I didn’t realize it was a date until he grabbed my hand as I turned to leave. Maybe I was naïve, but I also don’t think I’m the first person who’s ever been confused about whether or not a hiking/biking/climbing outing was actually a date.
We had pedaled for a couple of hours on our bikes, out of the city and back, and on the way back he suggested we get something to eat. Innocent enough. We stopped at a taco shop. Bikes and philosophy dominated the conversation, so when he suggested I stop by his house so he could show me his new cyclocross rig, I thought nothing of it. My mistake.
It’s so easy to say, “We should go climbing some time,” isn’t it? And so difficult to say, “Would you like to go out to dinner with me?” That’s the wonderful—and sometimes terribly awkward—thing about being an outdoorsy person. Doing things outside together is the ideal way to get to know someone you’re interested in, but the crux comes when one person is seriously more into the togetherness than the other.
A friend of mine tells this story of a climbing outing with a surprise ending: She and a friend from a college class went out for what she thought would be a few casual pitches. Feeling victorious as she lowered off a particularly challenging toprope pitch, she realized her partner was apparently even more stoked than she was when she touched the ground. Before she could even untie, he pulled her in for a makeout session. What could she do? Still tied into the toprope, she couldn’t go far.
We could have endless “When Harry Met Sally” debates about whether men and women can really just be biking/climbing/hiking partners without one party getting more attached. Does a bike ride become a date when you go out to eat afterward? And if you’re not yet sure whether or not it’s a date, how can you tell if it’s going well? When he says, “That was great—we should do it again sometime,” does he mean he thinks you’re interesting and pretty and he’d like to get to know you better? Or does it mean the bouldering was super fun and you should bring all your friends and a six pack, too, next time?
But happily, sometimes, even when neither party initially intends to hook up, the outdoors can be a great matchmaker. My friends BJ and Tracy met up as friends for a week of climbing at City of Rocks. To this day, neither will admit that it was a date, but by the end of the week they’d seen enough of each other’s attitudes and character to be pretty sure that this was it. Within a year, they were married. Seven years later, they’re one of my favorite examples of a supportive, vibrant, beautiful relationship. My guess is that BJ probably let Tracy untie before he went in for the kiss.