I just got back from a long trip to Colorado, the home of my heart. I’ve grown to associate feelings with the word “home,” not places, as I’ve always felt like an outsider in most locations. My family, my friends, my husband, my dog and the things I feel when I think of them is what “home” has always been, but in CO, the mountains and the birds of prey and every rock and every person is somehow familiar and embracing of my existence. I hike and I climb there and nearly everyone I meet along the way becomes a friend I will come back and visit. They smile, they share, they expose themselves to me; there is no barrier preventing us from connecting. I feel like everyone has a place where they feel most familiar and in love with life, though some are still searching. For me, Colorado is it.
Part of the fun of trips to Colorado is never knowing what to expect. We’ve gone there in May and donned snowshoes on a couple feet of snow in the Rockies. We’ve gone there in December and comfortably climbed with a tank top and shorts. The weather is always entirely unpredictable, but always beautiful in its own way. This trip was no different. The forecast a couple weeks before called for 50’s, 50’s, 50’s. A week later, it changed to negatives, negatives, and maybe some 20’s and 30’s during the day. The initial plan was to sleep in our rental car the whole time. When we saw that forecast, though, we realized this would not be the climbing trip we had envisioned. We connected with our hiking friends in CO and climbing friends of our climbing friends where we live and managed to get a guaranteed four nights of the seven inside out of the freezing cold before we even left. We felt so lucky to have such generous and amazing people in our lives. This brought us to our first lesson of the trip: Trust connections.
After flying into Denver, we picked up a rental car, grabbed some lunch, and headed to our friends in Loveland. They were organizing a Christmas party for that night and had invited us to the party and to stay with them that weekend. D and I are not usually the party people (being former complete introverted wallflowers), but we’ve found over time that friends of friends are usually friends of ours. We kept an open mind and had a blast- D having a heated debate with party guests and I playing fun games with our friends’ family and friends. Second lesson of the trip: Be genuine and you will receive genuine.
The next day, we looked at the frigid temperatures outside and thought “We came to be outside. Let’s go!” We ate breakfast in Estes and headed to Rocky Mountain National Park with our friends. As we headed up the hills to Glacier Gorge parking, the temps continued to climb. When we hit the valley, the numbers dropped again. At 8 degrees Fahrenheit, we reached the trailhead, took a deep breath, put on some yak tracks and balaclavas, gloves, hats, snow pants, and pack on top of three layers of smart wool clothing, and we were off. I’m originally from Florida, so this degree of cold is totally foreign to me. Even with all this gear, my fingers and toes were still cold. I guess that is what -4 degrees does. However, I was comfortable otherwise and warmed up a bit while hiking. I was just so glad to be physically capable of hiking and appreciative that we were with friends (friends we’d met hiking in RMNP a couple years ago) and in this gorgeous place that the cold didn’t matter too much. As we hiked towards Loch Lake, a man in his 70’s+ lapped us at least twice. Then, a nineteen-year-old girl passed us, hiking solo in the wilderness of RMNP. Third lesson of the trip: Don’t make excuses for not doing what you love (not even age or negative temperatures)- Just do it.
Monday and it was still too cold to go climbing outdoors, so we decided to hike in Boulder instead and end the day climbing indoors at an awesome climbing gym. Some air outside combined with the variety of new climbing routes was enough to satisfy our outside and climbing desires. We met up with the girl who lapped us in RMNP at the gym and made another new friend. After getting some dinner, we headed to a climbing friend of a friend’s place with beer in hand and settled in for the night. Fourth lesson of the trip: Go with the flow.
Throughout the next few days, we continued to seek good views where we could, layering up for the cold, and meeting up with friends and family in the area. We enjoyed hiking in new and familiar places and exploring on our own as well as meeting new people and sharing time with them in their passion. We found a number of people were raw and open with us when there was nothing between us but time and shared experiences, and we had the opportunity to help people in their time of need. Fifth lesson: Give and you will receive.
Wednesday, it was finally warm enough (in the 40’s) to climb outdoors. The combination of the floods and snow and ice had wiped away much of the approach trail, so what should have taken 10 minutes took almost an hour of stepping/slipping/sliding in others’ icy footsteps and searching through scree for a path to the route. We came across a couple of people climbing a 5.13. Their impression of the climbing was “It’s cold.” After finding the route and dropping our packs, I sat down to put on my climbing shoes, only to stick both hands into a cactus. Fun times. Another 20 minutes of picking spines out of my hand and we were finally ready to head up a 4-pitch climb. Thankfully, D led, as there were a number of moves that were very height-dependent (as in NOT meant for a person my height). Three pitches up, the belay station was immediately over the top of the canyon and the winds picked up. While belaying D, I was being slammed into the wall numerous times by the wind and only a few feet above me was a sheltered roost. So yes, I think the impression the other climbers had was perfectly accurate- it was freakin’ cold. It was not my most outstanding climbing attitude or day. The coolest part? Seeing a huge, perfect peregrine falcon’s nest up close. It was big enough for me to sit in- and don’t think I wasn’t tempted, as it was sheltered by the wind entirely. Rappelling down was an adventure in itself, as was the approach- which was more like a non-graceful glissade down the icy, snowy, rocky slopes. Sixth lesson: Adventure is not always “fun,” but it is always something to look back on fondly (unless someone dies…).
