Doubtful Dating

Questioning outdoor connections. 

“I went out with a new guy last week,” I mentioned to my friends Al and Ian as we enjoyed a Cold Smoke at Ale Works. They didn’t pay much attention. “Twice,” I added. Al’s ears perked up.

In a single week, I was taken out for sushi and served a home-cooked dinner. To a Bozeman girl accustomed to PBR-themed dates at local dives, two nice meals in one week was a big deal.

“Who is he?” Al asked. “You don’t know him,” I replied. To Al, a man about town, that was an unacceptable answer. I explained that he was new to town, right out of law school… and that he was nice. “Only problem,” I added sheepishly, “is that he doesn’t drop in.”

Now I had Al’s attention. In Bozeman, dropping in—the act of skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, and partaking in other gravity-assisted activities—consumes a great deal of our time and is one of the best ways to really get to know someone. “So he’s a pencil-neck,” Al replied. I tried in vain to explain that my date was indeed NOT a pencil neck. “He’s gotta be,” Al replied, unconvinced that anyone so inactive, so out of touch with mountainous pursuits, could live in Bozeman and not be a pencil-neck. “You’d like him,” I continued, and rattled off some of his more redeeming qualities, like his past life as a musician in Austin. “Bring him by sometime,” Al chuckled, and I laughed too as I thought of the scene.

There we are, soaking in a hot tub or having a beer at Bozeman Brewing. And there’s my date, the newly minted litigator meeting the tribe for the first time. Everyone is nice and includes the new guy in conversation, but eventually talk turns to the conditions in Bear Basin or whether Little Wapiti is free of snow. What’s the weather doing this weekend, and who’s up for a Moab trip next month? What would he think? How would this affect his opinion of the cute, seemingly smart girl he was so taken with? “Are all the girls in Bozeman like this? Don’t any of them have real jobs?” he might wonder.

Active, outdoor girls used to be a catch. Now that Bozeman has outgrown its small, mountain-town roots, should I be ashamed of my love for outdoor pursuits? This is a dilemma I never could have imagined. In some ways, we’re the adults we claimed we’d never become: the ones who would never work a “real job,” but now find ourselves happy to ski two or three days a week and to have an employer that understands the importance of a powder morning and the excitement of fresh snow at Bridger Bowl. We own small businesses or work at nonprofits, giving up nights-only jobs and pursuing careers instead of powder. But we still love dropping in—and perhaps now that we aren’t doing it as much, we want to talk about it more. I don’t want to date in a Bozeman where I should feel bad about that.

The fate of my relationship with my attractive, smart, considerate date is uncertain. Work has taken him out of town, but there’s the promise of future home-cooked meals upon his return. In his absence, I’ll continue to enjoy beer with friends and soak in the hot tub while we plan our next adventure. I’ll try not to think about what I’ll tell him when he asks what I did while he was gone. Will he get it? Is our relationship doomed from the start? Or, will the Bridgers start calling his name, too? Will he start poring over maps and accruing sick days? Will he drool over gear and continuously plan rides, tours, and paddles? Will we eventually be telling stories that feature both of us, or is an outdoor girl no longer a catch in Bozeman? If the latter is the case, give me a dirtbag bartender whose truck is his home and his bike the main method of transportation.

This essay originally appeared in Mountain Gazette magazine.