I’ve always been amazed at how social dynamics in the climbing world reflect and often exaggerate the rest of my world. Should be no surprise really. We recreate social dynamics in every facet of our lives so climbing should be no different. The funny thing is that I tend to overlook the dynamic when it’s happening outside of climbing, or maybe just accept it as status quo, and then look more closely at it when I see it repeated in my climbing life.
One of those social dynamics I see recreated in the climbing world are the mixed messages I get as a woman rock climber.
One social dynamic tells me that as a heterosexual woman that men will find me attractive if I appear vulnerable and needing their protection or support (yes, I’m broadly generalizing to make a point). While the feminist social dynamic tells me I have to be strong and independent regardless of who finds me attractive. So in the climbing world does that mean that if I am a strong and independent female climber then men won’t find me attractive? I see strong women rock climbers hooking up with male rock climbers all the time, so obviously some men find a strong female rock climber attractive.
Or maybe they find me attractive but the relationship is a disaster because of the opposing expectations? In a relationship it’s very hard to be both vulnerable and strong and independent.
My own personal dating history can be boiled down to this: man finds me attractive as a strong independent rock climber and then doesn’t know what to do with me when I’m vulnerable and needing emotional support. Relationship eventually crumbles because they expect me to be strong all the time. Or I dated non rock climbers who were attracted to me for my vulnerable feminine side and then didn’t know what to do with me when they saw that I was a strong rock climber. They were intimidated by it.
From another perspective you could also say my dating history can be boiled down to this: I was trying to figure out for myself what mix of vulnerable vs. independent worked for me as a modern western woman and had a difficult time attracting a man with a balance of those expectations because I wasn’t even aware that I was doing it. I’m sure I too was sending out contradicting messages of vulnerable vs. independent and those men had a hard time understanding what was expected of them. What about the men? Are they aware of what mix of vulnerable vs. independent they want in a partner? When you have two partners unconsciously trying to find a balance between levels of vulnerable vs. independent it’s going to create friction eventually either on or off the rock.
As a therapist, I see this vulnerable vs. independent dynamic playing out all the time in couples who seek therapy trying to save their relationship. The way I see it, you can’t fix anything that you aren’t aware of doing in the first place.
If you are a woman rock climber and you are having conflict with your partner (same sex couples apply here too!) either when you climb together or outside of climbing, take an honest look at this dynamic of vulnerable vs. independent and see if it is affecting your relationship. Are you giving out the same mixed messages to your partner that you receive from society?