Dear Wanda and Wayne,
It's summer in Alaska and, once again, I'm trying to get my girlfriend to go camping with me. We have completely different ideas of the camping experience. To me, camping involves hiking for a long day, setting up a tent as far from civilization as possible, making food, having chats and sleeping in quiet calm of the outdoors. To her, camping is finding a campground within cell reception among dozens of other "campers" (many of them her friends), setting up a tent as close to the truck as possible, bringing an iPhone speaker so we can listen to music all day and hopping in the truck, folding down the seats and sleeping in there at the slightest indication of wind, rain, snow or wildlife. In our almost three years together, she's gone out camping with me twice, both in our first summer together. I am so annoyed by busy campgrounds - people and their kids and dogs make noise and move around at all hours. And while I go so we can spend time together and even hike from the campground during the day, I refuse to submit to being a full-time campground camper at this point - I'll do that when I'm 65 and own an RV. So I often spend a weekend a month camping by myself or with a buddy. Fun, but not the same. I think the highlight of camping is getting away from it all, but she says the big problem is that she's afraid of bears. I totally understand, so to alleviate her fears, I've bought us each bear mace, bells for our packs and dogs and bear-proof food containers. Still, she has refused to even give it a try this summer. Instead, we've already spent Memorial Day weekend at a loud and crowded campground a stone's throw from town - at one point, she drove to grab coffee and potato chips.
I feel like I've bent like a tent pole to be a willing camping partner for her, but I don't know when or if she'll even join me in the wild again. What can I do or say to get some balance here and get my girlfriend camping with me?
-- Pitching a Fit, Not a Tent
Wayne says: Don't fold up the tents on your love life and wildlife dreams, my friend. There is hope, but there are also some steps to follow.
First, remind your girlfriend of a little relationship foundation called compromise. You have made many concessions for her camping comforts and she hasn't returned the courtesy. On principle alone, she owes you at least one trip into the woods for the Memorial Day weekend nightmare.
Two, you've made concessions to keep her safe and sane. Now, how about picking a spot that's a little closer to civilization instead of making her hike to the ends of the world? And make sure to set up the tent above the tree-line, in an area where you can see for miles in every direction. "See, baby? No bears anywhere!"
Three, let her know that there's a lot of bonding and fun to be had inside a tent in the middle of nowhere. Like, lots and lots of bonding and fun, and I'm not talking travel Scrabble.
And finally, as for her bear debate, let her know that you're practically as likely to encounter bears in a busy campground as you are in the wild. With adults and kids and dogs leaving smelly food and drinks sitting around all weekend (including overnight, when they're passed out in their tents and RVs), bears often can't help themselves but to follow their noses into quiet campgrounds at night to take a closer sniff or bite.
So, those are the bare facts. And if they don't work, promise her a foot massage for packing in her bag while wearing those bulky hiking boots. That oughta do it.
Wanda says: Let me give you some girl perspective on the idyllic experience you're describing. You say "hiking all day," women hear "sore feet," and know your version of a foot rub (three minutes and done) won't do much to help. You describe "fun" in the tent, and we wonder, um, is there a shower nearby for when the "fun" is over? Because fun can be kind of messy. Oh, and speaking of showers ... bathrooms? Anywhere? Because what if it's that time of the month?
Not to mention this notion of total isolation conjures up just about every memory of scary slasher flicks from childhood slumber parties. The "quiet calm" you describe is synonymous with a creepy serial killer lying in wait. And, oh yes, bears. Every crunching branch and rustle of leaves could be a scary man-eating bear headed our way. What good are your bells now? And I can't even calm myself with a gulp of wine because wine is too darn heavy to carry when you're backpacking "all day." Ugh.
Compromise is a beautiful thing, so in this case I offer these three magical words: public-use cabins. Alaska is full of delightful, rustic, minimalist cabins that can be yours for a small fee, as long as you're organized and aggressive enough to reserve them in time. You still get your day-long manly trek, your isolation and your quiet and she gets a roof over her head and a door to keep the grizzlies out. Everybody wins, gets a good night's sleep and is a happy camper.
• Wanda is a wise person who has loved, lost and been to therapy. Wayne is a wise guy who has no use for therapy. Send them your questions and thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.