Saturday, January 28, 2012

The 'Psychic Spouse' Fallacy

Charles River Ride, Late Autumn
Talking to people who cycle with their spouse, I consistently discover for how many couples this does not really work. Despite both partners being into cycling, they just can't ride with each other - to the point than they each go off with separate cycling clubs or riding partners. After nearly three years of cycling together, I have to say that the Co-Habitant and I are sort of in that category. We do ride together, and it can be nice. But we seem to have such different approaches and styles, that it can get overwhelming. When two people are compatible as romantic partners, how can it be difficult to ride together?

A fellow cyclist recently voiced a theory that I think may hit the mark. Romantic partners - and particularly those who have been together for a long time - tend to function on the assumption that their spouse is at least somewhat "psychic" when it comes to gauging their intentions and needs. This comes from living together long enough to understand each other without having to explicitly spell everything out. And it then gets falsely transferred to cycling. Whereas with a stranger, we would never assume that they can anticipate a maneuver which we do not signal, or will experience energy bursts at the same time as us, or will know which way to go at an intersection if the route is new to them, with a spouse we sometimes do erroneously assume exactly that, without even realising it. The spouse is sort of like an extension of ourselves, and therefore is expected to "just know" these things... But of course they can't possibly know things like when you intend to turn left, or stop for water, or whether you prefer to weave through traffic vs wait it out, or whether you feel up to climbing that next hill. Is it possible to treat your spouse as you would a stranger when you ride together, without assumptions about them intuitively understanding you? I don't know, but it's an interesting idea. At least it might help to keep in mind that your spouse is not actually psychic.

40 comments:

  1. Well, our solution was to get a tandem. Works great if you have a good relationship -- eliminates the frustration of different speeds/skills/etc. -- as long as both a open to communicating. Last year my wife and I put about 2000 miles on our tandem. Try it on a longer ride (not a vacation special as you've done) -- AFTER getting a proper introduction from someone with experience.

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  2. haha. this is your most incisive post in quite a while. too true.

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  3. There is the old adage that opposites attract when it comes to relationships. I’m not sure if that is true, but we may be attracted to people that add something to our lives by balancing out our traits or idiosyncrasies. For example, maybe one is calm and clear-headed while their significant other has a high level of energy. However, when it comes to riding we don’t need to ride with someone else who is really good in the hills, where we struggle to get to the top. That seems annoying, not fulfilling. I don’t know that this is an explanation, just a thought…

    Mike M.

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  4. I always tell Don he cycles like an only child. It's better now than it used to be, but when we first started riding together he would always lead and NEVER signal. Particularly vexing when he is privy to all these short cuts and secret routes through alleys, which lead to him darting left and right with me totally missing the turns.

    Another nit-picky thing I hate about the way he rides is Don has this habit of never wanting to actually stop moving. So if we're waiting for a red, I'll just deploy the tripod and wait for the light to turn green. If there is enjoy space, Don will do the "fixie" thing and sort of hop around or cycle in a little circle so he doesn't actually have to get off the bike. It makes me want to shoot him because I don't know if he wants us to get out of traffic and go into the multi-use or... what.

    And finally, he rides faster and stronger than I do. I don't really view cycling as a test of my cardiovascular prowess. I just sort of go with the flow. Don seems to feel the need to push himself to his limits whenever he is riding. Once, in Brooklyn, he was in the lead and ran 5 amber lights (which mean I sat at 5 consecutive red lights). He never even bothered to look back to see if I made it or where I was, until we had completely lost one another.

    NOT COOL.

    So I'm not sure if it's partners only. Maybe some people are just crappy at riding with others in general. In these cases, I think such absent-minded cyclists should not be allowed to lead at all. *shakes fist*

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  5. Oh, I think it goes way beyond making assumptions and taking things for granted. I think with couples, power dynamics also play a part. Both partners may vie for control over decisions such as where and how to stop, pace, safety protocol, how to deal with traffic, etc. What I found from cycling with Mrs. S is that one of us has to lead, the other follow, with little negotiation in between.

    Interestingly, I've found that it works best when I'm the follower and I let Mrs. S lead. It frustrates me sometimes (I might want to say "Honey, you didn't have to stop back there, you had the right of way!!"), but if I lead and Mrs. S follows, the ride will almost invariably end in an argument. So I just stay in back now and try to bite my lip.

