Is a crippling fear of the woods really a dealbreaker?

I have a confession to make; I don’t LOVE the outdoors. More specifically, I’m terrified of the woods. At first glance that might seem like a huge NBD, but I’ve found that it’s quite a big deal, especially to men. More specifically to the men I love/have loved in the past. For some it’s even been a dealbreaker which hurts me more than I can really put into words. But I’ll try.

While people close to me know this about me and can laugh it off, I recently had an interraction with one of my best friends (who is male, whom I love) over this subject that didn’t end well. So, it inspired me to own this dirty little secret, this shame I carry about never wanting to go hiking or camping with you, any of you, and here’s why…

For most the woods, the outdoors, the vast grandeur and splendor of nature and all its offerings are a miracle. For me the woods are just a dense dumping ground for human remains. Remains of women who have been tortured, raped, mutilated, dismemebered and discarded. Why, do I make that association? Why does my heart race, my stomach turn to knots, and my chest feel like it’s caving in, in certain parts of the woods? Why can’t I get past it? I DON’T KNOW. My family and friends don’t know. Even my therapist doesn’t know despite me begging her to figure it out so that I can some day be loved. After trying to get to the bottom of it, we were left with “perhaps it was a trauma of a past life.” Which is plausible if you believe in such things but doesn’t much help me out in THIS life.

I get that the association sounds absurd, especially to people who love going hiking and being outdoors surrounded by trees, and babbling brooks, clean mountain air and the flora and fauna of the wilderness. But for me, that’s a hellscape, filled with vile insects, reclusive inbred murderers, and a crippling quiet that can muffle the most bloodcurdling screams. And the thing is, I don’t need you to understand where I’m coming from, or relate to my very real fears, but I do need you to GET OFF MY ASS ABOUT IT.

Just because you love something, and you want to share it with others, doesn’t make it ok to constantly try and convince someone that it’s “fun!,” or “safe,” or “beautiful!” when they don’t feel that way. That’s the thing about feelings, sometimes they’re off, sometimes they’re not in tandem with the way the rest of society feels, sometimes they’re your own feelings and whether they make sense or not they just ARE. Remember the girl on Maury that was afraid of pickles? I do. And while I may think that it’s totally insane to be afraid of a delicious dill treat, I wouldn’t try and convince that girl over and over again that if the pickle was sliced THIS way maybe she’d enjoy it? I wouldn’t plan a trip to a pickle factory and assure her that it was safe and she’d have a good time simply because I loved pickles so much. When you do that you’re being selfish. Get it?

And guess what guys? My life is A-OK without the woods. Trust me! I’m GOOD. I have plenty of other things that I can do and enjoy with the very best of them. And it’s not ALL outdoors I detest. I’m good with the beach. I’ve been in the rainforest and that wasn’t traumatic. Nature reserves that are in clearings are OK. And even the desert is totes fine. However, the woods are my no-no place. And the truth is, every time I’ve tried to get over this fear and push myself it has been for the sake of a guy. To make THEM happy.

The first time was a 10-day camping trip with my first love. He had gone every summer to his friend’s dilapidated shack in the middle of the woods with his friends and this one year I was invited. Blinded by love, I went. Aside from the “roughing it” aspect (the bathroom was a shovel with TP on it…)that wasn’t my favorite, the staying awake all night scared to death while my boyfriend slept peacefully and soundly was actually the worst. Shadows outside the tent that I couldn’t explain, the crackling of leaves that sounded like footsteps, the creepy van in the woods we found on a hike, the bridge that collapsed and we had to rebuild. All things that made the dudes I was with feel ALIVE, made me feel like DEATH was imminent. Add to that the one night the girlfriends were left in the shack while the guys went to look for one of the friends who went missing during his hike (he was fine and showed up the next day) and my fear went from manageable to unbearable, BUT I STAYED. While I made it clear I wasn’t comfortable staying much longer, my complaints were chalked up to me being high maintenance and ridiculous and we stayed. Until the 8th day when I faked my period, said we’d be a target for bears, and then finally my boyfriend at the time conceded to leave 2 days early.

Then I saw The Blair Witch Project and this just exacerbated my fear exponentially. Forever.

