Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This Relationship Corner: Road Trips

As we begin to date our significant other, we look for clues and signs about the direction of our relationship. Is this just a short-term fling? Or is this the beginning of something long-term? We become little scientists, putting on mental and emotional lab coats and getting out clipboards and running the numbers. Testing is an important part of the relationship process, and I'll talk more about it in a later installment.

Today's topic concerns one test that I believe you must run before committing to this other person for the rest of your life: the road trip.
Why is the road trip so important? Because it's a microcosm of your relationship. A road trip is about the two of you heading off together to reach a destination. It's about how well you plan, how you can achieve your goals, how you handle conflict, how you compromise, how you handle unexpected roadblocks, and how you get along during the journey. In short, it's a perfect metaphor.

When you're planning a road trip, you first must consider the destination. Is there a final goal in mind, or do you plan to just drive aimlessly and see where you end up? Some couples do prefer to just see where there relationship takes them. However, as we get older, we sometimes like to have a final stop in mind. It's hard to go on a road trip with someone who doesn't share your goals of the destination. This means that you need to sit down and actually talk about where the two of you are going.

Then you have to figure out how you plan to get there. Sometimes couples don't realize that a destination isn't enough. You need to make plans and think about the future. The good news is that this isn't going to be new ground, and there's plenty of advice out there. You can ask older travelers how they got to their destination. You can consult maps and travel guides. However you do it, the point is that you need to spend time planning, because it's going to make the journey easier.

Of course, all the planning in the world doesn't actually prepare you for being in the car with each other. It's easy to talk about the road trip and all your plans, but it's a lot harder when it's just the two of you in the car. The two of you have made a commitment to see this journey though, and the first thing you need to figure out is how to deal with each other and each other's habits. There's always a few things you find out about another person when you're in the same car for a long time.

For instance, how will you pass the time with each other? Can the two of you actually carry on a conversation or do you need constant distraction? What kind of music will you play? Do you have car games? How often do you need to stop? What if one of you needs to stop every hour while the other can go until the car is low on gas? Do you like snacks in the car? If not, when will you eat? Where will you eat? What if your option for eating isn't anything you like? Who pays for gas and meals, anyway?

Part of the road trip is learning to not only live with each other, but seeing if you actually enjoy each other's company. If you can handle all these questions and come out stronger, if you find that you look forward to these trips, then you two are quite compatible.

There's an even bigger question. Who drives? Who's in charge of this trip? Will you switch off? Will one person navigate? What if you get lost, will you stop and ask for directions, or will you keep going because you KNOW where you're going? Having one person make all the decision without any input can be frustrating, especially if those choices get you both lost. The two of you need to figure out how to make decisions and handle disagreements, because it's not just the destination you need to think about, it's how you get there.

Every road trip has the potential for disaster. You might blow a tire, run out of gas, get lost, encounter horrible and dangerous weather, run into a huge traffic jam, or hit a deer in the middle of nowhere. When problems arise, and they will, how do you handle it? Is your first instinct to blame the other person and deflect blame from yourself? Are you willing to take responsibility? Are you going to be paralyzed with fear? Are you able to handle it together? Did you anticipate any problems and is this going to be a simple fix, or did you assume it would be smooth sailing and are now stuck?

Disasters happen everywhere, and not just on road trips, and while some disasters can be avoided or even prepared for, others hit you out of the blue. All the road trip preparation in the world can't prepare you for stray boulders or suicidal wildlife. How you two handle these issues will tell you whether this relationship can handle the even bigger life issues that come your way.

All this to say that if you want to put this relationship to the test and see whether it's worth diving in headfirst, a road trip is the perfect way to test the water and make sure you won't snap your neck. (Don't you just love my metaphors?) It doesn't have to be a cross-country trek, and if you don't now each other that well, I'd recommend against that long of a trip.

Plan a day trip, and make sure that you'll spend at least five to six hours in the car. Don't just drive around either, actually pick a destination and make plans to get there and back in a day. Right there, this will help you figure each other out when it comes to advance planning, time management, and being forced to interact with each other for long, extended periods. It's harder than you think, because once you get the car rolling, you're committed to it.

Of course, you will have the option to cancel the trip once you get started, but that's pretty telling as well. If you can't get along in a car for just a few hours, then that's not a good sign for the relationship. Perhaps you introduced a road trip too soon before you two had time to figure things out. Perhaps it was just bad timing. Or, it's possible that when you are forced to interact in a less than romantic setting, you aren't nearly as compatible.

One of the reasons I was certain that my wife and I were compatible was our ability to enjoy road trips together. We took many short and long trips, even before we began dating, and all of them were fun experiences. Even now, we look forward to long trips because we know how to enjoy them, and we've put in the work to ensure that no matter what happens on a road trip, we are stronger for it. After all, we survived a road trip from Hell, a disaster that would have destroyed lesser relationships. That is a much longer story that I won't get into today. (Why yes, I am being a tease. Don't worry, I'll get to it.)

Road trips are an essential part of any relationship, and it definitely helps to find out early whether or not the two of you are good traveling companions. You're going to spend a lot of time together in that car journeying towards the destination, because if there's one constant in life, it's that it won't let you stay in the same place. So hit the road, and make sure you have the right person to hit it with you.

What are relationships like in a fantasy universe? Find out in the book I wrote.

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