The Carrot not the Stick

The other day at the rock gym, a friend asked me how I was lucky enough to meet a girl who shares so many of my interests. The truth is that I did get lucky when I met an outdoorsy, competitive, girl who was excited to explore and adventure! Of course, to quote the famous military General Douglas MacArthur, “The best luck of all is the luck you make for yourself.”

I think the most common mistake men make when trying to get their significant others involved in their interests is making their chosen activities too competitive, using it as an opportunity to show off how extreme they are, or failing to comprehend/remember what it’s like to be a beginner. Rather than encouraging their partners in a new activity, they immediately discourage the other person from ever going out again. Nearly every climber has had the uncomfortable experience of watching the couple next to them have an argument/breakdown after the more experienced climber has put the less experienced climber on a route out of their comfort zone. During ski season, hardly a weekend passes without me bearing witness to the just go to the top…you’ll be fine conversation, followed by me taking multiple runs while the person who was supposed to be fine gets increasingly battered, covered with snow, and frustrated while not making it very far down the mountain.

I’m sure when Ashley sees this she will think I’m calling her a horse, but the idiom of “leading with a carrot, not a stick” couldn’t be truer. Ashley doesn’t want to hear about how scary the fall on the route she’s climbing can be, how grueling the hike is going to be, or about how steep the ski run’s pitch is. Instead, she wants to know about the milkshake after climbing, the post-hike nachos, or the après ski beers. Over our 8+ years together, I’ve used everything from food to swimming to something as simple as air conditioning to help get us out of our living room and far from our comfort zones. In fact, I am pretty sure she climbed Mount Shasta not once but twice over the course of 5 days because she thought there was an engagement ring waiting for her at the top.

Putting the reward first works perfectly for big trips, long days, and intimidating objectives, but it also works great just managing simple days in the outdoors. This past weekend, it was really hot but Ashley and I were both anxious to log some miles on our bikes. As the heat and hills began to crack Ashley’s enthusiasm about 20 miles into the ride, I suggested stopping by EMS to bask in their air conditioning and promised to stop for a cold drink when we were halfway home. (I also employ this tactic throughout the winter, using hot chocolate, cocktails, and poutine to milk a few extra runs out of her on particularly cold or icy days.)

The fact is that Ashley probably no longer needs the incentives to go out, but I appreciate that she still plays along. Truth be told, there is nothing better than a cold coke in the middle of a hot bike ride, I love a cold milkshake after a day at Rumney, I can’t help but stop for a beer at the Moat anytime I pass by it, and am incapable of resisting poutine during ski season (okay…anytime). I suppose I need the carrot instead of the stick as well.