How Performing In a Trapeze Show with My Boyfriend Changed Our Relationship
It was the ultimate test of trust... in mid-air.
I've always been up for a challenge-that is, until I tore my ACL at an indoor trampoline facility at age 24 (pro tip: don't try to outdo your brother). The entire experience was painful, humbling, and from that moment on, my carefree behavior went straight out the window. I was terrified of getting injured again, so I moved with caution and avoided any risky activities, which eventually led to a more sedentary (read: boring AF) lifestyle. (I'm not the only one: Read The Scary Reasons Women Are More Likely to Tear Their ACLs.)
A year later, I moved from California to New York City and decided to refresh my mindset. I started living by the motto: "Say 'yes' to everything (within reason) and see where it goes."
So when the opportunity to try trapeze for a Shape video arose-a real chance to step out of my comfort zone and face my fear of injury-I had to say yes. But I pitched it with a twist: I'd convince my boyfriend, Blake, to learn with me and catch my final trick in the show.
Blake and I had only been dating about 10 months prior to this whole trapeze thing, and, admittedly, I was extremely hesitant to trust a new guy. He seemed pretty great, but I figured this would be a good way to truly test our trust and compatibility. Could we stay chill even when faced with a challenge? Did he really have my back?
Sure, we had worked out together on occasion, but we had never done anything as absurd as learning trapeze... on camera... for the whole internet to see.
So, one night after dinner I pitched the idea to him, which was, ironically, the same night I learned about his fear of heights. According to Blake, he's not afraid of heights, per se, but rather "the idea of being up high on something poorly made, you know, like an old NYC fire escape or a wobbly platform 20-feet in the air." Fair enough.
Blake was up for the challenge (even after he saw our performance costumes) and we both figured it would either be a great new hobby, shed some serious new light on our relationship, or-at the very least-be an interesting story to tell. (Related: How Training with an Acrobat Helped Me Face My Fear of Heights)
The Trapeze Experience
We signed up for a seven-week workshop at Circus Warehouse in Queens, New York-the same facility where superstar Zendaya trained for the movie The Greatest Showman. The first day was overwhelming and intimidating. People were swinging and flipping in the air all over the warehouse and all I could think was: What the hell did we sign up for?
The first day reminded me of my family teaching us kids how to swim. My family didn't sign us up for swimming lessons. Instead, they would literally pick us up and throw us into the water (if you were lucky, with floaties on) and you'd figure out how to move your body through the water in order to survive. Tough, I know, but that's where I assume my fearless attitude started. So when I found myself standing on a shaky platform, 20-plus feet in the air, holding onto a heavy metal bar, I knew it was go-time. (Sound like fun? Here's How to Scare Yourself Into Being Stronger, Happier, and Healthier.)
I jumped off the board and had this euphoric moment of finally letting go of my fears. It was overwhelmingly satisfying... until I realized how complicated it was to keep a good grip on the bar, listen to the instructor, and attempt to look graceful while swinging through the air.
Trapeze is, actually, all about timing. You have to time the jump, the swing, the knee hang, and the reach-or else there's no shot of catching your partner on the other side. A knee hang involves two people: a flyer (me) and a catcher (Blake). The flyer jumps off of the platform and swings their legs over the bar to hang upside down. On the swing back, the flyer releases their hands to meet the catcher in the air to lock forearms, while the flyer lets go of the bar with their legs. If anything was even a hair off, we wouldn't make contact. (Somehow, Betty Goedhart, the Oldest Trapeze Artist In the World, makes it look easy.)
Week after week, Blake and I were embarrassed or frustrated when we couldn't complete our trick. We'd get into minor quarrels and start a blame game of who did or didn't do something correctly-all while being filmed and observed by our insanely talented workshop members.
We finally accomplished the trick two days before the show. While it was a relief that we had actually pulled it off, one success in seven weeks wasn't exactly a reassuring track record. Come showtime, we were both incredibly nervous. I climbed the ladder, stood on the shaky platform, took a deep breath, and jumped. I reached blindly, caught sight of Blake swinging toward me, and I instantly knew that we did it. Success. It was the best feeling ever.
I was proud of us both as individuals and as a couple for tackling such a foreign experience together. In that moment, when all of our hard work paid off, I really felt like we were a team.
Why You Should Try Trapeze (or Something) with Your Partner Too
Turns out, there's a reason why trapeze brought us closer together: Research actually shows that couples who try new activities together are often happier than those who don't. In fact, one study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that couples who tried "new and exciting activities" together were far more satisfied than those who spent their time "doing pleasant but routine activities together."
Another more recent study published in the International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology shows that the key to a healthy romantic relationship isn't just about spending time together, but about spending quality time engaging in activities that are harmonious for both individuals. Whether that's traveling, watching new movies, playing sports, or learning a new hobby, it allows the couple to share positive emotions during the joint activity, therefore strengthening the relationship.
It's worth noting that the study also found that these shared activities could lead to negative emotions if, for example, one person didn't necessarily enjoy or want to engage in the activity (cue Blake's fear of heights). But if the activity was exciting enough, then those positive emotions could outweigh the negative ones (#worthit). (Related: How to Navigate a Relationship When Your Partner Is Serious AF About Fitness)
"Adventurous activities that are moderately stressful generate a connection," explains Carolina Castaños, Ph.D., a relationship, marriage, and family therapist. That's because your body releases a cocktail of hormones to regulate high stress levels.
"Exciting activities increase the secretion of dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin in our brain," she says. "Dopamine is our 'feel good' hormone, and endorphins also generate a feeling of wellbeing. Oxytocin is key in this cocktail as it is the 'bonding' hormone. Oxytocin, for example, is secreted during orgasms, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Physical touch and doing this adventurous activity together provides a sense of togetherness and enhances feelings of safety."
So, if you and your partner are always doing dinner and a movie, switch it up and surprise them with rock climbing or ax throwing. It's the "trying new things" part that'll keep the spark alive. (See: The Epic Health and Fitness Benefits of Trying New Things.) And when you're able to find a physical activity you both enjoy, then you'll burn some calories while improving the relationship-win, win! (Not to mention, exercise makes for great foreplay.)
Lessons Off the Trapeze Bar
I'm lucky we came away from the trapeze show with such a win and a teamwork mentality. That's because, the very next day, we hopped on a plane to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for a fat biking and ski trip. Now, I'm a valley girl from Southern California; I had never skied or fat biked before in my life. But after learning what my body was capable of and experiencing that rush of success on the trapeze bar, I felt like I was ready for anything (despite the freezing Jackson Hole weather).
Blake had some experience skiing, but had never fat biked either. Let's just say both activities were, in Castaños' words, "moderately stressful" environments-but that's where I really felt our trapeze bonding come in handy. I was struggling more than Blake, but he always stayed with me, encouraging me to push through and keep going.
Occasionally, we joke that we miss trapeze-but I think it's more that we miss working together to accomplish a goal. Nonetheless, our relationship has, in fact, changed for the better. We now look at everything as a team. We learned to let go of our fears and trust each other. Most importantly, we learned that we can count on one another to have each other's backs-trapeze bar or not.