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?
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.