After such an adventurous day, we were up for slightly less adventure the next. What did this mean? Aerial pursuits, of course. After seeing an amazing aerial silks performance in Cirque du Soleil earlier in the year, I had been intent on trying it. I knew it would be easier with the climbing skills we possessed. I had seen advertisements for some circus classes in the area and signed us up for a holiday aerial silks sampler. Unfortunately, no pictures as proof, but it was a whole lot of fun. I was impressed the skills I’d acquired in climbing were not only directly physically applicable, but also mentally. Before climbing, I would have been nervous about trying any of it, but I was more than happy to throw myself into moves I’d never tried before and loved it. Seventh lesson: Be open to new experiences.
The rest of the time, we spent time hiking and climbing indoors and hanging out with new and old friends alike. Okay, not unlike the rest of the trip. Still, it reminded me that not all trips need to be “productive,” that really it is all about finding the vacation balance. Moreover, it reminded me that constantly “seeking” something- anything- makes me unhappy. There is a time and a place for just being, for laughing, for socializing, not thinking too much, not working towards something, not having an agenda. Lesson eight: Stop searching for the sake of searching.
Any trips over the holidays that have taught you something?
In the last year, D and I have been on 17 overnight trips. So many people are amazed by this fact and ask how we do it because, ya know, traveling is expensive. Well, unlike the average American, as our (my/D’s) income increases, our vacations continue to get cheaper. Instead of revolving around tourist attractions and fancy food, our vacations now are centered on physical activity and for the most part free events. Whereas D and my first vacation together in 2005 involved at least $600-700 for a few days in Disney, our recent almost week-long trip to New Hampshire cost us $350 total for two people and a dog including gas, food, and “accommodations” (our Subaru Outback). We could have made it another $100 cheaper had we brought dinners to cook on our camp stove and spent an extra hour on the road avoiding tolls (holy cow- NY and MD tolls are expensive!!). Here are the ways we cut corners to go on as many trips as we do.
1) Plan, plan, plan!
All of the below require planning or you’re liable to spend way more than you originally thought. You will also likely find you are able to accomplish more with less energy during your trip. Studies are also showing that we are happiest when planning a vacation than even during it (Read more here)! My planning technique is extensive, involving a whole write-up with information about cheap but healthy food along the way, climbing gyms in the area (back-up plans), climbing crags, climbing routes, places to stay as plan A and plan B and C, etc. We don’t ever stick strictly to “the plan” and there is no way to accomplish hitting up all the items on the list, but we pick and choose when we get there, play it by ear, and have fun with no planning while we are there.
2) Stay with friends or family, in your car, at a campsite, or rent a cabin with a bunch of people instead of a hotel.
What I’ve found is that the best way to travel cheap is by taking advantage of connections. Staying with friends, family (or even friends of family or friends) provides not only free accommodations, but also often free food, a nice place to stay, and awesome time to socialize. If you don’t know anyone in the area, sleeping in your car is free. We’ve done it with two people and a dog and it’s honestly not that uncomfortable as long as your middle seat can fold down. Advice: bring pads for your hips/back! Campsites are often reasonable, $5-10 per night per person. Some even have wi-fi, game rooms, etc. If you have an RV or trailer (lucky you!), you can even find places that will let you park for free: I hear most Walmart’s allow overnight parking as do some rest stops. You have to check with them first.
3) Bring/cook your own meals.
This is one of the easiest concepts, but the most difficult to execute (in my opinion). This all of course depends on your accommodations.
If you have access to a fridge and microwave: Your options are endless! Bring sandwiches, salads (like this salad in a jar concept), home-cooked hot meals, etc. Eat leftovers and be merry.
If you have access to a portable stove, but no fridge: You can either buy dehydrated foods that you can boil water for and add to (this can get pricey too) or make easy small meals on the stove like mac and cheese, rice and beans, etc. If you have a dehydrator, you can dehydrate veggies and fruits and sauces and bring those with spices and pasta and quinoa, lentils, etc. and cook those together in the stove. You can also put dehydrated meals into separate freezer bags and add boiled water into these as quick on-the-go meals. (See this video for an example.)
