No Thank You, I Don’t Want Your Beta

Dear Abby,

Last week I was at our local climbing gym, and I saw this really cute girl there. I offered her some beta and started climbing with her so I could get to know her. I’m new to climbing, and she was a pretty good climber, but I figured suggesting some moves and showing her some problems would be a great way to break the ice and get her to talk with me. It worked! Or so I thought. After climbing together for a little while and offering her some more beta, I asked her if she wanted to join my friends and I for dinner that night, but she turned me down. What gives? I thought following a girl around the climbing gym and offering her beta made a great strategy for getting a date? I don’t understand. Can you help me make sense of this?

Chalked Up


Dear Chalked Up,

I hear your plight.  But I also understand the plight of the pretty “girl” too, as you call her. Perhaps you didn’t know this, but Ann and I used to hit the wall together a bit in our youth, so I’m familiar with ways of the climbing world. (I was more a fan of bouldering, and Ann preferred trad. That – along with Ann’s tremendous foot funk – was the real reason behind our rivalries.)

I can understand how you thought hitting on a woman at the climbing gym and asking her for a date was a good idea – the men and women who frequent that locale are energetic, intelligent (thank you, Darwin), attractive (recent surveys support this claim), and physically fit. Sadly, though, my dear Chalked Up, it was not a good idea. The gym – at least the climbing gym – is not a meat market. It is not a place to hit on someone out of the blue. It is not a place to boast knowledge, skill, and talent that you don’t actually possess. That false bravado is way too easily betrayed by your actions on the wall.

There are several reasons for my advice. Some has to do with the general precarious navigation of romantic interactions, but I won’t go into that here. (I hear Carolyn Hax satisfactorily addresses these issues, and I’ve also heard of a man called Dan Savage, but I don’t know much about him.) It’s possible that for this “cute girl” the climbing gym is a retreat. A place of safety. A place of refuge. A sanctuary where she is among friends, where she gets to be herself, and where she works out the many cruxes her in her life – not just those on the wall. By hitting on her and asking her out, you violated that sanctuary.

She likely went to the gym to feel safe and comfortable, however at odds that might seem with the nature of rock climbing. This sense of safety and comfort comes from the fact that she is regarded by her fellow climbers for what she can do on the wall, not by what her dateability quotient might be. She is something more than a potential date. She is a climber, and she is at home.

Your violation of her world was aggravated by the fact that you are new to climbing, whereas she is not. By offering her beta and suggesting which problems she work on, you failed to recognize that. To be perfectly honest, you had no rock cred. You overstepped your bounds. As with all social environments, the climbing gym functions according to both written and unwritten rules. The rules about not running, not unclipping at the top of a climb, and knowing your knots before you belay are important for your survival. But the unwritten rules are likewise important to your social survival and acceptance. Take the time to learn them.

As a final note, I want to make very clear that I am most definitely not saying that the gym is not a place for romance. In fact, it can be a wonderful place to find that special someone. I know many, many couples who climb together or met through climbing. Climbing with someone is the ultimate partnership. Your life is literally in their hands. This trust and respect can lay the foundation for romantic relationships that are lasting, true, and amazing. While the fact that the gym acts as a second home for the regulars may make it seem unapproachable, it means that once you get your rock cred and become part of the family, you’re in. And you’re in with your own kind – energetic, intelligent, attractive, and physically fit.

Until then, take a cold shower.  And maybe brush off that hold.  Sometimes, chalking up isn’t the only solution.



Primarily a boulderer, Greta Petersen calls Boulders Climbing Gym in Madison, WI, her second home.  When taking time off from fighting unwanted beta and suitors, she can be found working on science education and chasing after her two young sons.

4 responses to “No Thank You, I Don’t Want Your Beta

  1. Additional note to “chalked”: the more experienced girl climber actually went easy on your newbie self, so be encouraged by that. And when I say “encouraged by that”, I mean her kindness towards you.

    Had you hit on some of the girls I climb with, and, as a newbie, decided to show them around and give them your beta…they would have slowly dragged you around to the V8/9/10’s, climbed them, and then stood back to watch you demo your “beta”.

    Bouldering/Climbing is social, but it is in fact a real sport, with real skills that take practice to learn.

    A thought: Would you be offering driving tips to Danica Patrick because she is a cute girl? If so, I’d like to watch that event unfold. ;-)

    A really good question for “chalked”: Would you be comfortable dating a woman who can seriously out-climb you? If the answer is “yes”, go back to the gym and ask HER for beta.

  2. Amazing post! It got me giggling, then it got me thinking.

    This applies regardless of your motivation for offering beta. Whether you’re a new climber or not, it’s about knowing who you’re climbing with – don’t offer beta if it’s not asked for.

    I’ve had arguments with long time climbing buddies when I’m offered unsolicited beta. I like to figure problems out on my own. If I need or want help, I’ll ask for it. The worst thing in the world is to have someone shouting moves at you when you don’t want them to.

    But some people like it. Some people like help. I’ll occasionally ask for it, but I think getting beta takes some of the learning experience away. It’s all a matter of preference. But if you want to get on someone’s good side, make sure you know whether they want it or not!

  3. Yes to what Greg said – hitting on a climber chick is going to be way more effective if you ask HER for the beta, thereby recognizing her skill and making her feel good. Everyone likes to feel good and we like people who make us feel good. It seems so obvious, but guys seem to try to do the opposite by showing off their own skill even if it’s nowhere close to our own.

  4. Agreed ask HER for beta.

    After many years in a gym I have seen this scenario unfold countless times and most of the time it is the same person giving the unsolicited beta, we call that person “The Stalker”. Over the years the “Stalker” moniker migrates from person to person but there is always at least one. The best part is I can usually spot who is going to be “The Stalker” on their first visit.

    Honestly though, “The Stalker” is usually just someone who in lonely and looking for all of those attributes listed above. They might actually be a cool person! So, never write them off permanently due to their awkward social behavior. I’m pretty sure that’s how I snagged my wife ;)

    Since marriage I strictly employ the “sandbag” beta approach. Such as giving short people tall-man beta. It’s always amazing when they use that beta and send next go. Suckers.