I've just returned from a short weekend away with one of my oldest and bestest friends. We have lived the majority of our adult life in different countries, at times different continents, but we have cultivated our relationship by keeping in regular touch with weekly catch ups on Skype, emails, and now of course instant messages. As we grow older and more independent and capable, we have started a new tradition: we meet once a year in a random destination for a weekend together. We tend to pick places neither of us has been to before, both for novelty, and for being on equal ground as tourists. This time we went to Malta - which by the way is lovely even in December.
I'd love to tell you more about all the beauty of actively celebrating and cherishing important friendships, but the reason I sat to write this post is a whole different one and I tend to digress and write too long posts anyways, so I shall try to stick to the original point, and that is, perspective. Travelling with my best friend has opened my eyes on a dynamic which has often troubled my romantic relationships and which was particularly evident during holidays.
Whilst we get along great with many traits we share, my friend and I also happen to be starkly different on a whole bunch of other fronts. She is a single child; I'm sister to 4. She is a planner, I'm a go with the flow. She is an organisational wizard; I'm an airy mess. She is highly rational; I am ostensibly emotional. She is pretty much a tee-totaler; I enjoy my glass of wine with meals. On top of this, she is a coeliac on a strict gluten free diet, and I am dairy free on a confused free-from-lots diet.
Many of our skills are complementary: I might translate for the both of us, while she draws our travel plans; she sets our cultural sightseeing, I think outside the box; she navigates directions, I click all pictures. I am the make up and fashion stylist, she helps me pack smart. All of this added to a solid, authentic and long standing friendship means we gel and flow really well together. Nonetheless, there are bound to be moments and situations where we find ourselves at odds. Maybe she wants to spend the day visiting sights from Churches to castles, and I on the other hand want to chill and see where the day takes me. Maybe we take an hour to pick a restaurant dictated by our respective taste and dietary choices. Maybe I want to order a bottle of wine and she wants to drink green tea. Sometimes we accommodate the other person's preference; other times we compromise. Nothing too peculiar about that, you'll say. Indeed.
What made me stop to think in fact, was something else. Noticing all of this, I couldn't help but recall the many holidays spent with a romantic partner who, goes unsaid, had all of his individuality and as such, a whole different idea of what a break might look like. I remember as if it were yesterday the countless arguments had because one wanted to spend every waking minute at the beach while the other wanted to stay in and watch Netflix (aaaand, yes, I can still hear the voice at the back of my head, going "Who on earth would travel 6000miles across the world to want to spend it in a hotel room watching Netflix, blimey!" there she is, little judgmental thing!). Or the times one would start sipping G&Ts at 12 sharp on the beach while the other (insert critical voice here) questioned the sanity of doing so this early/often. Fair to say you get the drift I think, without needing to disclose further dirt on my then very rigid, controlling, not to say ****** streak. (In hindsight I am surprised I wasn't told to go to THAT place more often than I was, hey!).
So what then? The lesson lies in the fact that this time, I found myself on the other side - I was the one wanting to chill; I was the one not fussed about much doing; I was the one downing two glasses of wine before 3 o'clock. And? And, behold behold, I was met with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders. My friend wasn't fazed. She didn't mind my habits being different, and she sure as hell didn't bust my ***** over it. Ah! What a pleasure, being free to be free. Being free to be me. We might have slightly different ideas about it, sure, but it's meant to be a break for both.
As I found myself on the other side then, I thought - what if my friend had to act with me much like I had done with my partner? What if she had tried to enforce, cajole, complain, nag - how would I have reacted? How would I have felt? Sod it - is what I probably would have said, we're different but I still want this to feel like a well deserved holiday.
Call me stupid but this, to me, was a real breakthrough moment. Unexpectedly, I found myself fully able to step in another person's shoes; and from there, I could catch a glimpse of what my own behaviour might have felt like to them, and of where they were coming from back in the day. It can at times feel difficult to fully grasp another person's reality; to perceive things from their point of view. Can I tell you though, now that it happened by accident, it really made me stop in my tracks and reconsider my attitude from scratch.
As they say, perception much like reality is extremely subjective. They also say, there is always some right on both sides of an equation. And there are countless proverbs that go "Do unto others as...". The problem is that more often than not, we are so stuck up in our own sense of righteousness, with our head up our behind, that we fail to notice, while we might have our share of 'right', the other has theirs too. It's not enough to imagine "If it were me" coz that can too easily be framed in our favour - in the imaginary, ideal visualisation, we surely 'could have done different *cough cough* better'.
It is when we are ACTUALLY living that hypothesis that we can realistically ascertain how we might behave in those circumstances. So here, it might be just me who's had to learn the lesson by being rammed by it in the face. Maybe you all are wiser already. Nonetheless, a kind reminder. Let's follow our oldies' advice: put yourself in 'their' shoes - as closely to literal as possible - take a couple of rounds from where you then stand. Then return them, and watch yourself change. Off I go to offer a much needed apology to the someone I relentlessly lambasted. Times two.