What I have learnt after one year of marriage and climbing
Posted on October 20, 2013
I have heard it said that the first year of married life is the hardest. I can see why that might be, even for couples who have been together for years before marriage: there is a new set of social, joint and individual expectations. There is the dawning realisation that you agreed to spend the rest of your life with this person and you have rather foolishly gotten to know them so well (and vice versa) that you both know exactly what buttons to push to drive each other completely, frothingly, mad inside of twenty seconds.
That said, if this is the hardest year, the rest of our marriage and life is going to be completely freeking awesome. Mooching around Europe with your beloved is a pretty good way to spend any year, particularly your first married one. Nevertheless there have been some opportunities for learning stuff, both about life together and, of course, about climbing. In no particular order, these are twelve things I have learnt in twelve months:
1) Marriage can make you feel like a really terrible person. There is always this person whose opinion your really care about hanging around seeing everything you do. Naturally not everything you do is entirely awesome (such as screaming “you said this was a FUN climb you are a LIAR” while you are about three feet off the ground and on a top rope) and now not only does that person see everything, but as you’re living in each other’s pockets in a tiny van, lots of your not so awesome is directed at them. On the up side, this is in itself a pretty strong incentive not to act like an idiot. Who knew you needed an incentive for that? There is also the consolation that they’re never judging you as harshly as you are judging yourself.
2) Some people actually like climbing slabs. Some people like it so much so that they do it on purpose. On a climbing trip you will probably have to talk to these people occasionally. Just smile and nod and change the topic. It’s nice for them that they like slabs, it’s also nice for you, because there will be slightly fewer people climbing the decent routes. This is useful in marriage as well. Most arguments are about stupid things. You don’t actually need to win the argument (well, most of the time). A respectful disagreement is better than a grudging and unhappy agreement.
3) Your husband/wife is not a complete moron. You wouldn’t have married a complete moron. You married a clever and interesting and insightful person. You like hearing what they say. So listen. (On the other hand, a van with standing room would in fact have been impossible to drive, let him talk himself out of the idea).
4) Hangry is the enemy. Being hungry angry will make you fall off jugs and freak out for no particular reason. It will make you yell obscenities in the vicinity of small children. Do not climb when hangry. Actually, don’t do anything when hangry, Actually, don’t be hangry. Eat something.
5) Friends are awesome. You need your friends and family and they need you. Even though you’re married to the most exciting and amazing and kind and gorgeous person on the planet, you still need other people in your life (remember that night before your wedding when your girlfriends filled you with wine and pizza and thus saved you from a nervous breakdown of epic proportions?). Occasionally your friends and family will need you, do your best not to let them down. Even more rarely your loved ones may insist on being jerks, do your best not to enable them.
6) Enjoy time apart. If you spend every single minute with each other you can compare impressions of the same phenomena. That is cool. It’s also cool talking about new things. So, go do something by yourself or with someone else (see ‘Friends are awesome’, above). On the other hand, too much time apart will make you sad. Be sensible enough to realise this and cancel that one way ticket to Kathmandu. Try not to sigh dramatically over this. Sigh.
7) What other people do. It turns out that some seriously hard core climbers never get more than a few meters off the ground. That’s right, boulderers who don’t do highballs. They exist. You are friends with a couple. They are way harder than you but they are scared of stuff that you do. I don’t know what this means, but it is a thing I have learnt.
8) Your spouse is the best. Tell your spouse that they are indeed most exciting and amazing and kind and gorgeous person on the planet (not to mention best climber ever). Everybody needs a cheer squad sometimes but more to the point, people generally live up (or down) to your expectations and you live up (or down) to theirs. So set the bar high.
9) Control the narrative. Avoid creating a narrative of your lives where you are good at one thing and your spouse is good at another and never the twain shall meet. You can both be good at jump starting cars, writing letters, climbing technical slabs and knitting scarves.
10) Honesty. It is as important as all the self help books you never read probably say. Don’t lie about small things, it’s a silly habit that ends with you lying about big things. On the other hand, bear in mind that your husband will inevitably lie to you about how long/hard the walk in is. That is just the way the world works.
11) You are not always going to be happy. You can be at the most beautiful crag in the world, with just the right weather and rad techie, slightly pumpy vertical face climbing at just the right grade and the best crag snacks and you’ve done your poo back at the clean toilet and the walk in was easy and life is great…and still not be all that happy. Same with marriage. Your spouse is wonderful and kind and sexy and gorgeous and you have no health or money troubles and life is easy and great…and you can still not be all that happy. There is a darkness that goes with being glum when life is great. You think “If I can’t be happy now, when everything is so good, surely I’m doomed to misery any other time. God I’m an ungrateful sod, why can’t I enjoy this?”. That is hardly going to make you feel happier. Just accept that your soul comes with light and shadow, and this is a shadowy bit. The sunshine will return. Also see ‘Hangry is the enemy’, above.
12) When you are dressed like a climbing bum and driving a van full of polka dots, customs officials will be suspicious of you. If you mention that you are travelling with your wife they suddenly see you as an upstanding citizen, on a legitimate holiday, rather than as a drug and cheese smuggling hippie. This can be useful.