Two weeks ago I celebrated my one year anniversary with my boyfriend Scott. This may not seem like news of note, but as a 26 year old in Mammoth, the longevity of my relationship is considered something of a feat. I’ve lived on and off in Mammoth for the last 3 years, and though I’ve had several meaningful relationships in that time, none has made it to a year. This has been for many reasons, one of them being that like so many young people in town, I was always leaving.
The constant leave-taking is just one of many challenges to long-term relationships here. You also have a tiny dating pool, tides of partiers from Los Angeles and San Diego, more bars than galleries, cafes, and theatres combined, and a challenging ratio of men to women, which at times encourages women to treat men as disposable, and men to treat women with wounded disrespect.
So what allowed me to reach this one year anniversary? First, when I graduated from my masters program in New York, I came back to stay—for good, I hoped. I met Scott through friends at the beginning of my return to Mammoth (at a dinner at the Westin, where I sat next to him and noted which menu was the happy hour, and he politely told me he knew, because he was a server there). After that, I had the luxury of time to keep bumping into him, something I think is a great dating tool not easily available to big city dwellers. And, when the timing was right, I happened to see him on the street behind the post office, on my route delivering Sheet newspapers. I pulled over, he asked me to dinner, and I said yes.
I think our relationship lasted since then for a lot of reasons: we met each other at the right time; we had common interests, both athletic and nerdy; we both preferred commitment to playing the field; we had the patience to work through the challenging times to the fun times. It didn’t hurt that Scott has everything on the list most Mammoth women would love to see checked off: phone, car, house and job. But I decided to ask Scott what he thought.
My first question, in light of the many surprised congratulations I received for celebrating our anniversary, was whether he also thought Mammoth was a difficult place for a committed relationship.
S: No. I think it’s one of the easiest places to have a committed relationship, if you have the propensity to have long-term relationships.
K: Why do some think it’s a hard place to have a committed relationship?
S: Well, it used to be there were 3,000 Australian women that came into town every year.
K: So why do you think our relationship has lasted?
S: Same reason why every relationship lasts for a long time: communication. We’re very good at speaking about what we feel and what we want.
K: Was there any point where you doubted our relationship would last?
S: Perhaps there was a time or two, when I felt that I wasn’t able to communicate openly about things that were complicated to me, that felt pedantic or childish, or just embarrassing in general.
K: Do you think it would be harder to have met or maintained this relationship in a big city?
S: I think it’s harder to meet people in big cities because the chances of you meeting someone that has no interests in common is much greater. Whereas up here we’re all like-minded people, we all prefer nature, and then we know how to let loose, because, I mean, there’s only bars up here.
K: I also think it’s easier to coordinate with people, it’s easier to do group activities where you can meet new people, and then you’re going to bump into those people everywhere. I mean honestly, I think that’s how we started dating. We just kept bumping into each other.
S: Yup, exactly. 3-4 times, and then you met me on the street.
K: Picked you up on the street.
S: Like a male prostitute.
Challenges to commitment
Mammoth does present many challenges to commitment: if it’s not Australian women, it could be Los Angeles women; and, given the town’s small population, there’s always the chance that your friend has gone on a date with the same guy you end up dating (something that did happen, in my case). But Mammoth also offers unique and meaningful ways to connect, if connection for longer than a single night is what you’re looking for. The young people here may not be able to afford a romantic dinner at one of the ‘fine dining’ options in town, or go on the kinds of dates that big city dwellers commute across vast distances to achieve, but hopefully they’ll agree with me that a long day on the mountain, or an overnighter in the backcountry, can be just as good.
In spite of these boons, however, one of Mammoth’s more insidious deterrents to dating finally caught up with me. A week ago, eleven days after our anniversary, Scott changed my oil and broke up with me. He was nothing if not apologetic about his reasons for breaking up. One of the most significant reasons was that he simply couldn’t handle the complexity of emotions he experienced as a result of being in a relationship with me. As he explained it, he needed to be able to have fun with friends; to drink, go out, and play video games without feeling guilty for neglecting me.