If you have no access to stove, fridge, or cooking supplies: D and I lived on bagels with almond/hazelnut/peanut butter for breakfast and clif bars with apples/oranges for a week. We ate dinners out, but could have easily eaten PB/J sandwiches, canned foods, etc. Another idea is bring a cooler if you won’t be going on a trip more than 4-5 days and bring most food to your heart’s content.
4) Choose cheap (or free) activities.
Almost any outdoor activities are free or cheap (as in pay for parking and/or gear rental and that is it). Exploring towns and villages and window-shopping is free, but fun. Hooking up some more connections with friends could yield fun things to do without paying. Look online for free or cheap concerts, shows, or festivals in the area you’re visiting. There are countless activities out there that won’t break the bank.
5) Bring friends.
One of the things that has cut down on expenses the most for us is bringing others along. Instead of splitting gas or accommodations between two people, we split it between four or five and that is two to three times more the trips we can make in the future with that money saved. If you share food supplies, costs get even cheaper. Plus, it provides you with awesome experiences with friends who become closer every trip you take.
6) Find the bargains.
D and I start planning trips months ahead of time. Why? Because if we’re going to fly or get a hotel, it takes a while to find the best deal. It requires loads of research at numerous websites (I use Kayak, Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia, CheapoAir, and Southwest to compare flights and sometimes hotels and rental cars too) and just the right timing to get cheap flights. Also, you have to be flexible. If you have it planned out that you want to go to Denver (for instance) sometime in the next year, wait until those 72-hour travel discounts come up and book then. We got tickets for D and I round-trip to Denver for under $450 total in this way. Tip: The best time to travel is a few days to a week after a holiday or big event. For instance, Jan 4- wow, everything will be empty! Sept 6 (when school starts)- awesome! Also, don’t miss the great websites out there that allow you to have nice accommodations for cheaper like CouchSurfing and AirBnB.
7) Be prepared and flexible. (insert picture of us snowshoeing)
How is it possible to be flexible and book a ticket anywhere at any time? By being prepared for anything. We are going to CO very soon and right now it’s looking like a cold trip. We plan on climbing, but we’ll be prepared to snowshoe or backpack if the weather isn’t holding up or worse case scenario go to a climbing gym and hang out inside. Because we go with the flow and especially the weather, we aren’t disappointed with any situation and we don’t end up spending money on redundant items (like sweaters or raincoats) because we didn’t bring warm enough clothes or rain gear.
8) Take pictures and memories back with you, not souvenirs.
Souvenirs are for the birds. Seriously. Unless you collect specific things from every trip you take (like a sticker or a postcard because those are cheap :-)), do you really think a way-too-expensive ornament you bought in a gift shop on your trip is going to mean anything even a few days after you get home? In my opinion, the most important things about trips are what we experienced when we were there: the beautiful scenery, the sunsets, the challenges, and the people we spent our time with. Those can be remembered by photos and reminiscing with the people we experienced the trip with. So next time you go into a gift shop to buy a souvenir, take a picture of your friend in the crazy hat you saw instead. It will mean so much more years later. 🙂
9) Barter for pet or child care.
Pet care is expensive. Way too expensive for my liking. I love Winter and want her to be in a safe place enjoying herself while we’re away, but I just don’t think it’s necessary to send her off to doggy daycare. We have plenty of friends who love Winter too and enjoy having a pet for a week. We are immensely appreciative, of course, and offer them gifts in return for taking care of her. Some even stay at our place with her while we’re away. I would much rather know Winter is in safe hands and not be spending a fortune than leave her with people I don’t know and break the bank on pet care instead of saving it for future trips. I don’t have children, but it seems like many family members or other friends with kids wouldn’t mind taking in your kids for a weekend while you have some time alone in exchange for reciprocation or just love and cookies. 🙂
10) Make friends for future trips.
We’ve almost always met at least one new person during every trip we go on. Sometimes, those people become friends who we continue to meet up with every time we visit their home town. In CO, we have some friends who have been generous enough to open up their home to us almost every time we come into town and even offered us a Thanksgiving meal! It’s so nice to have a “home away from home” and people to visit and connect with during every trip.
11) Do the math.
When you actually calculate out the multiple ways of getting to a location, you will find there are a lot of factors that influence the amount spent. Driving is often cheaper than flying, for instance, especially if you have multiple people in one car. However, if you’re spending a whole bunch of gas on just bringing yourself somewhere, it can be as expensive as flying. If you get a flight on a deal (or with mileage), it can even be cheaper than driving. Driving halfway or all the way across the US even with multiple people can still be more costly (and of course less efficient) than traveling by air. Mileage of your car is also a factor in expense. Bundling a hotel or rental car with a flight can make things cheaper as well (but not always!). The point is before your trip (months before if this is not a quick weekend trip), calculate each method of travel and all the deals available and determine which is the best for you on your budget so there aren’t any big surprises after you come back home or worst of all during your trip!