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  6. Plus one for the tandem, but only if it suits you. My wife and I love it, my friends put up with it mainly to tandem with us, my Mum and Dad never really got on with theirs and we sold it last year.

    http://sandsmachine.com/a_swa_t1.htm

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  7. Peppy (the rowdy kittens bite you now)January 28, 2012 at 2:49 PM

    Yeah it's like herding cats.

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  8. Bwahhahahaha.... if Rein pulls ahead too far, I just start cussing under my breath and push myself harder. He's a good motivation!

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  9. That' so funny! My husband always says "I can't read your mind!" although I expect him to.... It happens all the time when we bike together. I will make a turn and choose a route that he didn't know about(even though there are limited options on routes with our roads) or he will just cross the highway without saying a word when I feel it is unsafe to. And visa versa. Sometimes I'm left wondering where we are going, why he is going that boring way etc.. He also is not scared of hills and rides fast, so often I am way way behind. And sometimes I will be the quick one, making leap lane changes and turns that he didn't expect...and then I am left waiting. And it can lead to silly arguments.
    I have experience biking in cities whereas he has been living in the country so long he has forgotten those skills. So I will sometimes just go for it whereas he hesitates. Normally I am the hesitant one.
    In the past he has always had time to go for rides on his own, at his own speed demon pace, but long hours at work have curtailed that. It must be frustrating for him.

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  10. Interesting topic.

    A tandem can indeed align dissimilar riding speeds, but requires A LOT of trust, compromise and partnering. When that's all there, sharing a tandem with one's partner can be pure magic.

    But to your point, if two people can overcome the natural human tendency to become complacent in a long-term romance, and can continue to be sensitive and considerate (as most of us were when we met), good will and cooperation on and off the bike isn't so hard, yes?

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  11. My wife and I don't ride together too often (she doesn't ride as much as I do). I learned long ago that when we ride together we either ride side by side or I let her lead. If I go in front I'll realize too late that I've left her far behind. If I am behind and lag I can always catch up easily....

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    1. That's not the issue with us oddly enough. It's more like an inability to coordinate/communicate well while on the bikes. Last time we went on a long ride together, we approached an intersection side by side and went in different directions! I thought we were on the same page re the route, but we definitely were not! Even funnier is that it took me a bit to realise that we were no longer cycling together! I ended up turning around and going after him in the other direction and eventually caught up!

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  12. Tandem! My wife chose one instead of an eternity ring for our tenth anniversary. Literally hundreds of thousands of miles later and approaching our 30th anniversary, we have three tandems and will be on tour over the anniversary again. Communication is essential, a tandem is a bad place for an argument!

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  13. That is a very interesting theory.

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  14. Hell, I've never been able to ride with anyone - friend or stranger.

    Probably not unrelated to the fact I am still so very single well past 30.

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    1. That's the spirit!

      I though that I was unable to ride with anyone, then suddenly that changed. No idea why.

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  15. Shawn and I do fairly well, especially when touring. I let him do all the routing because he's good at it and I have no sense of direction anyway. He often lets me ride ahead and set the pace. We both like to break fairly often, and we both tend to be generous and patient when the other person asks to stop, even if it's just to have a short snack while standing up.

    We tend to be good about going up hills and down hills on our own pace and then occasionally stopping to wait up. This is especially important going downhill, as I am a fraidy-cat and take much longer.

    Throw in a bad headwind, though, and oy. Shawn is stronger than I am, and so he'll lead, and I'll ride right behind him. But he wants to go faster than I do, and I won't be able to keep up, and the next thing you know I've lost his wind shelter and I've *really* fallen behind. So I end up bitching at him to slow down, and he gets cranky and tells me to hurry up. Whenever possible, days with headwinds get cut shorter.

    In town at home the routing can become controversial. If Shawn shows me one way to get somewhere, I tend to just take that way forever after. But he likes to mix it up, and so he'll end up turning without saying anything to me, because his route has changed, and then I'll get frustrated.

    I really don't think we'd do that well on a tandem. I like having the ability to decide my cadence, things like that. Plus, as I mentioned, he goes downhill faster than I do. I'd be terrified!

