In this world it is not often easy to separate cause and effect. The classic example of that challenge is the question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” If the chicken came first, from where did it come? And if the egg came first, what created it?
Actually we know the answer to those kinds of questions. They are generally more complex than people normally like to consider. But for our purposes here, it is the questions that matter most.
Don’t be chicken
For example, if a forty-something man or woman decides to do triathlons in the middle of their life, is that a chicken expressing its cage free lifestyle or is that a spirit waiting to hatch all over again? Even religion recognizes the need to be “born again” as a reflection of new commitment in life.
And if that forty-something man or woman discovers, as a result of their being “born again” in the athletic spirit, a community of people with like interests and enthusiasms, is that a self-fulfilling prophecy or the product of circumstance.
And if that forty-something man or woman suddenly finds a love interest among that community, and takes up with that person, is that a chicken or an egg proposition?
Free range chickens
Because it happens all the time, it seems. Triathletes, in particular, seem to be prone to transformative relationships taking over their lives. The enthusiasm for the sport is matched only by the propensity to engage in athletic flings with people of the other sex, even if it is the same sex.
In other words, sex is often involved. And that brings involvement, which leads to romantic entanglement or commitment, which often leads to leaving unsatisfactory or unhealthy marriages.
It is apparent that many triathletes discover something in themselves that leads them to deep personality changes. Or, their personality is changing for better or worse and the lure of a deep commitment like getting fit and racing triathlons is the ideal environment to indulge those changes.
There are tensions that happen when one partner dives into triathlon training at any level. The spouse left behind can feel neglected, for example. Or, if both spouses are training, there are questions as to whose training is more important. During an Ironman year, training can require hours away from home, weekends spent in camps and hotels and tents and oh, you get the picture.
Marriage is also, in essence, a triathlon of sorts. The three sports are love, money and sex. You have to work at all three disciplines it seems to be a success in marriage. Like all athletic endeavors, and marriage is just that, people vary in their abilities in all three of these disciplines.
A person that excels in love may suck at the money part. Same goes for great sex. That person might be great in the sack but their capacity for true love and the work of relationships may be lacking. And those with lots of money may feel their coin can buy them both love and sex.
And so, lacking in any of these categories in their marriage or relationship, people sometimes go seeking––or fall prey to–– temptation in any of these categories. It so happens that there are people competing in triathlons that come from all these different disciplines.
Some have money and all the equipment in the world, but their lives feel hollow. Others crave a physical connection that is either lacking or insufficient, and go seeking sex or something like it among people who are similarly excited about life. Still others simply want to be loved, and the triathlon community, while habitually narcissistic in many ways, has a nice habit of affirmation.
Egging yourself on
But that’s the problem. All that feedback serves as signals that people care. And on that morning following a nice comment from someone on Facebook a quieter conversation begins between two people and suddenly they’ve got a training date set up. Hours on a bike or the run can be a very intimate setting. Lives can be shared, and disappointments too. Intimate secrets emerge. Intimate promises get intimated.
And sooner or later, those two people hook up for another training run. Or a ride. or a swim. It becomes a habit. Then a commitment. Athletic sparks fly, and sex sooner or later takes place. It’s almost an inevitability among people working so hard to improve their bodies. They want to give them a test run. At home it may not even matter to the spouse what muscles show or what weight is lost. Just mow the lawn and take out the garbage goes the standard line. That’s what matters.
Or the person doing all the changing no longer cares enough to take care of those things. Either way is a formula for tragedy.
And so it becomes a matter of life philosophy, a set of seemingly irreconcilable differences emerges. Then it becomes a matter of life tectonics (my phrase) in which the fissures of a marriage become as evident as a fault line in the landscape. The earthquake may come slow or fast. It may rumble deep for a time or come about in a cataclysm of bald accusation and confrontation. But it rattles and shakes things the way only deep differences or shallow needs can drive the tectonic forces of a human life.
Then comes separation or divorce. Hurt feelings and liberated spirits. There is no strict pattern to what the outcomes will be. Some people simply need to move on from marriages that were not meant to be, or that grew stale, or dangerous, or sad.
You can analyze all that from a biblical perspective, and demand that marriage should never be broken, but there are a lot of laws and rules from the Bible to which people no longer pay attention. Even the most devout religious belief system is a highly selective product of choosing which laws matter most from scripture. It’s true in all the major religions from Judaism to Christianity to Islam. Zealots hold to the letter of some law and turn it into dogma.
