Finding Love in the Gym

Climb Wine Dine's Jasmin Pillai shares her thoughts on dating in the climbing gym...

February is the month of love and it got me thinking, is a rock-climbing gym really the best place to attract a partner? I have spent almost every day of my life in a climbing gym for the past five years and it’s impossible not to observe the various mating rituals unfolding before me. 

Not surprisingly, there is some science to it. Does fear, sweat, teamwork and trust play a part in any of your climbing sessions? These are not only principal elements of climbing, they also prove to be powerful aphrodisiacs.

“I was terrified, but their big, strong hands caught me so I didn’t hurt myself on the way down… I think I’m in love…” – a rather cringy rendition of my adolescent thoughts during our high school climbing sessions. On top of fear warping perceptions of things, during an intense exercise session, men release a natural musk in their sweat which can aid in attracting a partner.

With the science behind it yet, ironically, all logic thrown out the window, I have been witness to plenty of displays of affection in the gym. Some lead to good things, others spark misunderstandings that have sometimes resulted in disappointment and broken friendships.

Let’s take a look at a few different approaches to finding a partner in the climbing gym and how to mitigate misunderstandings…

The Mating Rituals

An Organised Date

This is probably the safest approach to dating in a climbing gym. If two parties have agreed to go on a date there can be an assumption that there is some interest from both sides.

Usually, when I have seen these types of groups, both are newish climbers so it’s two people on the same playing field, which makes for a fun first date. The other category of climbing date I’ve seen is a seasoned climber showing their potential partner the ropes, so to speak. This can be really fun for both parties if you are able to leave your ego behind, but problems can arise if you are trying too hard to flaunt your strength and impress your date.

The Beta Icebreaker

Giving beta to those around you is a collaborative, community-minded thing to do. While offering beta may be a great way to engage with your crush, remember to keep in mind that acceptance of beta does not translate to acceptance of an advance. Beta also needs to be consensual, no one wants beta to be forced upon them! Ask if you can offer some beta before blurting it out at them. If it’s a no, try not to be too dejected – even though it can be disappointing, sometimes people are training or climbing to blow off steam or just want to work it out on their own. Your defining moment is that you were confident enough to try. If it’s a yes, you may have some more work to do, but you have taken your first steps!

The cool thing about the beta icebreaker is that it works both ways – you can give beta, but you can also ask for beta. Asking for advice may make you feel vulnerable, but it says a lot of good things about you if you are willing to ask for and accept help.

Sharing Gear 

Get a hold of these nuts!

Whether it’s letting someone use your brush in the bouldering section or lending a harness and belay to someone keen to try sport climbing, offering to share your gear is a great way to connect with potential partners.

Many symbiotic relationships form in this way: “I have a belay device, you have a rope”, or even “I’ll bring the gear and you bring the snacks” – everyone is happy!

Planning a Crag Day

Maybe you’re a seasoned climber and your crush has never been outdoor climbing or vice versa. A crag day is a great way to connect and climb in a beautiful (maybe even romantic?) setting

For safety reasons, I suggest going out with a bigger group – no one wants to get stuck on a mountain with someone who oversold their abilities (talk about a mood killer). Even if a flawless human stands before you, it is your prerogative to know if they can keep you safe. For example, if they want to take you sport climbing outdoors you should check that they know the details of the crag and how to lead belay and clean routes.

For bouldering, you should check if they know how to spot and if there will be enough boulder pads to fall safely. In either setting, it is non-negotiable that all the relevant emergency numbers must be saved before going out.

Difficulties of Dating in a Climbing Gym

After reading some of the above you might realise, “Hey, I’ve done these exact things with my friends.. with whom I have no interest in pursuing a romantic relationship…”

This is where the problems and misunderstandings come in.

For example, people are often quite taken aback when I insist that they need to come outdoor climbing with me. I come on quite strong, with a sparkle in my eyes that may be perceived as an advance. The truth is, I am not hitting on them… I just want to get them outside because it’s the best! “But of all the climbers in this gym they chose me”… try not to read too deeply into something that might just be a platonic invitation. Climbing is super sociable and a lot of people just really like heading outdoors with new adventure buddies .

With some obvious problems identified, how on earth does one navigate through potential land mines?

The easiest way to figure out what is going on, is to be straightforward and assume nothing. If you are not sure, then ask. Be as clear and blunt as shouting ‘take’ when you’re about to fall. When you shout ‘take’ there is no confusion about what you want your belay partner to do, so why not apply this to dating? “I like you”, “I would like to date you”, “Do you want to go out on a date with me?” – just come out and say it before you overthink things!

However, before proceeding with this tactic, you need to be prepared for the vast changes it could cause in your relationship.

“Sorry, I just want to be belay buddies…”

Will a “No, I don’t want to date you” put an end to your friendship (and climbing partnership)? Will you be able to maintain the friendship without hoping the other person will eventually change their mind? How would you deal with them dating someone else? These are things that need to be thought about long and hard before pursuing someone – no means no, and you will need to respect their decision.

“You caught me falling for you!”

We all want a yes, but getting romantically involved with your climbing partner might negatively affect the dynamics of your belaytionship. A partner who never had a problem telling you to toughen up and push through a move may become softer so as to not upset you. Perish the thought you actually get into a fight out at the crag or on the mountain. No one wants a couple arguing on either side of a rope while other people quietly slip off ledges to escape the awkwardness of the situation (Please! This a request from all crag dwellers). There also seems to be a strange idea that once you are dating someone, you can only be belayed (or climb with)that one person… this is not a rule, not now, not ever! However you look at it, things will change whether you want them to or not; therefore, weighing out the consequences is key.

The Bottom Line

Even with the above in mind, I absolutely understand the appeal of finding someone who loves climbing as much as you do. What’s better than doing your favourite thing the all day? Doing your favourite thing with your favourite person all day. I personally managed to convert my human to climbing (he had a nasty habit for cricket and has the trail running bug, but climbing with all its allure and high adrenaline convinced him without much fuss… but that is a blog for a different day).

I will leave you with some of my sentiments. I used to climb with a bunch of guys every weekend when I was in school, all of them leaving wives and girlfriends at home. This dynamic worked for them because climbing was their time to spend with friends. You can have a successful relationship with a non-climber. That being said, the gym is an excellent way to meet new people in a relatively relaxed environment. Just remember that if you do date someone from the gym and it goes south, you’re very likely to see that person again. The question is how well you can deal with rejection or bad break-ups. If you are a renowned drama llama, maybe keep the climbing gym as your happy space and look for love elsewhere!

On further reading, I’ve found that a gym overseas has designed a rock climbing dating app. Do we have any opinions on this? It would certainly limit confusing interactions in the gym… I would have to ask though, isn’t the mating dance half the fun?


Jasmin Pillai has been climbing for 17 years; when she was younger she was heavily into competition climbing. She now route-sets and coaches at various gyms in South Africa.

Her latest endeavor is finding the best pairing when it comes to climbing, wining and dining in a day. 

Follow her adventures at Climb · Wine · Dine

Jasmin Pillai
Jasmin Pillai