It’s extremely easy to get caught up in your own narrative. Look at it as if it is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. History is often told from only one perspective. The English probably don’t spend much time on the Battle of Bunker Hill in their history books. However there are always at least two sides to the story, if not more. It is difficult to avoid getting caught up in one narrative because we experience the world from only one perspective. No matter how difficult it may be to remember, it is key to relationships to understand that people are fighting a battle that you probably don’t understand.
The convenient thing about history is that there is too much of it to uncover every single situation and devote pages in books, areas of museums or time in documentaries. So historians must edit history to fit a narrative about a nation, people or group. We do the same things in our minds but our editing faculty can be skewed by emotion. We are rarely objective about the importance of the moments of our lives. So it stands to reason that we would have even more trouble being objective about someone else’s experience or stepping into their subjective experience and the emotion that goes with it.
So it is in all of our best interest to see the people around us as fellow soldiers. We are all in a fight of some sort. Although we may think we have a front row seat to the battle that other people are fighting, there is a layer that we cannot cross without letting go of our own struggle to reach out with understanding. Recognizing that we have common ground as soldiers but separated by a distance that cannot be measured in miles. It doesn’t matter if you’re fighting “The Great War”, every battle matters most to the ones who are in it.
In 1998 I spent almost a month in Europe with my best friend, Schaef, attending the World Cup. When you think of life experiences, it really doesn’t get much better than that. Spending a month engrossed in the thing that you love the most with one of the people that you love the most. It truly was an amazing trip but when it was over he and I didn’t speak for almost two months. The experience of that trip has helped me in a variety of ways, one of which I’ll share here.
The trip was planned extremely well by my friend. He was the planner and I played the role of translator because I spoke both Spanish and French. We flew into London and saw the sites there briefly. Our main focus was the games. So site seeing was kind of a fast paced game. We tried to see as much as possible in the smallest amount of time possible. Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, etc. were all done in a day and at a quick clip.
Then we took trains down to Barcelona where we spent a few days touring and watching games in the afternoon. Again, the Olympic Village, La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s buildings and all were seen but not studied as we had to block out times for the matches which were almost social events along Las Ramblas. Unfortunately Schaef lost his passport on our second to last day there. For that story, CLICK HERE.
Our next stop was Paris. There was of course the visit to the US Embassy in Paris to get a new passport which took longer than we would have liked. After getting it we had to rush to pick up our tickets to the five games that we were going to attend. Our first match was Germany vs USA. Despite both being American we were following Germany through the group stage. The most memorable thing from following Germany for me was the warm-up. Watching Jurgen Klinsmann get crossed balls for him to side volley from head height was amazing. He was obviously a world class player honing his craft and I loved seeing it up close. In addition to that match, we saw the Louvre in less than 2 hours. Art lovers we are not! Next was Germany vs Yugoslavia which was in Lens, a much smaller venue and not much around.
We fit in a quick trip to Munich Germany to experience Schaef’s heritage. This was the first time that I felt like we needed some space. I didn’t speak German but I felt there was an expectation that I was still on translation duty. I learned quickly how to say “Zwei biere, zwei pretz” (two beers and two pretzels) which was about all we needed to survive. That feeling of unnecessary expectation faded quickly because we were back on the road to Montpelier to see our final group stage match, Germany vs Iran, which ended with Germany winning the Group. Montpelier was also the first place that we were able to kick a soccer ball around. We met a girl from Chicago who got her brother to lend us a ball. Her father’s only directions were “don’t pop it”. Now I’ve never popped a soccer ball before in my life. But sure enough, the very last kick of the ball took a weird bounce hit this tree with spikes on it and POP! We felt so bad for the kid, I think we gave him around $140 in Francs to replace it. At this point, the togetherness was getting difficult. I even started smoking cigars on a daily basis just to get away for a bit.