In the end, traveling in more efficient ways makes your wallet happy and your mind too. It makes you creative and forces you to experience novel situations. Moreover, it is good for the soul to vacation without the tourist traps. When you spend time on the “back roads” so to speak, it is possible to experience a location in a new, exciting, and possibly more authentic way.
One Thanksgiving many years ago, D and I made the long trek to visit my extended family- my very large extended family. In my family, there are two large Thanksgiving get-togethers every year, each in different states. Each get-together consists of forty plus people. There is always one table with the “main” food and appetizers and at least two tables with dessert, as it is custom for each family to bring a homemade dessert. It is also custom that Thanksgiving “dinner” actually starts at 2PM and lasts until at least 8PM.
This was D’s first time meeting my extended family. We walked in the door and ten people greeted us with hugs and kisses on the cheek. Though I warned him, D was in a bit of shock. His family is…let’s say, not this way. My family is honest, loud, rambunctious, and sometimes even raunchy. This is what I know of family. It’s not that one way of being a family together on the holidays is better over another; we all have our own ways of being together and appreciating each other.
After D became accustomed to the difference in family styles, he happily started heated debates with my not-easily-offended family members and after that year, happily drove hundreds of miles to continue in this ritual Thanksgiving event with me. It was this year that I was especially happy and appreciative to be a part of my family. It was this year that I realized that there is something about being blood relatives that makes a connection different somehow.
A year later, D and I made the trip to the big Thanksgiving event again. This time, just as we had filled our plate and were sitting down to start some heated debates, D got a phone call from work. Being the only IT guy in his specific division, he was essentially on call at all times. He spent from that moment until the end of Thanksgiving “dinner” at his computer fixing a work “emergency.” He was frustrated and I was sad…and angry at the same time. Angry that on Thanksgiving- the one day we have devoted to being with family and giving thanks- he was stripped of his ability to relax, to enjoy life. He was imprisoned by his computer, by his phone, and his job.
I understand there are emergencies in life that often happen at the worst times. I understand that there are life or death situations that require immediate attention- during holidays or not. I understand having someone who has to work for time-sensitive tasks. However, most work “emergencies” in general are not true emergencies. And is it worth forcing people to give up their time with family, their time to relax and not worry about being called in general, their time to be thankful in order for them to provide a large company with slightly more money (while the people making the big bucks in the company enjoy meals with their family, no less)?
D has since acquired a job where his company better understands the need for time with family, time for relaxation, and time to be thankful in life. However, not nearly enough people (in America especially) have this luxury. So many people working in retail and many other non-emergency-related jobs are now being forced to give up their time to relax, to enjoy family, and to be thankful in order to make some more bucks for the big shots in big companies. I know others feel differently, but having experienced so many nights and so many vacations ruined by D’s work, I can say it is a horrible feeling to have no reserved, unimpeded time for a sanctified day of rest, of thanks, of love. I am also disturbed that this is becoming the norm. I am disturbed that there seems to be a higher value placed on consuming, on corporate giants and their overflowing wallets over making connections with friends and family. And I am disturbed that some people are continuing to support these efforts to make the work/life line even more unbalanced for others.
Please consider whose Thanksgiving (and specifically future holidays) you are effecting through your actions this year.
This is a guest post by a good friend who manages to have a busy job involving lots of travel, climb all over the world, cook healthy food, keep up a climbing blog, a house, a cat, and a very large group of friends! I always ask her how she does it, so here she is telling us how!
I often have folks ask me “How do you do it all?” and I just respond, “I am a trained Project Manager in trade, and I somehow am actually really good at transferring those skills to being a Project Manager at Life.” It may seem like an Infomercial pitch, but truly that is my approach and I am quite successful so far.
As a background, here is my story: I am working on an advanced masters, possibly PhD, rock climb around the world, work to cure cancer, hike, bike, exercise, cook fresh meals, blog, Instagram, Facebook personal, Facebook Climbingjourney, interview folks, see my family, help my mom, and so on. Oh my, now I am thinking “how do I do it all?”
There are many ways to balance one’s life and not one right way. There are many learned skills and not one perfect skill. And when I stated Project Manger of Life, that is how I view it. This is how I categorize my life to make it happen:
Make it a breathing priority – Without breathing, we die. Not taking it that drastic, but these are the things that we really need to focus on a daily basis. I categorize it as the must do, I don’t always want to do, the must do to live, the must do to have fun, and the must do to love myself. These are not scientifically proven to work, but it is how I categorize my day, how I balance my life.
Must do, I don’t always want to do – go to work everyday
Must do to live – eat everyday
Must do to have fun – social media, talk with friends, text, etc.
