Choosing a travel partner is no easy task. You can know someone pretty well–a friend through and through–and think you will be able to anticipate their behaviors. Think… you might eaily be wrong.
A travel partnership is like a sexless marriage. Suddenly, all the characteristics you’ve seen in your buddy are eclipsed by the ones you didn’t see–the ones reserved for only the most intimate of relationships. That is to say, a romantic partnership, or a friendship that has endured many, many years.
“Manon, provided we still like each other at the end of this six weeks, I’d like to ask you to be my spontaneous 6-week travel companion.” Meaning, maybe ten years from now, if your lives permit it, you and Manon might partner up again.
Provided we still like each other… What a phrase! What a negative implication! Manon would later criticize you for saying it, as the possibility of not liking one another at the end of the trip did not once cross her mind. But hey… you have traveled with others, from months, to weeks, to mere days. And you have learned that when any two people are dropped into such a pseudo marrige, they’d better learn to adjust quickly–to settle their differences quickly–to fight quickly.
You and Manon stand in Lidl and discuss the cream cheese…
“Do you want to get this again?” she asks. “Did you like it?”
“Yeah… I did. It was good.” You pause. “Umm… mabe we could try the garlic flavor today. You know… since… yesterday was herbs.” You secretly hold your breath, hoping the suggestion doesn’t cause any wake and set off some kind of passive agressive debate about lunch.
“Sure. Yeah. Okay,” she says with equal cautious footing.
…Oh come on! It’s not that tense! Is it? Was it?
You love Manon. She has been a god send this year. She–another over-educated, under-employed, independent female–validates your existence–your insistence on being some kind of vagabond. Hell, she taught you how to keep your feet dry in a rainstorm! (Plastic bags around your socks before putting your feet into your shoes, for the record, will turn your feet a ghostly white and prune them beyond recognition, but will do the job.) She taught you how to smoke, how to savor a beverage, how to draw clear boundaries with annoying men (though you don’t exercise this lesson). She has been your buddy, your pal at Sli Na Bande when the going gets tough (or really, when the work is tedious). She’s your sound board, your other half in Operation: Let’s Double-Team Dinner! And while you cannot possible contort your knees and hips into “the world’s most comfortable sitting position,” you at least have an idea of how it might be accomlished after years of observing Manon fold herself against impossibly hard surfaces and small chairs. At Sli Na Bande, you’d been nothing but sugar and spice and everything nice to one another…
But ohh… then you really traveled together. Longer than a mere weekend get-away in Ireland. Your little travel partnership laid on the ugly. It didn’t take long, and suddenly the foundations of your friendship (unconditional support for one another) were shaking.
You are reminded of Spaso yet again! The man who behaved like a total asshole in a short span of time. His argument: “I want to be your friend, Maria. But I don’t want to waste my time. I need to know you can deal with me not just as a happy, considerate person, but also as someone with many faults. If you cannot take it, then was can foget about being friends.”
Oh… it isn’t about accepting other people’s shit. It’s about the acceleration of it… the suddenly augmented speed of discovery. That’s a hard thing to cope with. In Spaso’s case, it was too much, too soon. It went so beyond the norm that you hadn’t been able to make sense of any of it.
At least with Manon, you’d known each other for two years. But still… one might compare jumping into a travel partnership to a couple that has decided to move in together, and the relationship goes sour.
Things you’ve learned. You and your buddy of “first orbit” status (as Alexis puts it) actually have very little in common (though what you do have in common–lifestyle—is pretty damn important, and bears a lot of weight). You love nutrition and exercise; Manon concerns herself with the taste and experience of food, and has no intention of allowing a daily “workout” (in the gym sense) into her rhythm. Deciding meals can be a chore, and sometimes you get tired and melancholy for seemingly no reason, but in fact you are in withdrawal from exercise, un beknownst to her. Manon is a drinker and a smoker and quite social; you are an antisocial extrovert. This makes deciding the evening agenda tricky, because all you want to do is lie in bed/the tent and read a book; she would rather interact with locals in bars, or with whoever happens to be the interesting, generous stranger of the day. You have recently learned that your premises–the very assumptions/statements that regulate all the rest of your logic, deductions, and consclusions–are scarecely in accord. Far from it, and when the two fo you happen to disagree on more abstract tiopics… well, there is really no point in debate. She is stubbornly devoted to her premises, and you are distracted and non-committal, at best, in respect to yours. You find yourself spontaneously frollicking down the path of bitter disagreement, hoping maybe you might get her to change her oopinion. Alas, you end up sounding like an idiot because you do not know what the hell you believe, and through the many routes of Socratic inquiry and suggestion, you succeed in contradicting yourself–and there’s nothing worse than accidentally defying your own login when you are trying to outsmart someone. But even so… she is wrong! Dammit! Isn’t she? sigh…
“What drivel is all it! A string of words called religion. Another string of words called philosophy. Half a dozen other strings called political ideals. And all the words, either ambiguous or meaningless. And people get so excited about them the’ll murder their neighbors for using a word they don’t happen to like. A word that doesn’t mean as much as a good belch. Just a noise, without even the excuse of gas on the stomach.” –Aldous Huxley
You claim to be pretty intelligent, but you’re not immune to blonde moments. You also claim to be very diplomatic during arguments, but you are also not immune to petty comments and implications and even the occasional disparaging snicker when she pushes your boundaries. Indeed, you’ve said some pretty shitty things (for the most part, without forethought, which is a major problem for you–the lack of a filter and the habit of zealously testing your ideas (articulating controversial and offensive generalizations) before they are mature.
