Outdoor Recreation

My Hiking Buddy Has a Baby Now. Do I Keep Trying to Meet Up With Her?

Written by teobrito.com

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Welcome to Tough Love. We’re answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Small Game and Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at toughlove@outsideinc.com.

There’s a woman who I’ve been hiking with on and off for a few years. We don’t really do much together otherwise, but we like the same trails and ran into each other enough that we started meeting up and going together. She had a baby about eight months ago, and ever since then, I haven’t seen her once. I’ve invited her for a few easy hikes since the baby came, but she declined one time, and twice she didn’t get back to me. I know I don’t owe her anything, and I’m really not the baby type, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do in this situation. Do I keep inviting her, even though clearly she’s not really in a place in life to go hiking these days? Is it rude if I sort of let things go?

I think you have to decide whether Mary—we’ll call her Mary—is primarily your hiking buddy or your friend. That sounds harsh, but I don’t mean it harshly; it’s truly something for you to reflect on. Do you value having Mary in your life because of who she is and the connection you share? Or do you just want company on the trail?

If you’re not sure, consider this question. Let’s say you have a free afternoon this Saturday. Would you rather spend it with Mary, maybe catching up over coffee, or would you rather go off in the woods alone (or with someone else)? In other words, do you like Mary for friendship, or for hiking? Obviously, if you choose friendship, you’re not expected to give up hiking forever in favor of watching Mary change diapers in her living room. And if you choose hiking, it doesn’t mean that you’d never spend time with her in other ways. But if Mary is your friend, first and foremost, then it changes the dynamic—and also the responsibility that you have to her. When our friends’ lives change, we show up for them. Surely you’d want her to do the same for you.

That doesn’t mean that you have to like kids per se, but if you want the friendship to continue, it does mean that you should find ways to accommodate Mary’s new addition—cheerfully. That might mean hiking at odd hours when Mary’s partner or family members are able to offer childcare—or taking walks in the park with a stroller. It might mean that you don’t go hiking together at all for a while, and instead find other shared activities you enjoy; coming over and cooking dinner for her would be a great gift (be sure to do the dishes afterward!), but you could also suggest an at-home movie, or invite her to lunch somewhere where she could bring the baby in tow. Keep in mind that the period she’s in right now is a short one, in the scheme of things. Her baby won’t be little forever, but your favorite trails will still be around next year, or the year after that.

By the way, I want to comment on the language you used, about how you know you don’t owe Mary anything. You’re not alone in this thinking–I’ve seen in uptick in discourse lately about how we, as people, don’t owe each other things—and while that’s technically true in a reciprocal, capitalist view of the world, and can be a helpful framework when it relieves the guilt of distancing yourself from someone who treats you poorly, I don’t think it’s a healthy attitude overall. Abusive circumstances aside, it’s best if we all give each other warmth, empathy, the benefit of the doubt. Not because these things are owed, but because they’re not. Because giving each other kindness—freely—builds a world of more kindness, a world where people aren’t just thinking about what’s in it for them. In other words, a world that’s good to live in. We don’t owe each other, but we need each other; and our communities are better when we show up with open hands, rather than suspecting everyone we know of trying to pry open our fists.

Anyway. Let’s say you give it some thought, and you determine that Mary isn’t really your friend. That you’ve had some nice walks together, but don’t have much in common; the conversation doesn’t flow; there’s too much tension, too often, for you to pursue the relationship off-trail. In that case, you owe Mary the same things you owe anyone who’s been generally kind. Give her the benefit of the doubt that she’s not avoiding you, but she’s just swamped with baby care, half-asleep at all times, and probably can’t even find her phone. Give her empathy: recognize that her life is changing, and surely that’s exciting and frightening all at once. And give her warmth—if you end up seeing her soon, and also if you don’t. Snap a picture at a favorite viewpoint, and text it to her with a note that you’re thinking of her, and remembering fondly the last time you were there together. She might not respond, but I bet you’ll give her a smile.

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