Dating an adrenaline junkie can be exciting initially but living with his death wish could kill your relationship. It’s time to take control. By Carla Calitz
Watching your man throw himself out of a plane, race around a track at 260km/h on his motorbike or balance precariously off a rock face is probably not how you – or most women – envisage spending every weekend. Not only does his pursuit of a dangerous sport eat into your precious downtime together but you also have to live with the constant fear that your man may break a limb or his neck – or both! You need to decide whether you can live with his death wish or whether it’s likely to kill you.
Four years ago, shortly after Faith Thomas, 39, COSMO’s sales and advertising manager in Johannesburg, met her boyfriend, Gary Webster, he was introduced to high-altitude mountaineering. ‘Gary was hooked straight away,’ she says. ‘This year he spent six weeks scaling summits in Ecuador. For those six weeks I lived in constant fear that he was going to die. I couldn’t sleep properly because
I kept waiting for the phone to ring. Every morning I’d have to get up and go to work but it was so difficult to concentrate – I couldn’t stop wondering whether he’d fallen and injured himself or, worse, died. You start thinking about what you’ll do when he dies, what you’ll tell his family and friends, and what will happen at his funeral. Every time I say goodbye to him at the airport I never know whether it’s the last time I’m going to see him.
‘The only way I can control my fear is by training with him to make sure he’s prepared. We argue a lot when I feel he hasn’t trained enough and isn’t taking his next challenge seriously enough. We also argue when he says he wants to tackle every single peak during his next expedition. It freaks me out that although he tells me how scared he gets, it doesn’t stop him doing it. He’s a strong man and he will keep on pushing past the limits, and that’s what kills people – when their heads push them past the reality of the situation. ‘Increasingly, I’m becoming resentful too because his trips are very expensive. And his ultimate goal is Everest but that is where I’ll draw the line – I can’t deal with that. But as much as his sport freaks me out, I’m still incredibly proud of him and love his determined, brave streak. What he’s managed to do is a massive achievement and people respect what he’s accomplished. I just wish he would do something else that wasn’t that dangerous.’ It seems that men are generally more drawn to dangerous, risky pursuits than women. ‘Men are natural-born competitors – ambitious, status-conscious, risk-taking, singleminded,’ wrote Dr Helena Cronin, author and co-director of the Darwin Centre at the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science at the London School of Economics, in the Cape Times of 29 August 2008. ‘Men take risks even when it’s a bad idea; women don’t take them at all.’ Women are definitely attracted to men who have a sense of adventure – initially, anyway, says Thuraisha Moodley, a Johannesburg clinical psychologist. ‘Their thrilling pursuits become exhilarating for the women involved with them.’
But unfortunately the very thing that you love about him is exactly what could compromise you and end your relationship. The initial excitement of dating an action man can quickly be overshadowed by your fear and anxiety. ‘As commitment grows in a relationship, you expect that your needs will be valued too, but when your partner continues to choose his extreme activity over your needs, you may start feeling as though you’re second best and even feel rejected,’ Moodley says. ‘Then you’ll probably start resenting his activity and, eventually, him.’ So how do you cope with this fear without losing sight of your own needs? Should you learn to embrace it or must you walk away from the relationship?
FACING YOUR FEARS
Although it’s important to respect your man’s wants and needs, this shouldn’t be done at the expense of your own, cautions Moodley. ‘If you feel you’re constantly second-guessing your feelings in the relationship and constantly talking yourself into being okay with his extreme activities, there’s a problem. If you deny your own “voice”, you’re disregarding yourself.’
‘IT FREAKS ME OUT T HAT ALTHOUGH HE TELLS ME HOW SCARED HE GETS IT DOESN’T STOP HIM DOING IT’
Before you make any decisions and confront your man, first research his new sport and try to gather information so that you know your facts, says Dr Tanya Robinson, a Johannesburg family therapist. ‘In most of these adrenaline activities there are a lot of safety measures that have been implemented that make them much safer. Learning what they are will help reduce your stress,’ she says. If you’d like to take it a step further and try out his new hobby yourself, then keep in mind there are the right reasons and the wrong reasons to do this. ‘If you’re doing it genuinely to understand and engage with him, then you’re on the right track,’ Moodley says. ‘But if you develop negative feelings such as anxiety and still continue to engage in the sport, you’re not respecting yourself. You’ll eventually end up blaming him.’ When you know exactly how dangerous his extreme sport is and what the risks are, sort out where you stand in your own head by being brutally honest with yourself.
‘Examine the issue rationally by moving away from your fear and anxiety,’ says Moodley. ‘Think about what attracted you to your man in the first place and whether you still find that attractive. Ask yourself the hard questions: what are your fears? Can you overcome them? What are your long-term hopes for the relationship and do these fit in with his dangerous sport? If you are willing to stay, what are you willing to put up with and what aren’t you? And are you willing to stick around if something goes wrong?’ You may be willing to compromise on some of your needs but you have to figure out which of your needs are non-negotiable – these are the ones that determine your happiness. ‘You may rationalise that you don’t really have to have a certain need fulfilled, but subconsciously you may still require it to make you happy,’ says Moodley. ‘For example, you may say to yourself that you’re so lucky to have such an exciting partner who isn’t a “run-ofthe- mill guy”, but you may be innately craving that guy who prefers to sit on the couch and watch movies with you on a Sunday afternoon rather than jump out of a plane.’
The solution is to delve deep. ‘Know what is important to you and embrace it,’ says Moodley. ‘Don’t be scared of being alone. Settling for only a part of what you need in a relationship will make you unhappy and resentful towards your man for not meeting your expectations, and towards yourself