“I think I’m going to sell my mountain bike,” Brendan said. I sat silently across the table, glancing at the massive full-suspension 29er that hung above his road bike on the wall. A little tug of sadness pulled at my heart. It wasn’t as if he’d just said he wanted to see other people. He wasn’t even talking about me at all—he was talking about a bicycle. So why was I feeling rejected?
I remembered his smile in the Instagram photo I’d snapped on our first ride together, him victoriously hoisting the bike over his head. I’d been so psyched that he seemed to be enjoying the thing I was obsessed with at the time. He wasn’t a mountain biker when we first met, but I had been eating, sleeping and breathing mountain biking. So when he plunked down the cash for a new bike, it felt to me just a couple levels short of being given a ring. It felt serious.
After a few seconds of heavy silence, he added, “I just don’t think it ever fit me properly, and it’s not the right type of bike for the kinds of trips I want to do.” I nodded, reminding myself not to take it personally. I’d suspected for some time that he was over it. The bike was too big for him, really. And it probably wasn’t the kind of rig he needed for the long gravel-grind bike tours he was planning. It had been a good learning bike, something to open the door to the world of off-road adventures. Honestly, even I wasn’t riding as much as I used to. But somehow, it still felt a tiny bit like he didn’t understand or love a certain part of me. And I realized: This is what it feels like when the person you love just doesn’t love the sport you love the way you do. Is this totally absurd? I mean, would I feel the same way if I were super into cross-stitch, or carpentry, or doll collecting, and he didn’t want to take it up, too?
I know a lot of couples who don’t do the same sports, and they seem to do just fine. But some of my friends are so into their particular outdoor sports that it feels like part of their identity. One of my best girlfriends has found herself seriously rethinking a budding romance with a guy largely because he had a different ski pass than she did. Did she like him enough to compromise her beloved ski season? I guess not.
I’d wondered about this when Brendan and I first started dating. He was a climber. I was a mountain biker. And we slowly tried to introduce each other to our respective outdoor sports, hoping that the other would take to it. I beamed with Brendan’s compliments as he lowered me from my first toprope climb, a few weeks after our first date. He said I looked like a natural, and of course I lapped up the approval of this guy on whom I’d developed a massive crush. But I always wondered, What would have happened if I’d been deathly afraid of heights? Or been horrible at it? What if I had simply hated climbing? Would our relationship have blossomed the way it did? Would we have ended up going our separate ways?
Over the years, both of us have gone through phases where we’ve biked and climbed less or more, and gotten into other things like backpacking, rafting and bike touring. Sure, it helped that we could spend those first several months on the trail together or tied in together up on a mountain. Those adventures together, getting tired, cold or scared or just having fun, were what gave us the chance to see each other’s true character, the personal qualities like humility, courage and compassion that mean much more than whether or not we can climb 5.11 or huck a drop on our bikes. The qualities that make a relationship work, even if you don’t both love the same sports. I tried to remind myself of this as Brendan and I discussed a reasonable asking price for his bike on Craigslist. I mean, maybe serious outdoors people should think about adding something extra to their wedding vows. “In sickness and in health. When psyched to shred in the exact same modality and not psyched to shred in the exact same modality.”
People change. We mature. We start families. We tire of one thing and pick up another. And maybe the important thing is less that we share the same exact way of enjoying the outdoors, and more that we share the deep appreciation for what it is we find out there. Whether it’s on a bike, the end of a climbing rope or just in hiking boots.