Must do to love myself – breast check in the shower for lumps, meditate and do yoga for 10 minutes right out of bed every single morning
Make it a frequent habit – This is not breathing, but maybe filling the gas tank type of level of prioritization. It does not happen every day, but you need to keep an eye on it several times per month. Here is where I try to schedule in things like paying bills. I only do this on the 16th and 1st of every month. If not those two days, I put it aside and revisit just those two days (unless an unexpected bills comes in that I must address). I also even schedule my laundry 2x per month (don’t have kids, have that luxury for now!) and if not those laundry washing dates, I just parking lot it until my next routine clothes washing day.
Make it a less frequent habit – This is not filling the gas tank, but this might be like dusting the house, once per month type stuff. I have routine tasks that I just don’t do as often but need to make sure I visit them every month or every couple months. This could be changing the oil, washing all the sheets, and so on.
Annual Clock Work Tasks – This is the routine physical exam. Like clock work, we need to do it, but it is something we just don’t do very often. I set up milestones and try to stick to them. I try to set one milestone per month. January like clockwork is my PE and teeth cleaning. May of every year is my neighborhood yard sale, so April is when I schedule spring cleaning. And so on and so on. By doing this, I tend to get the most important things done around the house and for myself.
Go into the 70’s and dream about it – There are things that seem so far out of our reach, that we must dream about them first. And out of 10 things we dream up, we can actually make 1-2 of these things a reality. Things here can be a house renovation project, a road trip, a ½ day at a spa, and so on. Anything that you want to dream up, do it freely. It does not hurt to dream at all because that is how typically I may have that 1 or 2 things unexpectedly amazing things I get accomplished. But because it is a dream, there are no commitments or disappointments; I shift any over to reality if the stars align. If not, I just keep dreaming and stay in the 70’s.
Overall, many ask how I do all that I do. Life is a balancing act and truly I have perfected being a project manager at my life. It may seem a bit overboard, but this allows me to travel everywhere and climb and explore different places while I still carry on a career and pursue other things in life. It may seem like too much and yes, I will slow down some day, but in the meantime, while I am trying to juggle many awesome things in life, I also do want to actually cherish and enjoy every moment of it too.
I have many friends old and young, gay and straight and asexual and polyamorous, every color, from every culture, and above and beyond them all being humans, there is another characteristic that unites them—they are all searching for someone (or multiple someones) to be with. And even deeper than that? They are looking to be understood by this someone(s), understood and most of all accepted for who they are. As most of you reading know, this can be a very messy and painful process.
I want to disclose that I’ve been married for four years and been with my husband for almost nine years. I was lucky- lucky to find my “someone” as young as I did, lucky that we’ve been growing in the same direction, lucky we are willing to learn alongside each other about who we are and who are evolving to be. I’m also lucky to have not been jaded by any extremely painful relationship breakups previous to the one I’m in now and have been in since I was 18. I realize that this disclosure may make some people think I have no credibility to offer them advice with their more advanced years and experience in dating and relationships. Admittedly, maybe I don’t…but, let’s be honest- I’m not still searching, so maybe I’m doing something right. My parents met in their teens and have been together for 35 years and both sets of grandparents were together for more than 50 years until death did them part, so I’ve had my fair share of great role models when it comes to relationships. I’ve also witnessed many of my friends in relationships that didn’t work out (and some that did of course) and have observed some patterns of positive/successful and negative/unsuccessful relationships. Without further adieu, here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way:
1) Figure out who you are first.
That sentence makes it sound so simple, but believe me- I know it is not. One reason figuring out who you are is difficult is because we seem to always be in flux, changing from one moment to the next. And yes, it is true- the me ten years ago is in my opinion a totally different me than I am now. However, when I look deeper than my friends and hobbies and interests, there are aspects of me that have not changed. I have always been a pessimist, for instance. I have tried to change that, but it has not been fruitful. I have always felt as though I was an old soul in a young body, and throughout the years, I continue to feel as though my mind ages quicker than my body. I have thus always been attracted to others who feel similarly. I have always yearned for central stability- financially, emotionally, physically- and repelled any act of impulsiveness (though it does sound like a more fun way of living sometimes). I saved my money for months and years in order to comfortably afford what I wanted even when I was a child. I had no trouble delaying gratification or having extreme amounts of self-discipline. I could keep going with this list. I’m sure if you meditate on yourself- the deeper traits that make up who you are- you will soon come up with a list as well of things about you that have not changed through the years.
This list is essential to understanding 1) who will best understand you and 2) who you will best understand. The reason for this is because though opposites attract in terms of more superficial traits (like being organized or messy, homebody or life of the party), the more fundamental character traits need to complement each other or major problems are likely going to crop up. For example, how many times have you seen a happy couple where one partner’s religion is very important to them, but the other partner was brought up in a different faith and going to religious functions is the last thing on their to-do list? I only know of one. Another example: One partner who wants children and one who does not. Both of these examples portray two people whose image of their future and world outlook is inherently different and is more likely to cause problems than two people who are, for instance, not complementary in their desire to be tidy or messy.