“What? What were you going to say?” she insists, eyes wide, hard, intimidating. Manon is tougher than you are. And clearer about her desires. You are wishy-washy, unsure, passive–especially when you see you’ve pissed off a woman (but you are getting better at sticking up for yourself and not defaulting to the ‘benefit of the doubt’).
Oh shit… Why did you say the first half of that sentence, realize mid-stride that is was going to be offensive, and back out guilty? You’re trapped!
You resist. She prods until you talk, but only after taking several long moments to consider the “diplomacy”–aka–“ass-saving power” of different combinations of words.
“I can’t believe you just said that!”
Is she putting words in your mouth, or did you just say that? Where did you fuck it up? Or is it that what you said reeks of guilt from the previous abandoned statement?
You sputter. “What…? No! No…!” You sputter more, groping blindly for words, statements, justifications, reasons… and before you know it, you wear the guilt like a mantle because ever defensive fiber of your being in convinced that you must have said something wrong.
Well you did, didn’t you?
But you failed to convey to her the right interpretation…
Suddenly you are mad. Mad because you’ve swiftly been knocked off our feet without comprehending why, and self-doubt creeps in. Did you really say that? Did you really mean that? Maybe you did. Why would you do that? You HATE doubting yourself. You hate it when someone so easily convinces you that you’re wrong.
“Whoa… wait a second. Relax.”
Relax… That’s a naughty word. Fuck, Stevens. Why did you say that? Every man in the word knows he should never tell a woman to relax. It implies that she is being irrational.
You think she is!
But you can’t tell her that. Keep your stupid mouth shut!
Too late. Now you’ve sort of accused her of blowing up over something you’d like to be considered petty. You see hot anger. She’s mad at you, and your heart splits wide open in defeat. Manon has a fiery temper and up until this trip, you’d been fortunate enough never to be on the receiving end of it.
But you are. And you feel that you have failed. Your travel partnership is self-destructing. Two halves are in disagreement. The machine screeches to a halt and shuts down with a deafening, ominous thud.
And now you feel emotional… such a woman! Your throat constricts and your eyes grow wet with panic and indignation.
“I’m going to go sit over there,” you say, “just on the other side of that fountain. Things just got fucked up really fast, and I think we should take some time apart.” Sounds like a breakup.
Off to your corner you go, feeling even more stupid, like a little kid taking a time out. Because the two of you are so angry, there’s no hope of discussing how much time will be needed, whether it might be wise to walk in different directions.
On your own, but with Manon still in view, you fidget. You write angrily in your journal. You peer over at her from time ot time, to see if she still looks angry. She does.
Yeah, the two of you fight. But at the end of the day, you understand that you’re pissed off about trivial things, or most of the conflict is due to fatigue and short fuses. You generally admit that you’ve been an asshole and try to lighten the mood with silly questions. With time, you like each other again. The trip moves forward.
You won’t say that it is always easy. Hell, at times you’ve been so pissed with your travel partner that you’ve irrationally entertained notions of walking out of a city without her.
But come on! Be serious. You need Manon. The two of you, by the powers of some bizarre travel chemistry that can only be a product of two often diametrically opposed wills, generate some of the most amazing travel karma conceivable. Maybe it’s Eastern Europe. Maybe it’s the big-girl, small-girl, there’s-something-for-everyone option that attracts people. Or Manon’s keen ability to lay the foundations, and your unabashed willingness to say “yes” at crucial moments, or simply to ask outright. But the two of you have been the beneficiaries of far too much luck.
The coffees, beers, dinners, random invites into homes, parties, boats… the favors, the smiles, the free food, packed lunches, continental breakfasts… The freebies, the photo opportunities. From city to city, you amassed more luck, more cool stories of random kindness than all of your other months of travel combined. The luck as so astonishing, so common, so normal in your day-to-day lives that you lost the urge to blog about it. It just didn’t seem exceptional anymore.
Oh Manon will be missed. You leave her at the airport in Wroclaw, seeing her eyes rimmed with red, and decide it is best not to linger.