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My interests are easy to take up, as they are sitting on the lawn drinking rose and eating cheese. Only the hardest of hearts or the dairy intolerant could find fault with my gentle hedonism. This is type 1 fun, according to the Fun Scale invented by American climber and outdoor adventurer Kelly Cordes — enjoyable while it’s happening.
The Casanova of Wanaka’s interests have been more challenging to adopt as they involve type 2 fun: miserable while it’s happening, fun in retrospect. Long punishing bike rides that go for days and hundreds of kilometres, camping in the toilet-less outdoors, eating freeze-dried beans. Type 2 fun is stuff like walking the length of the country, doing an ultramarathon or, for women, childbirth. Terrible at the time, great afterwards.
Neither of us would deliberately indulge in type 3 fun: the kind of fun that is not fun at all. Not even in retrospect. The kind of thing that afterwards you think, ‘‘What the hell was I thinking? If I ever suggest doing that again, slap me.’’ However, anyone who’s experienced a failed relationship would admit to understanding this kind of ‘‘fun’’.
I have embraced the Casanova’s fun and I have to say, in my experience, no-one can manage a screaming, sobbing woman better. I went paragliding on our first date, and this weekend we’re celebrating five months together by riding 195km around Timaru and sleeping in a net bag; but I think the fun of rock climbing would test any relationship.
There are always different levels of trust in a relationship. Can you trust them to get the right kind of milk? Can you trust them to be there for you emotionally? When your climbing partner is also your romantic partner, you need to be able to trust them when they’ve got you dangling on a piece of string. They might have your heart, but when you’re climbing together, they have literally got your life in their hands.
Rock climbing is done in tiny pointy shoes that sandpaper the skin off your heels, wearing a harness that would flatter no-one. Your climbing partner will have a view of your behind most of the time, you will be sweaty, and a full face of make-up is frowned upon. You are roped together and checking each other’s knots and carabiners is vital. If you do something wrong, criticism isn’t personal but necessary, because mucking up even once could be fatal. My particular thing is tying a beautiful figure eight but forgetting to feed the rope through my harness first.
Making sure you fall safely is the belayer’s job. A belayer who texts or chats to others instead of giving you their undivided attention is a rubbish person. The belayer is your protector, cheerleader and coach. Clear commands are really important, so climbing couples have to be good at communicating and couple dynamics come to the fore when one of you is 15m up. Which one of you is the nurturer, which one tends towards tough love? ‘‘Just move your foot, Lisa. Don’t hang around. Keep moving. Get on with it.’’ How do you respond to stress? I cry (so often the Casanova has thought about sewing cotton pads on to the shoulders of his T-shirts), he talks to himself when he’s frightened: ‘‘This is climbing; you wanted this.’’ Problem-solving abilities, patience and consideration are key. Essentially, all the things that a good relationship requires, climbing together requires.
Sometimes my entire body weight is resting on three toes of my right foot. It feels precarious, and my language is shocking. Sometimes I get gripped up, stuck, unable to move. When that happens, it takes someone who can see things from a different perspective to show you the way. Any relationship worth being in is a climb. It’s hard, challenging, but the view from the top is amazing.