2) If you have one bad relationship, it might be a bad apple. But if you have a string of bad relationships (especially with similar failures)…hate to break it to you, but it’s probably you.
I’m not trying to be mean, but the above statement is true. Don’t we all have a friend who we want to support, but part of us just wants to tell them “Look, you keep dating the same guy!” I’ve noticed a pattern of women (young and old) who continue to be attracted to the “bad boy” and continue to be wooed by the impulsive money spent on them, extravagant gifts and vacations, and constant sense of thrill and mystery. Many of these women expect the impulsiveness, fun, and thrill to continue through a dating relationship and then to morph into perfect husband or father material. They think a naturally impulsive person will suddenly want to begin saving when a ring or a child comes into the picture or that the fun will continue to be the same while throwing up with a stomach flu. I understand that there is a time for fun, impulsiveness, thrill and mystery. But what I’ve found is that far and wide, people don’t change very much (unless they really *really* want to—and not because you want them to either). So before going into a relationship and expending time and energy and pieces of yourself on it, consider who this person is now and who they will continue to be in 10,15,20 years and whether that is a person you think you will still want to be with at that time given what you want for your future. When we accept a long-term relationship as a commitment, we are saying to the person “I love you as you are and I will continue to love you and see and understand you- warts and all.” If you can’t say that to the person you are dating (and keep dating), find someone you can.
3) No one is perfect, even you.
Did you really need it said? When you are in love, love goggles make you think the person in front of you is perfect. You ignore the things that grow to bother you later in the relationship, once the “honeymoon phase” is over. This love is only the initial phase of love, the blinding love. The best kind of love, the real love, is the love that sees you at your most vulnerable, your sickest, your most hurt and hurtful, and understands who you are and why you are the way you are- and accepts this. Does a person who loves you love everything about you? I guarantee you that the answer is no. They just know that you as an entity are the package- and that inherently comes with baggage. They take the bad with the good, because the good is perfect for them. That aside, our partner also has a view into us that no one else in our life has. So if they tell you to consider another viewpoint or tell you something that feels very painful and raw…maybe it’s true. You aren’t perfect. Neither are they. But as a partnership, you can help each other be the best people you can be as mirrors of our best and our worst traits.
4) Don’t compromise. (Really!)
I had always been advised by others in relationships that the key to relationships is compromise. But when I looked up what the word really meant, I was confused. I had always thought these people meant that sometimes someone “wins” and other times they “lose.” The definition of compromise is “an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.” So compromise means that both people lose. It isn’t what sounded or felt right to me. If we are both unhappy in order to resolve a fight, what good is that? I decided to never compromise on the big things, but instead to figure out who the fight is more important to and discuss openly what each person hopes to gain. And unlike all those people who say “don’t go to sleep angry”….well, we sleep on it. It gives my husband and I time to process our disagreement without being swept into emotions. If it’s really an important fight, it requires some thought to resolve. If you wake up and can’t remember what you fought about, it wasn’t important enough to continue. In order to decide how much a fight matters to each of you, you can either discuss it openly or last resort- each rate it on a scale from 1-10 and talk about it. Communication is obviously key, but make sure you do not give up things that really matter to you and also consider the other person’s needs and wants to make a decision that everyone is *happy* with. You may even determine a hidden third option that doesn’t remove anyone’s desires from the equation.
5) Love Hurts.
Hollywood romances are not real. We all know they aren’t real (logically), but emotionally, we all want a partner like those on the screen. We want a beautiful and sensuous love/lust to propel us through an entire lifetime without ever having a fight or hurting each other. We want to be seamlessly accepted into one another’s families and friend groups. We want to have amazing sex, take luxurious vacations, and never consider finances. But love is not enough, finances are always a concern, family and friends will not love your partner as much as you love them, sex will not always be amazing…and worst of all, you will hurt each other. Do you know why? Because in order to have someone understand and accept you, you have to show them who you are. And in showing them who you are, you are providing them with weapons- weapons they may use against you when they are weak and vulnerable against you. If there is a couple in the world who can say they have never had a fight or hurt each other, I will show you a couple who has not put their whole selves on the table. And I will also show you a couple who is missing out. Because you have to put it out there- you have to show them- to get real love, real connection, and real strength. Without this, you are just two people living in two worlds, sharing bits and pieces of a life you have created under a facade. You work to keep up the facade instead of risking rejection or hurt. Instead, you hurt all the time being someone you are not… Real love is worth hurting for. I promise.
6) Real love grows with the years, while lust is quickly extinguished.