I can speak only from the Christian perspective, and hold to the fact that it is love that drives most good in the world. So it is with sympathy that I regard the challenges of keeping and holding onto love in this world. There is love that drives the universe, and that is agape love, that which holds societies and hope together. There is also interpersonal love, that which underwrites the urge to create communities and care for one another. And there is sexual love, which is the gut-level drive to connect, to bond and to transcend.
Chickens in transition
Among my friends there are many who are on their second marriage and quite happy. These were not athletes splitting up with their mates to try a quick fling with a fellow athlete. So the dynamics of re-relationship are true amongst all people, not just triathletes.
But what we’re talking about here is a percentage and a trend among triathletes that is too evident to ignore. It’s a sport that draws people seeking challenge and change. It’s no coincidence perhaps that the sport intrinsically speaks a language that sets the stage. There are “transition stages” built right into the sports. There are three disciplines pulling you in new directions.
There is also spandex and hard nipples and bulges and the fine healthy sweat that come from hard efforts. It all beckons and bribes the spirit into new passions. Like the Leg Lamp in the movie Christmas story, lights come on and the imagination starts to rise.
Tastes like chicken
It’s not everyone who does triathlons of course that gets involved with other people. There are many couples who make it work from within the sport.
However, a wise spouse that does not want to do triathlons should have that conversation about time commitments and obligations. If one spouse who does not pursue endurance sports acknowledges the need in another person, there are healthy ways to encourage that need and continue to grow the relationship in substantial ways.
All of us make choices in these areas. For example, I get asked frequently if I’m training for an Ironman because my companion is in training for Ironman Wisconsin. We talked last year about the nature of that commitment, and I assured her that I support her effort. In fact I’m doing a substantial amount of training with her because it is enjoyable, fun and a way to share in the process. In a couple weeks she spends an entire weekend at Ironman camp. They’ll ride 120+ miles and run 13 and swim quite a bit. It’s all necessary to prepare for a race the length of an Ironman.
But I seriously have no desire to do the Ironman distance. Back when I raced in road running and track I had no real desire to run a marathon either. The marathon distance just did not resonate with me the same way seemed to attract others. I was always of the attitude, “More power to them.”
Some of us simply find our happiness qualitatively, not quantitatively. So when asked if I’m training for Ironman, I just smile and say, “No.” I say. “I’m going to do a Sprint and see how that goes first.”
But I’ll be excited to watch my companion Sue compete in her Ironman race this September. We’re sharing the travails and the triumphs of training together.
As a side benefit, I get to give her foot and leg rubs with regular consistency, and she likes that. Sometimes she even has energy for more things.
The basic truth is this: As an athlete I understand the effort she’s putting in, and can see and appreciate the progress. I remember how I felt during those 100-mile weeks in distance training. Any extra thing that comes along can feel like a burden. I was obsessive about sleep, about eating right, and staying off my feet when I could. My late wife called it Golden Leg Syndrome. I could take the teasing, and so could she, because she also enjoyed seeing me compete and win. She knew that meant a lot to me at the time.
Solving the chicken conundrum
But as for the point in life where people depart from one person to another, it’s a simple fact that we all have a past and commitments in life. Some of this is satisfactory to our self-perception, and some not so much. We must all still live in the present, and while this does not justify people taking leave of marriages for selfish reasons, it does help explain the chicken or the egg challenge to some degree. Triathletes engaging in extra-marital relationships is both a product and a sign of personal actualization. Some of this is wonderful. Some of it not so much.
Thus to the question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” we simply answer “Yes.”
Don’t you see? The egg is the chicken, and the chicken is also the egg. It’s only our impositions and perceptions that demand a resolution to that question. Both the chicken and the egg came from processes far larger than stunted questions about form and priority. Despite the contentions of those Intelligent Design nitwits, there is no such thing as irreducible complexity. Absolutely everything is complex, and everything is part of a process. Throwing God into the equation is nothing more than a lame excuse to sell the idea that the chicken automatically comes first.
That’s the problem with this world, in fact. People try to sell the concept that red herring questions actually solve problems rather than examining the broader aspects of why and how people (or chickens) become what they are. And do what they do. Partisan politics, for example, tends to take the chicken or the egg approach to forcing people to make choices that are much more nuanced and complex than “lower taxes” or “ban abortion.”
Here’s your answer
So it’s not just that people do triathlons and start messing around with other people. It’s that taking any sort of step toward self-actualization is going to set off a chicken or the egg response inside the soul. It happens in lots of other places. But because the triathlon is basically a free range chicken ranch where lots of people get together in one place to strut their chicken stuff, we simply see it a lot more often.
Bawkbawkbawk. Go lay an egg. See you at the Sunday Group Ride.