Our final day of matches was filled with drama both on and off the field. We went to the knockout stage match in Lens between France and Paraguay which Les Bleus won in overtime. This was inconvenient for us because we had another match to attend in Paris that night and OT almost made us late. On top of that we had to navigate around riot police due to an altercation that happened during the match outside the stadium. Despite the difficult circumstances we got onto a fully packed train back to Paris. Denmark beat Nigeria handily that night.
We traveled back to England in order to catch our flight home. At this point, we have not had one argument or negative word said but we don’t speak much on the flight. The next day we part ways and don’t talk for about two months. Eventually we pick right back up in a good spot but we obviously needed some time apart.
This experience taught me so many things about relationships but the two main ones were: most upsets come from a mismatch of expectations and no matter how much you love someone, space is necessary at times. These both came into play in the best possible circumstances.
On a daily basis, we are not dealing with the best possible circumstances but we are cultivating our most important relationship. Each and every day we are in the closest possible contact with our key associate: the self. Although it may seem odd to apply the same concepts to an internal relation as an external but they can be used to good effect.
First the mismatch of expectations with who you think that you are or should be is a common cause of upset. We have a narrative about who we are inside of our head. Some of it is conscious and other parts unconscious but when our external environment fails to meet our expectations of who we are, it creates issues. Those issues can manifest in a variety of ways but the underlying problem is that our life does not match our expectations. One way to combat this is actually create a definitive description of who you expect yourself to be on a daily basis. Not the “best case scenario” or “ideal self” but rather standard operating procedure or bare minimums description. This way you are setting yourself up for success. Exceeding these expectations will be a gold star to shoot for but at least you have a definition of who you will accept going out into the world each day.
The second is slightly more complicated because getting distance from yourself can seem difficult. I’m obviously not talking about physical distance but rather psychological distance. The daily opportunity that we have for this space is sleep. I truly believe that people who do not sleep well have a more complicated internal life because they are caught up too directly in their own story. The inability to take a break from being puts additional stress onto the relationship with the self. Other forms of psychological space from the self are meditation and exercise. These can both be extremely effective provided that they can be done without intense focus on “results”. Using these tools to take a mental vacation will have great effects provided that the vacation is not turned into a business trip.
So recognize that you’re on a lifelong trip, living out of a purse sized “bag”, with the same person that you cannot get rid of. It would make sense for you to make them a friend, possibly your best friend. In order to make it work though, you’re going to need to set expectations and give each other space. Otherwise you could end up hating the person inside your head and that seems like a bad way to spend this great trip that you’re on.
It’s so obvious on one level. A spouse is someone that you are supposed to spend most of your days and the rest of your life with. So choosing a person that offers a one dimensional relationship is absolutely ludicrous. It would make for a very long and difficult daily road because all of the other areas of your life would suffer. The sex would be great but what do you do with the other 23 hours 59 minutes of the day? Most likely that extra time would be spent trying to makeshift a life with someone who should have been a guilty pleasure but has become a daily burden.
This is a description of a very extreme situation that is probably not realistic to most people. Almost no one marries their “f#@% buddy” because it makes no sense and few of us would make that foolish decision. The reason is that it is such a big decision that it would usually get sorted out before the cutting of the cake. Signs would be so obvious that either self-examination or friends would intervene. But what happens with the small things? Marriage is a big decision or at least is should be. The small decisions might be the ones that sneak through almost undetected.
Each of us has them, the guilty pleasures that we love probably more than we should. Ice cream, chocolate, Youtube, beer, physical affection and so many more are pleasureful things in their correct amounts. However when we “marry” them and make them a central part of our existence, they wield an unbalancing power. Just like the fictitious marriage that seemed so obviously out of place, relationships with items and experiences can create a burden in the other areas of your life. It’s easier to dismiss because it is not a person that you need to take home with you. It’s a thing, a moment in time that you deserve and the consequences will be dealt with later.
So now it is up to you! Are you married to one of your “f#@% buddies”? Then choose! You don’t need to break it off completely (unless you want to). The key is to put this relationship into its proper context. See it as it really is and not let it take over. Then you are available to marry the things and experiences that you really want!