People talk about “real” love, and I suppose everyone’s opinion of real love is different. My opinion? Real love is one that has always felt natural, from day one. It is a love that never makes you question your partner’s commitment to you. It is a love that becomes something much much deeper over the years. As you watch your partner’s face changing, real love allows you to keep seeing them in new ways- and smile more because of it. Real love is when you’ve finally accepted that your partner’s dirty socks will always be on the floor in the morning- and there is no point in bringing it up again because that’s obviously just who they are. It is also picking up one’s dirty socks because you know the other partner gets pissed every time they see it. Real love is making each other grow as individuals and asking the hard questions. Real love is making the hard decisions. Real love is sometimes hating your partner’s guts, but knowing in the same moment you still love them as much as you want to kind of kill them right now. Real love is not always happy; in fact, real love is there in the saddest of times and the silliest of times too. Real love involves embarrassingly telling your spouse that you have a crush on someone else and them smiling and saying “It’s okay, sometimes I have crushes too, but you’re more than a crush and you are important.” Real love is being with someone for 50 years and still thinking “There are never enough years in my life of being with you.” Real love is a constant, something that doesn’t need to be questioned or explained or justified. It just is.
7) Work on yourself first and the right person will come along.
I spent 18 years of my life entirely single. I know that isn’t long and relationships in middle school and high school rarely work out anyway, but for the longest time, a relationship is all I really wanted (and of course, always with unattainable people). The most amazing thing happened when I got to college. I didn’t care anymore. I was having way too much fun with my new friends and auditioning for plays and dance companies and learning new things and taking on new hobbies and finally for once in my life- being accepted as myself. I stopped thinking about dating or relationships and decided I would just enjoy myself and having someone else didn’t matter. I was a means in myself; I didn’t need another to complete myself. My now-husband was meanwhile in the same boat. He had been working on himself: learning tai chi and understanding himself better. We both had profiles on Match.com which had been sitting there for months to years (years in my case, months in his) without success and were both very close to cancelling our accounts. And then, on a whim, I winked at his profile. He looked cute and his profile was thoughtful (as opposed to 99% of the other profiles); I thought nothing of any follow-up. And then I received a response from him that took my breath away. And there went my not caring about being in a relationship. The right person came along, and there we were…attached. There were no fireworks, no blind dates, no romantic meeting in a coffee shop. It took both of us feeling “complete” to bring us together.
I’m not using any scientific method to prove my point, but I’ve certainly met a number of other people who actively searched for many more years than I did for a partner, and the minute they stopped caring and decided they could honestly be alone in life and be happy, they met someone that turned their world upside down. I know that the last thing someone wants to hear after they have been searching for so long is “Stop searching (emotionally) and work on you.” But I think it’s true. It doesn’t mean give up. It means find completeness in you. The person who finds you attractive in this state will love who you truly are, not the persona you wanted people to see while you were actively searching.
8) You can’t expect one person to complete you or fulfill every relationship role (ex: lover, friend, person to go to the clubs with, etc).
It used to be a long, long time ago that relationships (specifically marriages) were merely contractual agreements to be bonded financially and have children. Love did not enter the picture. Therefore, people would very regularly have other “love” relationships outside of their marriage in addition to friendships with others. In this construct, it was easy to have a more logical and responsible relationship with one’s husband/wife, while also having a less responsible but more fun and impulsive relationship outside of this. Friendships were also very important to a person’s happiness, as this is where a person could be most themselves. Nowadays, it seems we keep heaping more and more responsibility, expectations, and roles onto our partners. We want them to provide and be responsible with finances, take care of children, take on household tasks, be our best friend and confidante, be fun and carefree and impulsive, and also want us all the time as lovers. Not only is it hard to accomplish all of these roles in general, some of these roles conflict. For instance, when we watch our partner being strong and sufficient (or just plain dirty/tired) in taking care of children all day or doing the dishes or telling us about their warts they went to the doctor for, it may be difficult to want them in bed. Instead of wanting our partner to “complete” us, it may be better to pick and choose what roles are most important and necessary for them to take on. If they don’t enjoy comedy clubs but you love them, for instance, give them a night to themselves and go out with some friends who can share the experience with you. Make some nights all about being fun, some nights about finances and serious talk. When allocated, it becomes easier to compartmentalize different roles.
9) Find a passion you can both appreciate.
My husband and I discovered rock climbing together, but I don’t think rock climbing is the only avenue where a shared passion will help to continue sparking a relationship. Though it is of course important to have your own passions separately, when you share in a passion together, it is easier to continue growing in the same direction. It also provides for built-in “together” time where you are both engaged and involved with each other (or at least with whatever the shared passion is side by side) and shared friendships.
10) Don’t “need” your spouse; choose them.
