When we began our adventures together, we had already done a few dry runs. Family in Cleveland, a wedding in Virginia, and a couples’ trip to Nashville were all safely tucked under our belts before we set out for a cross-country adventure, and then for a new life in Ecuador. That said, there were still plenty of surprises and curve-balls. We’re the first and last person each other sees every day, and sometimes those days are filled with stressful situations like moving, family, car trouble, or lovely walks in the woods gone horribly, horribly, wrong.
Six months into this new chapter in our lives, I’ve definitely come away with years’ worth of knowledge. The learning curve on the road is incredibly sharp. Here’s six of the big lightbulb moments for me as one half of Two by Tour, six months in.
If I forget everything about Grandmother Endress, the last to go will be her refrain of “Patience is a virtue,” which was often her way of telling me to kindly shut the hell up. Repetition is the basis of habit, however, and especially after her passing, I made it a point to try and be as virtuous as I could. There are definitely moments on the road where I have been Gabriel, and there have been moments where I was Lucifer.
It became almost immediately apparent that having conniption fits when we aren’t moving along at my preferred speed does not work, because we don’t don’t ever move at my speed, or Y’s speed, we move at our speed. Y’s preparation rituals are roughly three (thousand) times as long as mine, and after pacing a hole in the floor more than a few times, I learned to take advantage of the time I had on hand to read or goof off on the internet, or get some writing done, sometimes an entire novella’s worth. On the flip side, Y is very gracious and patient when I calmly explain why I’m being a hangry little shit. We find a solution together. Sometimes this means a few less photographs on our walk, for example, but patience always results in a speed of life we are both happy with.
There’s a lot to get excited about while traveling, and at times it’s very difficult for the two of us to contain that excitement and wait for the other to finish talking. We’re also both incredibly headstrong individuals who are accustomed to generally being the only person in the room with the answer. Neither of us pull any punches. It’s been incredibly important for both of us to know that the other is actively listening and considering the other, whether it’s how many tacos we’re going to get (we never fight about this, the answer is always all of them) or how many days we’re going to stay in a given place. If only one person comes away a winner, then we both have lost.
We act as each other’s sounding board and editor, and if we can’t respect each other’s opinions, thoughts, and input, who can we respect? Certainly not a near-perfect stranger, shifting around the words we spent so long laying out. As writers and human beings, it’s vital to stay humble and recognize that there’s always a better way, a different answer, but only one way to have an effective conversation. Without respect, we wouldn’t have made it out of Pittsburgh, let alone the United States.
Excitement (isn’t always a great thing)
I tend to vocalize a lot as part of my mental process, and I’m incredibly lucky to have someone to bounce ideas and the occasional cringe-worthy joke off of. However, we don’t both operate in the same fashion. If I get too carried away in my enthusiasm, I can steamroll into a room and dominate conversation with far-flung theories and ideas and hypotheticals that hit the calendar months or years away. Living and working together has taught me to be a little less extra and read the room more.
While I favor a free-wheeling and organic To Do list, the thought of added items to the list can be overwhelming for my partner, even if it’s something that wouldn’t happen until months later. By the same token, before we left, early talks of travel had me facing down a lot of my own insecurities and fears as Y, who is far more travelled than I, talked freely of a half-dozen places at once, whereas I had only ever been to Canada and was stressing over how this would all shake out financially. Excitement is wonderful, but if the person next to you on the roller coaster was trying to ride the bumper cars that day and wants off, you’ve missed the point.
It’s a timing issue
My mother would often intone this in my teen years, until providence bestowed upon me a blue t-shirt bearing the same phrase in a thrift store in exactly my size. To this day, some 18 years later, the magical shirt fails to amuse her. Timing, however, is almost always an issue. Whether it’s the right time to discuss writing or time to relax, whether it’s time to go or time to take your pants off, timing is always at issue. Part of our effective communication is all in our timing, but also giving each other time.
A five-minute break to discuss something important coming up isn’t going to kill us, and only does us favors as long as it’s slipped in there when one of us is up getting tea. Neither of us is particularly large fans of the early hours in the day, and while we both may have somehow woken up before 10, neither of us are likely in a mood to discuss anything other than cuddling or something equally gross. Both of us are introverted to different degrees, so we both need time to ourselves. Often, mornings are spent in separate rooms while we engage in our various rituals or work, and we meet in a common space at the magically appointed time.
Relaxing has been something I’ve been working at for years and years. I’m incredibly expressive, have never been lacking in opinions and don’t suffer fools. All traits that made climbing the ladder in the bar world that much more slippery, but I eventually got to where I wanted without compromise. All well and good, but as I climbed the ladder, I became more adept at internalizing more motherly wisdom; “Pick your battles.” I chilled the fuck out and got what I wanted. There are a lot of things worth getting worked up about. Your partner should never be one of them, neither should your job, for that matter.
As we took more ownership of our lives, it was stressful, but we were the authors of a lot of that stress. We chose to put ourselves through Customs, we chose to live somewhere where we need to learn a new language, we chose to eat too much BBQ in Nashville. Again. Understanding that has helped both of us chill the fuck out. Even in moments of high stress or crisis, we do our damnedest to take a breath and reassess. We are the only people we know we can definitively rely on in the immediate, so dealing with life, pleasant or unpleasant, in a calm and relaxed manner yields the best results for our team.
Lean on your partner
We’re both independent people who have gotten to where we are in life on account of our abilities, rather than a lucky inheritance or some form of nepotism or cronyism. Asking for help is not always our first inclination, but one of the best aspects of a relationship is that it allows you to attack life in co-op mode. While we might not have the right code for this version of Contra, we’re still making a great go of it, and it’s because we ask each other for help. It’s what both of us are here to do for the other, even if we still forget at times.
Without the editorial input I get from Y, my work would suffer. My first rejection letter since coming back to writing stung a lot worse than it should’ve, and I know better. It was an incredibly personal essay that helped me work through a lot of really trenchant shit, and I was a frantic and angry mess for most of an afternoon. It was Y who talked me down and took me for a walk. If we were pursuing writing careers on our own, I wouldn’t last much longer than I did the last time a series of disappointments and misfortunes had me throwing in the towel, years ago. We keep each other anchored to our hopes.
Read Y’s take on what six skills travelers need to remain on speaking terms here.