Dating in the Gym

By Kaitlin Young

I‘ve spent the majority of my time in various gyms over the past 20 years. There wasn’t a single gym that didn’t have people dating, even if it was “prohibited”. Private relationships are far too difficult to control. We have a room full of people making positive changes, feeling good about themselves, and getting in the best shape of their lives. Sometimes they are going to be attracted to one another, and they are going to date. I am one of many offenders and it’s changed my life for the better. However, there are good reasons that a lot of gyms try to avoid their members dating, so how do we keep our romantic lives from mucking up our athletic ones?

DO Understand the Risk

Anytime we date someone, we are risking the possibility it will go bad. Statistically speaking, it’s more likely it will NOT work out than that it will become a lasting relationship. Dating at the gym is a bit like dating at work. It has the potential to be very awkward for a while if things don’t go well, or if the participating parties bring their personal feelings, disagreements, or problems into the workspace. Are you going to be able to put that aside and continue to train there if things don’t go well? Is this the sort of person who is going to respect your personal space if the romantic relationship dissolves? These are important things to consider. Sparring or rolling with your ex may be able to be mostly avoided, depending on the size of the gym, but you can’t guarantee you’ll be able to avoid them completely.

I’ve seen people kicked out of a gym because of a relationship gone wrong. This is evidence of immense immaturity on the part of those making these decisions and could have easily resulted in a lawsuit. If the person you’re dating, or not dating, drastically affects your status at a gym, it may not be where you want to spend your time in the first place.

DO Take the Hint

It should be noted that many more relationships are sought in the gym than end up taking place. Some people, for whatever reason, severely overestimate the interest of those they see as potential partners. The last thing you want to do is to make other students, or instructors, uncomfortable with unwanted advances. Simply due to the nature of contact sports, you’ll be in close physical proximity to many other people. You’ll see them weekly or even daily, so you’ll become friendly and possibly enjoy talking to one another. That does not mean they want to date you or are even slightly interested in doing so.

DON’T Back Them into a Corner

Don’t assume. Don’t demand hugs. Don’t tell them how great their ass looks in their new shorts. Don’t creepily stare at them while they train or speak to someone you view as competition for their affections. Ask if you can contact them outside of the gym, and if they say yes, then respectfully ask them out. If they refuse, just take no for an answer, regardless of the reason behind the no. Sometimes people are just trying not to hurt your feelings when they say things like, “I have a boyfriend,” or “I don’t want to date anyone at the gym,” or “It’s not a good time for me to get into a relationship right now.” Whether or not the reason is truthful, the desire to not date you surely is. Don’t let yourself become the person they need to avoid. Don’t become the reason they quit the gym. Being a pain in the ass is not going to make them more interested. In fact, triggering their feelings of disgust by constantly bothering them will guarantee that they’ll never be interested. Rejection can hurt our feelings or our ego, but that doesn’t give us license to make someone else’s training life hell.

DO Keep it Out of the Gym

Let’s say you do find yourself falling madly in love with someone from your gym. That’s awesome. Good for you. You’ll drive other people, and yourselves, nuts if you bring the relationship to practice with you. Of course, your teammates and fellow martial artists will figure it out, but discretion is advised. Nobody wants to gag before Jiu Jitsu because you and Prince Charming are making out on the mats. The other side of the coin is that you want to do your best not to bring arguments with you into the gym as well. Every couple is going to have disagreements from time to time. It’s best if they can be hashed out elsewhere. In addition to being awkward for others in the room, it takes away one of the primary benefits of the gym for you and your partner. The gym probably started as a place where the outside world stopped and you were able to completely focus on being present in the moment. That’s a valuable gift to lose.

Jealousy in the gym is just as ugly as it is anywhere else. You do not have the right to attempt to stop others from being a training partner to your love interest. If they never were or are no longer your partner, you don’t have the right to prevent other people from trying to date them. Regardless of relationship status, they are not your property. Frankly, if you think they are a catch, it’s pretty likely some other people might, too. If the object of your affection is interested in you, they’ll choose you. If they aren’t, that’s a bummer, but acting like a psycho bully is unlikely to aid your cause.

DON’T Take Advantage of Your Role

Relationships can become more complicated when one person is an instructor and the other is a student. There is a good chance the student is going to bail on the gym if it doesn’t work out. Would you pay to go somewhere to see your ex every day? Most instructors and professional fighters are in the gym daily or multiple times a day, so it won’t be easy to simply attend when they aren’t present.

Students may also feel more pressured by the advances of a person in a position of power. Will this person retaliate, directly or indirectly, if they say no? Will the student no longer receive the same instruction and attention from this coach? For these reasons, it is always best to let the student initiate. A coach may not feel like they are pressuring the student, but the student’s perception can be quite different. Additionally, if a coach or fighter is regularly dating or hooking up with students, it can cause a number of problems, the least of which is the near irreparable damage done once a gym has earned the reputation of being full of creeps. Irresponsible dating habits by the people in charge can lead to the loss of many students over time.

That being said, students should not harass an instructor. It is their job to take an interest in your development and be friendly, and they are going to be stuck dealing with you even if you gross them out. If you start pursuing them aggressively while they are at work, or even outside of work, you’re potentially putting them in a bad position. Everyone has a point where they will no longer be friendly and professional if pushed far enough. There’s no need to create that situation for yourself or them.

DON’T Be Surprised

Now, many of us assume it would just be better if instructors and students didn’t date, but that’s a bit of a lost cause. Of all the gym owners and coaches I’ve met, I can think of about five with a significant other who wasn’t also involved in the gym. If you are employed as a coach or a fighter, the lifestyle is all consuming. Spending 95% of your time in the gym or at fights means you’re most likely going to meet someone there, or at the very least they are going to have to tolerate you being there.

We have spent many a birthday, anniversary, holiday, and special occasion traveling, training, in a corner, holding pads, or in an emergency room. When fighting or training fighters, there are no days off, no nights off, no weekends off, and holidays don’t exist unless they happen to fall during downtime. Not many people are going to be up for that unless they also want to be there. They certainly can’t be blamed for that, but then, when would they ever see each other? That doesn’t mean that everyone who is a lifelong martial artist will end up with someone from the gym, but it is true for the overwhelming majority.

While there can be pitfalls when engaging in a relationship at your martial arts gym, or having your significant other train with you, there can also be many benefits. Training together is a great way to stay fit, achieve goals, and is another avenue for connection. Whether or not our partner supports our ambitions can have great impact on how well we’re able to pursue them. Provided we are conscious of the affect our behavior is having on all parties involved, we can have relationships in the gym without ill effect.