Where did this come from? I’m still not entirely sure. Although aspects of our personalities were growing incompatible, I had felt that with our communication and our mutual commitment to each other, we could keep going for at least another few months before either of us came to a decision about our future together. Yet suddenly I found myself facing a dilemma that a dear friend of mine also recently faced: a man who preferred to have day-to-day fun with friends over working with a partner to sustain a long-term relationship. I now found the very trap I thought we had avoided was the one we’d fallen into.
Mammoth, as my friend observed to me after her breakup, can be a kind of Never Never Land. The town attracts individuals with a love of play and adventure. Why else would we choose to settle in an expensive, and at times claustrophobically small town, if not for love of all the ways we can have fun outside? That same love of fun has a drawback, however; a kind of Peter Pan mentality that seems to set in after a few years. While I think it’s important to value your passions over your day job, unless your day job is also your passion, too much of an emphasis on fun and play can tempt you into a life of eternal adolescence.
A lot of young people in Mammoth walk this fine line between living the good life and living the juvenile life. It’s hard not to slide toward the latter when you live month to month, job to job, paycheck to paycheck. Precious few of my friends have enough money to take a vacation, put a down payment on a home, or even move into an apartment of their own. Most of us are living moment to moment, embracing the present at this time in our lives when it seems like we’ll never have to grow up or face grown up responsibilities.
In some ways I can’t blame Scott for his decision. I fully acknowledge that I can be a lot of work. As an empathetic, analytical person, I tend to react with great emotional intensity and analytical afterthought to difficult or stressful events. This means that the stress lingers longer than it might for other people, something Scott found increasingly hard to cope with. I wouldn’t wish this challenging aspect of my personality on anyone, if not for the fact that it’s balanced by an ability to be extremely open, giving, and loving.
So, like my friend, I found myself surprised and deeply hurt to have a relationship to which I had given so much time and effort set aside in favor of fun with friends. What made this all so much more surreal, however, was that not one but two people close to me were broken up with in the weeks preceding. Even my friends in New York weren’t immune. It got me thinking: is there more to this than just the specifics of two people no longer finding compatibility or common ground, or the ever-present influence of Never Never Mammoth? Maybe it’s a seasonal thing; what’s more natural than evaluating your relationships, friendly or romantic, when you come to the start of a new season?
In Mammoth, this particular turn of the seasons brings a new kind of energy to town. Winter is a time for play, a time for letting loose on the slopes and in the bars. It’s a time of hard work, to be sure, but the payoff is first turns in fresh powder, and raucous weekend nights at Clocktower, Nevados, Lakanuki, and Whiskey Creek.
Top that off with the evaluation that goes into every anniversary, or birthday, or holiday, if they happen to land too close to the change of seasons, and maybe you have a recipe for disaster.
But I think it’s still more complicated than that. My friend and I noticed certain parallels in our relationships. My friend had recently told her boyfriend she wanted to go back to school to pursue a career in physical therapy. He expressed concern about the effect this would have on their relationship, particularly if she left town to go to college. I, too, had recently expressed a need for more from my time in Mammoth, and had, through a complicated turn of events, re-established my job at the Sheet, while also learning a week before that the first short story I had submitted for publication in an anthology had been accepted.
Another factor in our breakups, and we freely admit this is pure speculation, may have been our boyfriends’ sense of competitiveness or insecurity about the difference they saw in our ambition and achievements. Looking around at my other friends’ relationships in Mammoth, it seems like many of the women have, or are striving for, more secure and higher-paying jobs than their boyfriends.
Then too, whether you’re a man or a woman, there are few jobs of substance in this town to even compete for. What kind of strain must it put on a relationship when one or both partners works in a stressful (and largely thankless) service industry job? It’s no surprise to me that my friends working in retail or at restaurants have to blow off steam at the end of the day. This creates a rhythm of high pressure and excessive release that also challenges relationships.
Anyone who goes through a breakup will have a lot of theories about why the breakup happened. Some things I know because I trust Scott’s explanation, and some things I know in my gut. I learned a great deal from this relationship, and I had as many if not more good times than bad. I may have seen the end coming, although not quite so soon as it did, and I know when the sensation of having my heart slowly dragged out from between my ribs wears off, I’ll be just fine. But will I find a better match here in Mammoth? Therein lies the question. In a Never Never Land, what’s a Wendy to do?