Apparently in the UK there is a dating service that matches people up based on what they buy at the grocery store. I think that would do well in San Francisco too -- so that all the people who orgasm over cheese or bubble over at Kombucha could get together.
But there already is another dating service in this city. It's called the climbing gym. Yes, that is why climbing has gotten so popular as of late. It's not because it's an adrenaline kick or an awesome full-body workout. Climbing gyms are a great place to go on dates and to meet people.
I didn't realize this at first. I had just returned from two years of living in Asia. I'd spent the last month of my travels climbing in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and so I wanted to continue to practice the sport back in San Francisco. I found out one of my friends from high school climbs all the time with her husband at Mission Cliffs, so I decided to join them one evening. Turns out they were part of a group of three couples. Having come alone, I was the seventh wheel. The odd-woman out.
Climbing, or at least top-roping, is an activity for couples at its essence. You need two people. One to climb and the other to belay.
A climber who works at Lombardi's on Polk Street said he stopped climbing when his partner's gym membership expired. "I didn't have anyone to climb with," he says. Now he has started to climb again, but he's limited to the bouldering areas where people climb without ropes, and hence, without the need for partners.
Sometimes when people show up at Mission Cliffs, the climbing gym on Harrison, without a partner, the employees at the gym will announce over the P.A. system that someone is looking for a partner to belay.
This is like putting yourself in a live date auction. Other climbers swerve their necks and check out the single climber standing by the front desk. I'd like to try this sometime and see who I get paired off with, although it sort of reminds me of the daring, if awkward, kids in high school who would stand on a table in the lunch room and announce, "I'm looking for a date to prom. Who wants to go with me?"
Planet Granite, a climbing gym in the Presidio that opened in 2008, has a "Singles and Swingers" night on the second Thursday of each month. It's a singles night for the unattached and an opportunity to meet new climbing partners. There is also climbfind.com, described to me as a "Facebook just for climbers," but I think it is more like match.com for climbers.
"Climbing gyms are a great spot for first dates," says an employee at Planet Granite. "It's best when neither person has climbed before and so the couple can take lessons together and learn together." Barf, that's romantic. I just wanted to find a partner to climb with.
But it appears that looking for a climbing partner has inextricable romantic connotations. "I wanted to practice my Spanish so I put an ad for a coffee date partner on Craigslist," says a young professional who now climbs with her boyfriend. "People would respond to my ad and ask for my stats. It's the same thing with climbing."
The good thing about indoor climbing gyms is that each person can climb at their own level so nobody is held back by an inexperienced partner, as long as you trust your partner on belay.
And there is something undeniably sexy about climbing with a partner (unless the partner is truly just a friend and then it is just undeniably fun): You are physically connected by a rope; both individuals have to be fully present and in the moment the whole time; climbing is sweaty, exhilarating, and exhausting; and sometimes when you switch from belaying to climbing you might save time by taking the ATC and carabiner off of the crotch area on your harness and clip it directly to your partner's crotch area...
So it makes sense that climbing leads to hooking up. And that couples who climb together stay together. People even get engaged at the climbing gym. An employee at Planet Granite says that it's pretty common for people to hide a ring up on the wall for their partner to find.
But what about when climbing partners break up? After a hook-up went awry, one friend no longer wanted to climb on certain nights because she knew "he" would be there.
"I hate when people hook up and then ruin things for everyone. I liked climbing with both of them," says a third party who was upset to hear about the break-up.
So lessons learned. Be careful who you choose to climb with.