Things I Learned After Traveling with a Partner

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When I first planned my trip to Melbourne, I had fully intended on doing it alone. I was recently out of a relationship, and I thought that, without a real career, family of my own, or any aspect of my life anchoring me to home, it was the perfect time in my life to embark on an independent adventure. 

It wouldn’t be my first time traveling alone either. In the earlier part of 2015 I planned my first solo trip to Japan and although it had its difficulties (and I was starting to go a little nutso with no real English conversation in eight days), it was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences I’d experienced thus far.

I love traveling solo. The grittiness of it. The ability to push yourself to your extreme limits to see how far you can go. The ability to wander or make decisions without speaking a word or having to go back and forth about who wants to do what and when. I feel like when you travel solo, you’re willing to accept lower standards. Also, you’ve got less money to work with so sometimes there’s no other choice, but there’s adventure in that too. You choose the hostel over the hotel. The cheap hole-in-the-wall over the nice restaurant. You have the freedom to do whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it, no questions asked.

The anonymity gives you a feeling of invincibility as well. You don’t care what anyone thinks of you because no one knows you, no one will ever really know you, and no one will ever see you again.

This was the life I signed up for for an entire year, but then three months into my trip, Shahan came into the picture and it was a completely different ball game. I’ll admit, when the idea of him coming to Australia was first presented to me, I didn’t know what to feel partly because I didn’t know where we would stand and partly because a small part of me wanted to hold on to the idea that this was my Australian adventure. It was a test for me to prove myself and I hadn’t even reached the halfway mark. In the end, I decided to give it a chance because it was a test in its own way, and one way or another, we’d have a definitive outcome. Either we’d come out of it stronger than ever, or we’d come out of it on our own.

So he came.

I’d be lying if I said that the beginning was easy. That after three months of not seeing each other, we found ourselves in a honeymoon phase and could do no wrong. In fact, the opposite was true. The hardest part was the beginning. There were still old issues that needed hashing out and on top of that, neither of us had experience living with a significant other so we had to figure that out as well.

In a sense, we were living the dream. It was the ideal setting to work on a dying relationship because we only had each other with little to no outside forces affecting us. Just us. Which also meant that there was just us. Yes, we had friends abroad whom we could talk to about our issues and yes, our family and friends back home were only a FaceTime away, but there was always a big piece missing in either group. New friends that we made, no matter how close we got to them, could never really know our history, where we came from, or why we were the way we were. Likewise, friends and family back home could never know what we were truly experiencing in Melbourne and what we went through on a day-to-day basis. And so, at the end of the day, when shit hit the fan, there were only two pairs of hands to clean it. 

So when I look back and think of all the things that came out of our ten months together, these are some of the lessons that first come to mind that made us better individually and as a couple: 

Stupid Fights/The Break-up Solution

I know that this has a lot to do with different maturity levels and personalities, and the higher the maturity level and the more chilled out you are as a person, little fights are less likely to happen. But so long as you and your partner aren’t robots and care about each other and actually have feelings and emotions from time to time, fights about dumb, seemingly insignificant things are going to happen. Not saying they’re going to happen often, but they’re going to happen.

Turns out, both of us are somewhat emotional non-robots so these squabbles tended to happen a good amount of the time, and for a long while we kept coming to the conclusion that these arguments were dumb and only hurting us and that we should just jump ship. We were slowly eating away at each others’ souls, but if we just “found the right people” who would “match us better” then we’d be skipping off into the sunset in our two perfect relationships, so why on earth would we keep each other from having that satisfaction if we really, truly loved each other?

I’ve come to the conclusion that that thought process is bullshit. No, I don’t believe in toxic relationships and yes, I think people should get out of relationships that are emotionally or physically abusive. But I don’t believe that there is such thing as finding someone who just “matches you so perfectly” to the point where you’ll never have any problems or reasons to fight. It’s just a cop-out. 