The second time, my fear of the woods became an issue, was when I dated a guy from Portland OR who LOVED the outdoors. How I wanted to be the kind of girl that loved them too. I remember arriving in Maine for a trip to visit his sister for Labor Day. When we arrived it was in the very early morning and we were staying in a group of cabins that his in-laws owned that were in a clearing but surrounded by wilderness no more than half a mile in the distance. He stood outside marvelling at the stars and the thicket of trees in the near distance breathing in the fresh air and the quiet of the night. I, however was focused on the darkness and the slightly ominous fog rolling in, as tears streamed down my face, I was so scared. I remember hoping he didn’t see how upset I was, masking this hideous FLAW of mine with the pitch black that surrounded us. And yet, I was so crazy in love with this guy that, in spite of my fears, I did a ton of research to find a glamping-type situation that I thought I could MAYBE handle in order to surprise him for his birthday. I was in the process of making the arrangements when he broke up with me, citing he just “didn’t see a future with me” and part of me will always wonder if that’s because I just wasn’t able to love the outdoors the way he did.

The third time, I started dating a co-worker who lived upstate. His huge 3.5 bedroom house (also not a fan of bi-level homes especially with a lot of bedrooms) was nestled in acres of woods. Was this a joke?! Naively, I overlooked this glaring issue because he was a nice guy. He listened to me and seemed to care about my hang ups, he heard me mention the aforementioned stories of love lost due to my fears and he was shocked that that could happen to me, how silly those guys were to care. MMMHMMM. And while he and I had other things in common—we both loved movies from the 80’s, the same kind of music, record shopping, etc—his true and only real passion was for the outdoors. And so off I went on a couple of hikes, and I was able to manage my fear for the most part during those hikes as I was determined to “not fuck it up this time.” But, one time when we were at a winery, he insisted on going on a mini hike by the marshlands. We’d had about a bottle of wine each at this point and I went along. I was doing ok until we reached an opening in the woods that made me stop in my tracks. I felt like someone had punched me in the chest and I immediately started sobbing with fear. Out of nowhere. Without explanation. He just stood there, unsure of what to do for me, in silence. That day we had our first big fight and I think that was the beginning of the end. Ultimately, he too couldn’t figure out how to be with a girl that couldn’t love the woods.

And now the most recent time, I was making plans with my male friend and a girlfriend to go apple picking, and possibly to a vineyard next weekend, when he threw in the idea of going to hike the Lemon Squeeze, which aside from being in the woods, is also a hike I’ve heard has a lot of climbing and isn’t that easy. So, of course I wasn’t jazzed to add that to the itinerary, but I made light of it and said “no thanks but count me in for the other stuff” and he just kept on going and going about how beautiful it was, and how he had full confidence that I could do it because “it’s right by a resort.” Mind you, this person is VERY aware of my fear and all the stories of love lost due to it. And yet, he wouldn’t let it go, trying every which way to get me to try this hike. And I kept trying to convince myself that I COULD DO IT. But, I’ve been down this road before and it always leads to the same moment of crippling fear and tears and embarrasment. With every tactic of his to get me to consider it, to say “yes!” I could feel myself get smaller and smaller and ultimately, sad. Now, I had to tell this friend, who I love so dearly, that even though I want to share everything in the world with him, I can’t share this. Once again being put in the position to have to justify my fear and try to get someone who thinks the outdoors is a sanctuary to understand where I’m coming from. It didn’t go well. And I left the conversation and the bar, angry, annoyed, frustrated, and most of all hurt.

So, here’s the thing, I may not be able to hike up the Lemon Squeeze with you, but I’ll be there for you if you get sick, or hurt your back and need me to drag you to the bathroom and feed you peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the floor.

I may not be able to wake up at the foot of a lake with you to watch the sun rise, but I can bring you up when you feel you’re at your lowest. Make you laugh til you cry, and watch the sun rise in Central Park or Prague or out of your bedroom window.

I may not be able to see the top of Kiliminjaro with you but I can see the top of the Empire State building, the Eiffel Tower, Burj Khalifa or a rooftop in Bushwick.

I may not love the Muir Woods, but I could love YOU, deeply, passionately, and without fear.

And while I may not be able to go hiking or camping with you, I would never begrudge you doing those things without me if that’s what makes you happy, because I know we can do a million OTHER things, together.

In the end, I’m just a girl (who fears the woods) standing in front of, all the “outdoorsy” boys in the world (because I haven’t met a single guy who doesn’t love the outdoors, yet) asking them to take a chance on her anyway. Or don’t.


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