By David Strike
According to a statistical survey that I read somewhere or other forty percent of the world's adult population are, at any one time, actively engaged in the search for a suitable partner while another forty percent are anxiously trying to remove themselves from a relationship turned sour.
Not that this has any direct bearing on diving, but as any person who has spent time observing otherwise happy and compatible couples will attest, diving with a soul mate can sometimes put a strain on the strongest of relationships.
Part 1Convinced that their affection for one another will grow stronger through a shared experience - and that, "the couple that plays together stays together" - they view diving as the perfect activity: And why not? As a recreational pursuit it can be enjoyed on an equal footing by almost everybody regardless of age or gender; it requires only a modest degree of physical fitness; and, best of all, it relies on the buddy system.
Considered in that light, learning to dive sounds a bit like ballroom dancing but without the need to brush your hair or wear sequins!
There's a Yin and a Yang in most close partnerships; a trade off in which the eccentricities of one complements the idiosyncratic behaviour of the other and where each, in turn, becomes either a follower or a leader according to their relevant strength or weakness in any given situation. It's something that can work well on a shopping expedition where one person buys and the other pays, but put those same two people together in the water and even the most harmonious relationship can be stretched to breaking point.
The problems often begin when one PWP (Person With Partner) decides to take up diving and convinces the other that it would be fun if they were to learn to do it together.
(At this point it needs to be stressed that diving's not something that appeals to everybody. While most people can quickly grasp the basic principles and master equipment handling techniques it nevertheless remains an activity that they must want to do. It's not something that they should feel obliged to do.)
Invariably the pair will elect to buddy together during training - something that smart diving Instructors usually try to discourage - and in an unspoken agreement they adopt those everyday roles in which the dominant partner makes decisions for the other; behaviour that establishes a pattern for all of their future diving experiences together.
Instead of diving as a buddy pair, each of whom has equal knowledge and ability, the less enthusiastic of the two builds up a dependency on the other. Allowing their partner to assemble their gear, establish the depth and time parameters of the dive and its purpose, they become a passenger rather than an active participant.
Quite apart from the safety issues and the fact that it's often a case of the ignorant leading the blind, these attitudes also accentuate the couple's differences and can lead to a deterioration in their previously happy relationship.
"It's no good getting angry with me. You were the one who assembled my tank and told me that I'd got plenty of air. I thought that something was wrong with my regurgitator thing."
"It's called a regulator."
"â€¦ regulator then! - when it started to become difficult to breathe. Anyway, you had plenty of air that I could have shared if I'd needed to. It's probably just as well that we were only one metre below the surface."
"But that's only because you refused to go any deeper!"
"I've already told you that I'm not comfortable about doing any of those deep dives straight away. And what would have happened if we had been deeper? I might have drowned!"
"That's only because you weren't paying attention to your gauges."
"I couldn't see the point in both of us checking our gauges. And you were the one who told me that we both had the same amount of air in our tanks just before the dive. You didn't lie to me, did you?"
"Of course I didn't lie to you."
"Then why did I run out of air so quickly? And why - now that I think about it more - were you trying to get me to go down deeper? You're not a very caring person, are you?"
"Well at least I'm not an unattractive one, like you!"
"What do you mean?"
"When you pushed your face mask up on to your head just then, some mucous from your nose smeared itself over your face."
"I don't like diving with you. In fact I'm not altogether certain that I even like you!"
Although the potential for disaster isn't quite so great when a non-diver meets a diver, falls in love and decides to share their new partner's passion for spending time underwater, the risk still exists. It's especially apparent when the more experienced of the two - perhaps lacking patience and understanding - expects more in the way of knowledge and ability from their partner than they would from a novice stranger.
Or when one says something like, "I learned to dive just to please you and now you're refusing to do something I enjoy! If you really loved me then you'd be only too happy to learn ballroom dancing and wear something frilly!"
It might be narrowing the field a little, but the best hope for divers looking for a long-term meaningful relationship as well as a perfect diving buddy is to restrict the search to those who already know how to dive.
Disclaimer: The writer wishes it to be known that even although his partner learned to dive at a later stage in their relationship, none of the above relates to any first-hand experience of the problems associated with diving with a partner!
Tips for Diving with a partner
Having respect for a buddy's abilities and trust in their judgement is an important aspect of every successful dive. Diving with a loved one should be no exception. All too often, however, the strength of a couple's affection will blind them to each other's shortcomings. Rather than committing to a plan that they're both comfortable with, there's a tendency for the dominant partner to take charge of all aspects of the dive; a situation that can breed resentment and frustration - and lead to arguments.
Preserving harmony in their relationship is something made easier when partners who dive with one another learn how to work together as a buddy team.
Begin by choosing together a dive site that has equal appeal to both partners. (Safe diving practice seldom recognises compromise!). Also decide on an alternate site.
Check with local dive shops, or people with first hand knowledge of the area, that the site chosen is one suited to the abilities of the least experienced of the pair.
Together decide on the type of dive, (boat, shore, drift dive, etc.); review any special techniques that might be required, (backward roll entries from the side of a boat; entry and exit procedures from a shore.); and decide on the purpose of the dive, (observing marine life; U/W photography; passive exploration, and so forth.)
Prepare a list of your respective equipment needs and together check each item, paying particular attention to straps, buckles and zips. Make necessary adjustments and test for fit and comfort before leaving for the dive site.
Review equipment assembly procedures and ensure that you are both familiar with hand signals; air sharing techniques; emergency procedures; and how to calculate the No-Decompression Limits for each dive. (In those instances where one partner has a computer and the other doesn't, then each dive must be planned as a square profile dive that adheres to the limits set by the manual tables. DO NOT SHARE ONE COMPUTER!)
Make certain that you both have adequate sleep and rest before setting out from home. Again talk through every step of the proposed dive with your partner. Re-affirm each other's positive attitude but also agree that each has the right to cancel or abort the dive for whatever reason without the need for elaborate explanation or recriminations.
At the dive site:
Prior to kitting up review the entire dive plan, including hand signals and emergency procedures; agree on maximum depth and time parameters and, together, check the dive tables. Decide on the turn-around point based on air consumption and leave a comfortable margin for safety. Make allowances for any untoward apprehension that one or the other might experience and incorporate that into the dive plan.
Decide who will lead the dive. It is usually preferable to allow the slowest partner or the one with the higher air consumption to set the pace.
Kit up slowly, matching the speed to that of the least experienced of the pair. Where necessary lend assistance without being condescending. Treat your partner as an equal and remember that everybody who dives should be capable of assembling and carrying their own equipment.
Before entering the water carry out a complete buddy check of each other's equipment and confirm that you're both OK and feeling confident about the dive. Smile - and if appropriate blow one another a kiss!
During the dive:
Stay together. Regardless of what other divers in the vicinity might be doing, adhere to your previously agreed dive plan. Periodically show one another your gauges and check that your partner is OK. Point out things of interest to one another.
Hold hands! Physical contact can be very reassuring and will help in calming any minor apprehension.
Should either partner begin to feel cold or in any way uncomfortable during the dive then their decision to abort the dive early must be respected. They should not be subjected to subsequent recriminations or made to feel in any way inadequate as a diving buddy.
Talk enthusiastically about the dive and what you've seen while you assist one another to undress and disassemble the gear.
Together calculate your residual nitrogen obligations and surface interval time before the next dive.
Appreciate each other's respective strengths and weaknesses and begin planning your next dive.