sequence of the route, and the confidence to execute it. They’re all things men are traditionally good at, so it would be pretty irritating if your girlfriend somehow ended up beating you at your own game. I’m pretty bad at all of the above at the moment, so I probably don’t need to worry about that dynamic for quite some time.

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