Why Couples Workouts Bring Out The Worst In Me

photographed by Caroline Tompkins.
Of all the unrealistic posts I've come across on Instagram, photos and videos of couples who enjoy working out together are the least relatable to me. You know the type of post: beautiful, super-fit people lift one another and perform stunning acrobatics on a beach with some obnoxious caption, like, "Couples who work out together, stay together." That will never be me. See, my sweet partner is wonderful in so many ways, but he is miserable to work out with.
In college, I was a dance major, and my partner was a point guard on our university's basketball team, so we each took our physical fitness pretty seriously. I told him I wanted to learn how to lift weights and improve my core strength, and he was so enchanted by me that he offered to teach me a few workouts, solely so we could hang out. Just kidding! I asked him to show me and he obliged. Cute, right?
It wasn't cute. How do I say this — I, um, have issues with authority and hate it when anyone tells me what to do, but particularly in a workout setting. So, when he started coaching me through his circuit of core exercises I wanted to tell him to kindly shut up. Don't get me wrong, he fed me all the right coaching lines ("You got this!" "Push through the last rep!"), but it was somehow the opposite of motivating. I just didn't care about the workout enough to want to push as hard as he was asking me to, and it felt like a chore instead of an experience we could enjoy together. I left the gym feeling down and incredibly over it, and he could tell I wasn't having it. We silently, mutually agreed not to go on any more gym dates.
I know that this is not the norm, and lots of people love to work out with their partners. Studies have shown that people tend to work out harder and longer when they have a buddy. There are also studies that suggest that couples feel more satisfied with their relationships and more in love with their partner when they work out together. But everyone is different, which means that every relationship is different.
For me, working out with a romantic partner can make me feel competitive and insecure about my abilities — and those are two feelings that are generally unwelcome in relationships. Not to mention, in a workout setting when your head might already be teeming with negative self-talk, feeling like you're somehow inadequate next to your partner can make it worse. And your relationship and your workout shouldn't make you feel bad, ever.
But I was still kind of curious whether we'd ever become workout buddies. After college, both of our relationships to fitness changed drastically. On a whim, we decided to sign up for a 10-K running race, to give us something new to work towards. We had no clue what we were doing, didn't care about our speed, and just wanted to finish. The stakes could not have been lower, and that's what made it finally fun. Maybe we both cared too much about fitness in college, and that made a simple workout seem more important than it actually was. We were so used to working out for the sole purpose of conditioning, that it felt like the other person was just getting in the way of the task at hand. But after college, working out became more of a way to spend time together.
These days, my partner and I find ways to be active together that don't involve set workouts, because we do find it relaxing to some extent. Walking our dog Mookie is one of our favorite activities, and we also take hiking trips to Colorado every few years. We also go to the gym at the same time and do completely different routines. And we like keeping each other accountable on our own individual workout routines — but not in an annoying way. For example, he always texts me asking me if I had a good workout in the morning, and we'll compare notes about what we did at the gym to get ideas. Workouts are meditative for me, and I actually like being alone with my thoughts, and not having to deal with people.
Feel free to @ me if you and your bae love to work out together. I'm sure it's great! But there are other healthy, shared experiences that you may get more out of together, like cooking or meditating. The bottom line that you should remember: Your romantic partner doesn't have to be your workout partner. Because couples who don't work out together probably stay together, too.