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  16. tandem works for us too. Used to get fed up with each other cycling up hill at different pace etc. Now tandem and triplet with my daughters - they love it, but don't want the commentary (I'm changing gear, I'm about to freewheel, braking now etc) that is necessary with an adult.

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  17. Velouria -
    Add a third vote for you and the C-H trying a tandem. The tandem partners really need to work together, not only at the start (which is a bit tricky) but every time there is a need to shift gears, coast or go over bumps that are hidden to the stoker in the back. If you like it, and get good at it, the upside is that you can go faster than anyone else.

    Affordable Luxury

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  18. Riding together. Hm. Often like what somervillain describes. Tread carefully, and be flexible in what constitutes victory conditions.

    I've spent two days in a tandem kayak with my
    favorite person in one of the most beautiful places on Earth to paddle, and by the end of it we knew why experienced kayakers call them "divorce boats."

    Tandems would seem to be about the same thing.

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  19. Tandem you say?
    Here is some "vintage" Lovely Bicycle : ))

    I wouldn't mind riding tandem on a roadbike once in a while. But then we would need yet another bike...

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  20. Like all things cycling, you work it out on the road.

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  21. Tandem? That's like putting a pool table in a bar...instant fight starter. My wife and I tried the tandem thing, and she quickly went back to flinging her kettle bell around. I got back to riding solo or with my buddies.

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  22. "Here is some "vintage" Lovely Bicycle : ))"

    I forgot about your tandem rental- that seems a long time ago.

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  23. I don't believe that psychic babble at all. If you've ridden with your spouse from the get go you should know each others' riding styles and compensate accordingly. Case in point, my husband and I have ridden and toured for 30 years. We still love to pedal even for an hour together and treat that as a date now that we have two children. He's always been faster and slows to my pace without complaint, just like in a marriage where there must be compromise. More recently we toured in
    Canada, me on my old Miyata touring bike while he used a mountain bike with fatter tires. We've never had that ego thing nor competitiveness going on. If anything, our riding together brings us closer.

    Shame on some of you! All it takes is communication or a tandem, if that's your thing.

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    1. Your experience is awesome. But you can't assume that just because something works for you it can work for everyone. I recommend watching the War of the Roses movie and imagining them on a tandem!

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  24. Sorry, the REPLY button isn't working.

    Yes, that movie is a stitch. And no, I can't imagine cycling with that type of partner. They did divorce if I remember correctly. Thanks for the laugh.

    It all boils down to, how bad do you want to cycle with your spouse? And what does this mean, either way, to your relationship?

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  25. Psychic? You mean my spouse can't read my mind!?!? Years ago I had a friend who said he would reject any prospective girlfriend who couldn't share riding with him. And that meant she had to keep up. So I wound up riding with her more than he did - further back in the group. By contrast, I have always held that couples have other things together besides cycling.

    My partner of 23 years and I have rarely ridden together. Cycling is much more my hobby/avocation/obsession.

    Tandems. Tried it for a few years but ultimately wound up "raising my stoker", the son who started out in a bike trailer behind the tandem or one of my stouter solo bikes. Same goes for tandem vs. solo canoes/kayaks in my experience.

    One very true thing you learned from your brief rental experience of tandeming - it's fast! Same is true of tandem canoe vs. solo.

    As you will probably know from your group ride experinces, a sensitive ride leader can keep a group together. They mind how the other riders are doing. And if it is a dedicated peleton drafting, the followers have a duty to let the leader know if they are having trouble holding the pace BEFORE they fall out of the slipstream and let a gap open.

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  26. We do a lot of tandem randonneuring taken both the good and bad experiences as a part of life: a relationship is about that in our opinion!

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  27. Our best strategy is to put the slower person first, which usually has to do with who is on the more heavily loaded bike (someone's bike almost always has kids on it), not drastically mis-matched strength.

    Our biggest frustration seems to come from both being chatterboxes. I find communication difficult when we're on separate bikes, though we do pretty well for basic "I'm stopping at this light" or "you take the lead here" type communication. What causes problems is when one of us thinks some random thought and starts to talk without thinking, and the other can't hear, and we devolve into yelling back and forth "What?!!" "Nevermind!!" "What???" "Nevermind!!!"

    Once we figured out how to ride it, the tandem solved this, though I know not every relationship is suited to a tandem (I was not nearly communicative or nice enough at first when riding captain, but we got it right by the second or third ride). We can chat as much as we want without yelling. This bike doesn't get used often, but it makes the few rides we do have just the two of us a lot of fun.

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  28. This is one of the reasons I started commuting a number of years ago. 99 percent of my yearly cycling mileage is by way of riding too and from work. My wife and I still enjoy a bike path ride together on the occasional weekend but that's it. I would love to try a tandem with her but as of yet have not figured out a way to keep the cost of that experiment to a minimum.

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  29. Couples, if you are going to go the tandem route, please practice somewhere other riders aren't before going anywhere riders are.

    One of the more terrifying things about Chicago's (overly) popular Lake Front in the summertime are tourist with no prior experience riding a rented tandem. 300+ pounds of flesh and steel wobbling over a mixed use trail is a disaster that all too frequently happens.

    [Rant warning] The Lake Front trail is arguably one of the more beautiful urban rides in the world, but its popularity when the weather is reasonable is quickly making it one of the least pleasant.

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  30. It would seem that my wife and I can read each others minds. We ride our tandem a lot, excessively during vacations, rarely is any verbal communication necessary (that is about the riding, plenty of verbalizing happens otherwise). We do have similar riding styles, which is usually as fast as we can make the thing go. We're not racers by any means, the bike is a heavy mountain bike (we do sometimes trail ride) with suspension and fenders, often outfitted with front and rear panniers and trailer for impromptu shopping or to stop and pick up pretty rocks. (Rocks!?!) We do ride separate bikes together with good result, more often around home at slower speeds. If we want to go fast and far the tandem is it.

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  31. The beauty of adult relationships is they can be whatever those adults choose them to be, sorta like the theme of this blog. Whatever works best, and then like all dynamic things....things change. Lovely.

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  32. when we do ride together- we tend to do our own thing. He rides faster than I do and he rides more VC than I do. But I ride our neighborhood more so I tend to want to lead even though he's in front. but mostly I just ignore him and do my own thing...

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  33. ah, my relationship with silentq started with her cleverly asking me if I wanted to join her for bike mechanic classes at Bikes Not Bombs, and on the rides from the classes to one of our respective apartments, we came to appreciate that we both stop at lights, both signal turns and were generally around the same speed. Our styles changed over the years of our relationship, with me getting into more long distance stuff and road cycling, and her being perfectly happy to stick with her trusty hybrid. Not a big deal. When I started randonneuring on my own, she'd take up another hobby like parkour or rock climbing while I was away, but we still enjoyed riding together in the city. We would have some disagreements about routes to take, but usually worked out an agreement that whoever was leading would pick the route. So, yeah, unlike some other commentators, base speed of our bikes aside, our riding styles were very compatible.

    Now, cooking? That's a whole other topic. Up to the point when we broke up, we realized that it was better for all involved that we take separate turns making our breakfast and staying the hell out of each other's way whenever one of us was up to something in the kithcen.

    Romantic partners are -partners- not clones.

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  34. Unfortunately,my Wife doesn not (nor does she have any interest in) ride,so I don't get the priviledge of this malady =\

    The Disabled Cyclist

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  35. My husband and I don't get to ride together much because he works at home and I ride purely for transport these days, so my usual co-pilot is my 3 year old son.

    He doesn't hesitate to communicate pretty much constantly about how the ride is going, pointing out various potholes, especially weird street behavior, wind level etc. And of course there is also the stuff like "Mama, I'm going to hold your butt now so it's not cold."

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  36. My favourite thing about riding with my wife (only to get places in the city, not recreationally) is our system of bell echolocation. I usually open the way, and after trickier intersections, I'll ring my bell and expect her to ring back if she's made it through too. She instinctively adds a little delay if she's further behind.

    Our arguments usually come when I assert myself more aggressively on than she's comfortable with; I don't shy away from honking jerks, sometimes going to moderate confrontation, when I feel unsafe or threatened. She has a higher threshold. We just have different understandings of the notion of "staying out of trouble". That's gender roles for you.

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  37. Never ridden a tandem but I agree that the trust factor must be huge.

    I recall fixing a flat on a mountain bike excursion on Mt. Tam when a male/female tandem came flying down the steep, rutted, washed out trail that had just blown my tire. Trust... lots of it.

    My wife would probably never go for that... I'll go think about what that means about our marriage!

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