Ha. That title is a joke to myself, since as I was writing this I was laughing to myself about the idea of turning it into a semi-satirical, clickbait how-to article full of fake-authoritative bike-touring relationship advice. The idea of writing any sort of how-to article about relationships is hilarious to me. And since it was making me laugh, I wrote that title. Ha, ha. I know this is much funnier to me than it is to anyone else;)
Back in the day, almost a year ago now (!!), I first wrote that James and I were planning a cross-country bicycle trip, and I put up this picture:
And I joked that after three months of traveling together in very close proximity, and three months of having to navigate a whole new world where every. single. decision. was made jointly and affected both of us in very different ways than it would in real life — I joked that I hoped we’d still be smooching at the end. We were very excited about our trip, and we were also very nervous that it would be hard on our relationship both in ways that we anticipated and in ways that we couldn’t even see coming or didn’t even have words or experiences for yet.
(I realize I just said “we” a lot in that last paragraph, as though I’m speaking for James here too. Though it does in fact feel like for three months basically everything was “we,” this is all my own thoughts and I want to be clear that I don’t mean to speak for James too.)
So, how did bike touring affect our relationship?
(sweet picture by our friend Dan in New York — who came to meet us while towing his three-year-old daughter on his bicycle <3)
In normal life, James and I have very different things going on. We’re involved in different circles, largely have different friends, and often want different things out of our free time. Though I think we have pretty similar core values in a lot of things, we act them out pretty differently. Pragmatically speaking, we even have different days off for our weekends.
So, the idea of spending every single waking and sleeping moment with each other and only with each other was a little intimidating. Feeling this, and with excellent advice from my counselor, we talked a lot about what might come up. For example, I was nervous that I would not stick up for myself and the things I wanted to do if I felt like they were things that James didn’t want to do, and that over time I would get silently resentful that I wasn’t getting what I wanted out of the trip. Or I was nervous that I would want to bike more than James, and I would be restless. Or a big one: I was nervous that I would get cranky because I didn’t have enough of my own personal space, and that I wouldn’t be able to productively deal with the crank and I would take it out on James in unhelpful and maybe unkind ways. I was nervous about disparities in planning, and that I would resent that I’d (from my perspective, anyway;) done so much more looking at maps and thinking about logistics.
James of course had his own set of things that made him nervous.
Point being, we both had lots of things that we thought might come up that would cause friction between us, and it was SUPER HELPFUL to have tried to anticipate and talk through them as much as possible before the trip. That way, when either of us noticed that we were falling into any of the traps or pitfalls we’d anticipated, we already had joint vocabulary to talk about it, and we could help each other out. And if it was a whole new totally unanticipated issue, we still at least had a shared vocabulary of problem solving in general to help sort it out.
(awww more sweetness taken by our friends Aimee and BJ who came out to visit us in Michigan:)
During the trip
Well, it helps that we really like each other, heh. But I think we were pretty committed to being a team, and that helped forestall resentment about things going poorly because of a decision *I* made, or a thing that *James* said.
I think we were pretty good, for example, about making sure that once we made a decision, we jointly owned both the decision and the repercussions of it. So very infrequently did I think, for example, “Grrrr I’m so angry that James wanted to keep biking to this campground that is full of mosquitos and super shitty; we should have done what I wanted and camped earlier.” Instead, we were pretty good about thinking, “Well shit, here we are in a campsite full of mosquitos and it totally sucks; but now that we’re here, how can we make the best of it?”
It didn’t always work perfectly, of course, but the expectation that we were team Honnold-Ofsink, not individuals stasia vs. James, went a long ways.
Also, we eventually sort of lost this habit, but for the first half of our trip (maybe more?), we set aside a day every week as our “check-in” day. That was a day where we held space to talk about how we were feeling, how we were doing, if there was anything that we needed to change about the way we were working together or making decisions or carrying out our trip or anything. Sometimes we talked about pragmatic things, like “let’s try to camp earlier in the day,” or sometimes it was things like “I’m feeling kind of lonely and I’m not sure why, but help me talk through this.” Or whatever. Point being, for two people who sometimes have a hard time bringing up hard thoughts or complicated feelings, it was helpful to have a day set aside that was expressly to make space for hard thoughts or complicated feelings.
Sometimes we forgot our check-in day and had to do it a day late, and ultimately we kind of lost the habit, but it was really helpful to have early on set the precedent, expectation, and habit of bringing things up to each other before they became issues. I think it helped us later feel better about just bringing things up as they happened.
(team Ofsink-Honnold in Maine! With random dude in the background, ha)
After the trip
Toward the end of our trip, we realized that for so long, we’d been working on how we would make sure we got along during this crazy unknowable future experience. And that now, our next big thing to work on together would be how we co-reintegrated into “normal” life. How would we resume our more separate lives while still making sure to preserve a connection and be there for each other when, inevitably, it was hard to readjust to a totally different lifestyle again? What would be hard for each of us? How could we support each other? Again, we tried to anticipate the pitfalls of what might happen so as to give ourselves a shared vocabulary of issues that might come up and the ways we might try to address them together.
Is it working? I mean, I feel a little bad since this is my blog so I get to put forth the written experience of it and James has no say really (sorry James! heh). But, I think so! I mean, I feel like we did a really hard and really amazing thing together, and we worked really hard to do it in a way that brought us closer. And then we came home and we had all that work we’d done to draw from, and now it helps us be closer in normal life too. And I feel really good about that. I feel pretty damn shmoopy about James and our relationship, honestly. I think we kick ass. And I’m proud of us for the work we did to hold space for and support each other on this trip.
(happy in Lubec, the end (basically;) of our trip!)
So, this is not a how-to, but maybe a snapshot of some things that worked for us. I’m curious if any of you have any thoughts of things that have worked or not worked while traveling with someone (whether romantic or otherwise) for a prolonged period of time, or what happens after the prolonged period of time is over. Let me know!:)