Q: I have the incredible fortune of being with the man of my dreams (as uber-cliche as it sounds, it’s true). One of things that I am most grateful for in our relationship is how incredibly supportive we are of each other. There’s nothing begrudging about it; he greets my dreams and ambitions with genuine encouragement and the occasional round of playing Devil’s Advocate when the need arises (he helps keep me grounded). On the flip side, B makes me feel like I’m dating Superman in all his handsome, loving, muscular, shiny glory. And that’s where I struggle.
The driving force in B’s life, since age eighteen, is whitewater kayaking (he’s almost thirty-five now). That’s what initially drew us together; our first date was kayaking followed by dinner and a trip to the local hot springs. He’s much better at it than I am (which is completely okay), but when I say he’s better at it, I mean that he’s probably one of the top one hundred expedition whitewater kayakers on the continent.
Here’s the thing. Off the top of my head, I can think of six kayakers who have been killed in the past year, one of which was a personal friend. Most were freak accidents, although with two of them no one really knows what happened (they were alone at the time of the accident). I know that B is incredibly competent and never goes in alone; I have heard many stories from people who have gone on trips with him and were amazed at his ability to hang in there and keep a clear head when things didn’t go as planned. But I still get afraid, still lose sleep over wondering what the next phone call will be or if the next “kayaker gone missing” news flashes will turn out to be him. One of his greatest ambitions is the Grand Canyon of the Stikine in northwestern British Columbia, the veritable Everest of whitewater. I want him to go, to fulfill his dreams, to conquer the greatest known challenge of the whitewater world. But I also don’t want him to go and end up dying like that guy did last summer, and I don’t want my fear to bring him down or make him ultimately decide to forgo the opportunity.
How do I celebrate and support the incredible dreams of the man with whom I will share my life without letting the fear of becoming an early widow overshadow the joy of it all?
A: Dear K,
If his passion is death-defying whitewater craziness, you’re signing onto that for life. It’s scary. But, this guy you love wouldn’t be the same guy without his wild passions. They’re a part of what make him who he is, and (admit it!) a part of why you love him so much. You didn’t pick out a guy who loves his fantasy football league. You picked a guy who loves real life whitewater kayaking. Strip someone of what he loves, and he’ll be pretty miserable, and probably unrecognizable.
So, does he know you worry about him? You mentioned not wanting to hold him back, but it’s only fair that he knows how you feel. Flip it, and wouldn’t you want to know if there was something tying him up in knots of worry over you? I’m guessing you would, and sharing your concerns (even a few of the crazy ones) is an important piece of relationship communication. You don’t have to try to talk him out of it, but it could make you feel better just voicing these fears.
Use that conversation to discuss possible safeguards that will help put you at ease. Will you feel better if he has someone with him? If he goes at a specific time of year? If he swears on a stack of Bibles to wear whatever protective gear kayak people wear? (What do kayak people wear?) You mentioned that he grounds you, which is awesome. Sometimes one of the ways we ground one another is in that “wake up to the possibilities here!” sort of way. Maybe there is a possibility of figuring out a way for you to feel comforted, while he takes precautions and does what he loves.
That’s about all you can do. Let him know you worry, ask him to be safe. And then let him do his thing.
Of course you’ll still have nagging worries and doubts about him. This is a pretty scary thing. I know that this is where you want me to tell you how to obliterate them completely and just wholeheartedly cheer him on. But, your fears are not off base. And in general, worry is sort of the cost of caring about someone. Fiercely caring about someone inherently comes with the risk of losing them, and that sometimes means choking back a bit of fear.
TEAM PRACTICAL, how do you come to terms with the fear of losing your partner?
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted.