There’s one ragged cliché I hear whenever a conversation kicks up about relationships between outdoorsy people. In a place like Tahoe, most of our hobbies are going to line up with our partners’ — but what if they don’t? What if you’ve found “the one” and down the line they drop the truth bomb that they don’t know how to ski/mountain bike/climb? Well, that simply won’t do, but all your buddies will tell you that you sure as hell can’t teach them. (See Why Husbands Don’t Make Good Ski Instructors)
That opinion might be commonplace, but I believe it’s a lazy excuse. In the last year, I taught my girlfriend how to fly-fish and in return she taught me how to drive a manual. Our relationship is healthier than ever — although I wish I could say the same for her poor Tacoma’s transmission. It’s not easy and sometimes it quite literally takes blood, sweat, and tears to get the job done, but when approached the right way you can teach your significant other almost anything. Here are a few things I’ve learned from misadventures with my own gal, and hopefully you can use one or two of these tips to make this summer even more enjoyable for you and yours.
Take It Seriously
In a typical learning environment, there is an implicit agreement between the teacher and the student based on respect and patience. You’ll need something similar with your partner. On the student’s side this means agreeing beforehand to not become defensive, and the teacher must agree to avoid acting like an impatient douche-canoe. Also, there is a lot of responsibility attached to teaching someone a new sport. This is something your partner may be nervous about and could get hurt doing, so take your role as teacher seriously and deliver your lesson as if you were getting paid for it.
Absolutely Do Not Take It Seriously
Don’t forget how to laugh. This is important for life in general, but especially necessary when your partner has just buried a fly hook deep in your elbow. You’ve made a commitment to share one of your passions with your partner, and odds are the journey will take longer than either of you expected and probably be a little bumpy in some parts. When things (inevitably) go wrong, the worst thing you can do is place blame and the best thing you can do is find the joke in it all.
Risk/Support = Growth
This simple equation is crucial if you’re getting your partner into a hobby with a bit more adrenaline involved. The amount of risk your boyfriend or girlfriend is taking while learning a new activity must be balanced out with an appropriate amount of support. For example, if your chosen sport is climbing, don’t put your bae on a trad lead right off the get-go. If you have too much support and very little risk, very little progression will take place. But if the scales are tilted the other direction … as one South Park ski instructor famously said, “You’re gonna have a bad time.”
Just Avoid Just
Ok, I’m stealing this one from a Youtube video I watched a while back, but it is such a common mistake that it warrants mention here. The word “just” has no place in the English language (sorry, Nike) and it certainly has no place in your teaching style. Remember, things that are easy for you are not necessarily easy for your beginner partner, and the word just will only make this painfully clear to him or her. Instead of phrases like, “You just need to ___,” use your big beautiful brain to edit that to something like, “Try giving ___ a shot.”
It Takes a Village
While I think teaching your significant other a new skill is more feasible than most would claim, it would also be unrealistic for me to say you’re going to be able to accomplish it solo. One of your roles as a mentor will be to connect your partner with others they can also learn from, ideally from the same gender as them. There are some details of these outdoor sports that are better explained woman to woman or man to man, such as the convenience of a Diva Cup or how to not pinch your nuts on the bike seat.
In the end, you’re not only teaching your partner a new skill, you’re bringing him or her into a new and expanded community that will belong to them as well. There will be a time when they are done hearing advice from you, and when this time comes, it’s best to recognize it and rejoice — your work is done. Support their growth and encourage that they continue the learning process on their own, and maybe before long they’ll be teaching you a thing or two.