Ditch the girlfriend

Figure 1: A shrew.

Figure 1: A shrew.

Here’s a good tip for training if you want to stay in the game for the long haul: Ditch the ball and chain. Believe me, if you stay committed to your training while trying to keep a woman happy, it will only end in tears.

Let me take a step back, and get you started again with a little story I’ve been meaning to tell.

I was leaving the gym one night a while ago when I saw something really terrifying. I heard it before I saw it: A sharp exclamation like the short, sharp squeak of a car’s tires before the fatal car crash.

“Hurry up!”

It was an overweight woman with salon hair and designer clothes. She had hostages: a fat skinny guy, his dingy tshirt tucked into a pair of tapered jeans. Her nondescript children scurried past and made for the minivan. Weirdly, despite the harsh tone toward her children, the woman’s expression was serene. She exchanged a few words with her husband.

I watched as this woman and her brood made their way from a sports pub next to my school to their Windstar. As they passed the school, the woman’s pet man looked through the window and saw my friends training inside.

“That’s the stuff daddy would like to do,” he said wistfully. His timid words died in the empty night air as quickly as he spoke them. Like a shaman, or a medium, I was the only sentient being to witness this lowly ghoul’s utterance.

“But it’s too expensive,” he said. I looked at his coiffed and well-fed wife. It was almost more than I could bear.

“Get in the car!” the woman shrieked at her children. I realized this is how she always speaks to her kids. I shuddered at this spectacle and climbed into my own car. Maybe being alone isn’t so bad, I thought to myself.

I don’t mean to come off as a misogynist. This was a particularly terrible family, and the fact that this woman was short with her children is really beside the point (except for the part where I’m blaming the woman for everything, but I’m in the middle of apologizing for being a misogynist, so hopefully it will come out in the wash). But just think of this man, and the way he gave up his dream so easily. Think of all the men and women who have given up their dreams, and for what?

The majority of people who fall in love with training in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and then go on to quit do so because of commitments to a significant other. Like ghosts, you see less and less of them until they’re swallowed entirely by domestitude. I have seen this happen a million times. And from all the lingering young men I’ve seen gazing forlornly into our school, trailed by impatient girlfriends, I suspect that many people with an interest in training never even start.

I realize this is a lopsided discussion, gender-wise. I can’t speak for women. The experience of fight training as a woman is so alien that I can’t really comment on it. I’m sure women face the same general problem though.

People seek comfort. We are told that we will find comfort in companionship and in the nesting instinct. Even outside the issue of training, I think most people get together and stay together for entirely the wrong reasons. You should be able to stand on your own two feet, and enter into a relationship with someone else because they provide extra bonus value to you on top of what you’ve already got going on, not because you absolutely cannot live without them. In reality, it seems that people are completely broken pretty much all the time, and they rush into commitments with other people who are likewise all messed up. They become less than the sum of their parts.

This is a terrible outcome!

If you really love what you do, be straight with anyone you meet. From the get-go, let potential long-term partners know that your training is the most important thing to you, and that they shouldn’t take it personally when you’re still devoting most of your time to it years from now. If they’re not okay with this, or if they pretend to be and then try to chip away at your time, then you should let them go as gently as possible. Because instead of respecting you and your goals, they’re trying to convert you into some bizzaro fantasy version of you that they’ve cooked up.

Maybe I’m a crazy person. I’m probably a crazy person. What normal person  devotes his life to man-hugging and punch-kicking when there’s no paycheck in it? But, to be fair, what girl would want to be involved with this kind of guy?

Look at it this way: Imagine the person you want to be five years from now. Will you look back and say “Thank god I gave into my partner’s desire and gave up my dream of training and becoming really good at something. I’m so comfortable now!” Or, will you say “Thank god I stuck to my guns and watched that girl walk away. I’m super good at jiu jitsu now!”

It’s up to you.


5 thoughts on “Ditch the girlfriend

  1. I disagree. This is an argument against having an overbearing significant other (which is always a good argument to make). There are lots of human females that can have hobbies and an existence away from their partners. Really, it’s just confirmation bias — you never notice guys who have supportive-and-totally-sane partners, because those couples just don’t stick out so much.

    I’m not prepared to defend the whole “having kids means you can never have fun ever again” thing, since that’s a belief I do hold.

  2. I was going to make the same point as Erin. If you’re straight, you date women, so your relationship experience is with women, and that’s who you’ll point the finger at as the “other.” If you dated men, you’d likely find yourself making the same mistake, but singling “men” as the problem. The issue is with partners and the nature of partnership, not with gender. It’s an easy trap to confuse the two, and I can see you’re trying not to fall into it here.

    I’m a professional in a similarly all-consuming sport. I have a supportive partner, but I still recognize the sacrifices I make to balance training, competition, and my relationship. For me it’s currently worth it because of the support I get, but it still requires work, planning, and compromise.

  3. Thanks to both of you for your well-reasoned comments. Looking back, I wrote that post in the most obnoxious way possible, which is how I hear you’re supposed to do it if you want to become a big-time blogger!

    I should have better separated the different points I was trying to make. I agree with both of you that is possible to work through these issues with your partner. But in practice, we find time and again that people feel like they need to choose between training and pursuing a relationship.

    I think it takes an unusually understanding person to tolerate his or her partner putting in more time and energy into their hobby than they do into the relationship – especially at the amateur level, where there’s no money in it.

    I should have better emphasized how I think it’s important to be very clear about your priorities in the first place. That’s communication, and that’s what’s going to make a relationship sink or swim.

    Finally, the story about the family was just too depressing and resonant for me not to write about it somewhere!

  4. I disagree as well. What about all of us women who have the same wistful look as we walk past the dojo? I’ve been doing martial arts since I was 4, and I just recently tore my left ACL, making it virtually impossible to train right now. I am now one of the wistful wishers. Every time I take my son to the dojo, I feel like crying because I’m unable to get out on the mat.

    Perhaps you should try to find a partner who shares some of your most important interests, instead of one who has a huge chest and no brains. Good luck guys.

  5. Pingback: The Day After Competing (Shitty Parents and Nagging Doubts Edition) « Seven Breaths

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