Expressing Negative Emotions in a More Positive Way

I’m still learning how to do this and I’m very far from being good at it, but I’ve always had a temper and I tend to get quiet when I’m upset so I feel like I’ve come quite a ways. It didn’t help that Shahan and I had completely opposite ways of dealing with our frustration. He would much rather talk everything out right away whereas I’d want to step away from the situation and cool down first. But then by the time I’d be ready to talk, he’d be too frustrated and it was just a vicious cycle. It took a while to find a way to meet in the middle, but we did. We wouldn’t talk right away because I wasn’t ready, but instead of needing to walk away, I’d consent to holding his hand until I was ready to talk.

You’d be surprised what a simple touch can do when you’re feeling upset. It’s like a “I know we’re not okay, but I want you to know that I love you and I’m still here with you on this.” I mean yeah, a lot of the time the last thing I wanted to do was hold his hand or give him a hug because I was upset, and that anger made me feel like I couldn’t even stand to be near him. But then I realized that not only did it not help me in anyway to not touch him, not be near him, and to sleep in a different room to get away from him, that I would also never get those moments back.

It Really Does Take Two to Tango

And by ‘tango’ I mean sustain a relationship built on trust and respect that benefits and promotes positive and healthy growth in both individuals. That kind of tango.

There were times when I was sure I was done. It got to the point where I even asked Shahan to move out and fly back home. He did move out, but instead of flying home he paid for a week’s stay in a hostel and waited patiently for me to be ready to talk (two days later).

There were times when he was done too, and he has a stronger willpower than I do so instead of a two day break, we had a three month break (upside down smiley face). But each time we thought we got to the point where it seemed like there was nothing else to do but go separate ways, one of us would always be willing to be patient, or say something kind, or apologize, or forgive, or do whatever it took to keep us together. It wasn’t always the same person. Not always me or always him, which is why I think we’re still together. Because we take turns saving each other. Saving us.

Trust Doesn’t Just Build Itself Over Time

I always thought that with enough time, you can get over anything. Time heals all wounds, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Yes, time helps you forget the details, and yes, time allows your anger to slowly ebb away. But what it doesn’t say in that pretty little adage, is that if the right circumstances come along, they can trigger all that pain and anger to come roaring back. And since its been so long that you felt it, it almost seems like you feel it even stronger than you did when you first got hurt. What the hell, right?

The thing is, although time helps dull the initial sting of what happened, actually forgiving (because you’ll never really forget) takes deliberate choice. And the sucky part is that you don’t really get much proof to back up that choice. You choose to trust because you just do. Whether it’s because of a gut feeling or some other form of justification that you come up with on your own, it’s a choice you have to continually make over and over and over again.

Very slowly, a wall of trust can be resurrected, but if you spend all that time building it back up again wondering if they’re capable of tearing it back down, what you don’t realize is that the one who’s actually tearing it down is you.

Loving is Accepting What You’re Not

Shahan and I are different in more ways than I can count. If there’s ever a choice between two different things 99.99% of the time, I’m going to like one thing and Shahan is going to like the other. Rarely do our opinions match up, and rarely do we agree on the same way of getting things done, whether it be about cooking, following directions, packing, dressing up for occasions, anything. 

We also show and accept love in different ways (opposite, even). I’m more about touch and  gestures of affirmation, and he’s more into showing support while cultivating our independence from one another. I love having pictures and videos to go back to, while he’s more into being completely in the moment. Although I’m not big on public displays of affection, I still appreciate small gestures here and there, but he feels that there’s a time and place for any show of affection, and that time and place is not when others are present.

This lesson was a toughie and like the others, it’s still a work in progress. Open and clear communication was key, but even when we tried to explain what we wanted to each other, it was still hard to comprehend because we couldn’t ever see ourselves feeling or wanting the same things. Although there were definitely growing pains when it came to adjusting to our differences, we needed to learn how to meet in the middle about a lot of things even if we didn’t fully understand the other side. It was a big lesson in empathy and understanding a different kind of love, one that was different from our own.

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In the end, I’m really grateful that Shahan joined me. Learning with him has taught me more about myself than I could have ever learned on my own.