I’ve noticed many people stay in relationships they are unhappy with because they feel they need the other person emotionally or financially. Though my mom has been happily married for 35 years to my dad, she always instilled in me that I should be able to be financially sufficient on my own “just in case.” Though I didn’t like the “just in case” concept (because I didn’t like the idea of planning for a possible divorce), I did take the idea of being sufficient on my own financially to heart and extended it to emotionally as well. I think that whether or not it is actually needed, it increases the confidence of people in relationships if they know they are not dependent on each other emotionally or financially. In this light, both people are in the relationship only because they love each other, not because they at some point feel obligated (though I do understand adding kids into the situation changes things slightly).
11) All great relationships are work.
With the divorce rate close to 50% in 2014 per the CDC, it always makes me wonder what it is that causes people to split up so frequently. Is it cheating, illness, financial issues, the stress of kids, generally “growing apart,” or something else? Based on my very unscientific experience, it seems like very often it is just generally “growing apart.” I am convinced (again, through my very unscientific analysis with an “n” of friends and acquaintances in my life) that many of these relationships could be brought back together again if only their perspective was altered slightly to realize that all good (especially great) relationships require feeding and work. What you inject into the relationship is very much the product you will get out, so if you think love alone is what will keep you and your partner growing in the same direction, you may be in for a surprise. Growth also requires work, so you can deduce that stagnancy will lead to the “same old, same old,” which many people take as “I’m not in love with this person anymore because they aren’t ___ anymore.” Not to get too metaphorical on you, but a flame also requires feeding or it dies too. If you are not feeding your relationship like the flame it is, it’s intrigue will continue to degrade with your love..or at least lead to a very boring relationship.
12) You only need one to work out.
Dan Savage (sex ed columnist) once responded to a person complaining that they’ve had X number of failed relationships with “Every relationship you are in will fail until one doesn’t.” It sounds so obvious, but it does seem like people think they have failed themselves or are doomed to die single when they haven’t concluded their search after dating a certain number of people. You haven’t failed; you’re just working through the pool of potential people. Perhaps you are looking in the wrong place if you aren’t finding enough potentials, but yes, they will all fail…until one doesn’t. That one is the only thing that matters. So keep kissing the frogs (and keeping an open mind) until you find your prince.
I just got back from an amazing vacation. I feel relaxed, rejuvenated, and energized to be productive and throw myself anew into personal and career goals. It’s rare I feel this way after a vacation, so when I do, I ask myself: what made it feel so great? Over the years, the conclusion I’ve drawn is that even though everyone has a different definition of what a “great vacation” is, all great vacations fulfill (and balance) a number of different desires: rest, adventure, productivity/new experiences, nature and intimacy.
I came from a family where a “great” vacation was one where my parents could get away from us kids for an extended amount of time and where my brother and I could also be separately participating in activities we enjoyed (sometimes I think we have entirely different genetic makeup). We were lucky enough to go to Club Med a couple times, where there were supervised sports for my brother and theater/circus performance participation for me (adventure). My parents laid on the beach reading most of the time (nature and rest), but my dad also learned how to hang on the trapeze and we all snorkeled together and rode donkeys through the small villages of Dominican Republic, where my brother and I witnessed what “poor” really meant (productivity/new experiences). We spent evenings eating dinner as a family and were often accompanied by interesting people from all over the world, who were more than happy to tell us their stories (intimacy). We never looked at a clock, as there were no clocks on premises. It is something I’ve kept in mind for future vacations- to enjoy and be in the moment, not think about the future or the past (rest).
We warmed up our hands by hiking hard, then beginning climbs while not being able to feel the rock and midway thawing out (adventure). We climbed on new rock with new routes, experienced our first New England fall foliage, ate dinners at local restaurants, and met a whole bunch of people from all over the US and even Canada (productivity/new experiences)! It may not be the ideal vacation for most people, but it was one we will never forget and learned a lot from.
Rest- Like I said before, all “great vacations” look different to everyone. Rest to you may be defined as sleeping in, catching up on some good reads, or getting up early but taking a nap in the middle of the day. Some people may even identify a long walk or yoga as rest. Rest is whatever your mind and body need to replenish its reserves from the more hectic and stressful experiences of your day-to-day life. It is a getaway, a restoration to re-connect you to your family, your friends, nature, and/or yourself. Just make sure not to sleep away all of your vacation, as rest is not the part of a great vacation that makes you feel restored entirely.
Adventure- Adventure is definitely a matter of degree. For some people, adventure is rolled into new experiences and for others, it’s taking a short hike or backpacking into a desert, climbing hundreds of feet up a rock, or hiking up Everest. Whatever adventure is to you, its significance in vacations is important- it allows your brain to put day-to-day concerns into perspective and it provides you with feelings of accomplishment and energy to face future challenges (related or unrelated to this adventure). So the next time you just want to lounge on the beach on vacation, consider finding something outside your comfort zone to experience as part of the trip too.
Productivity/New Experiences- The only reason I roll productivity and new experiences together is that sometimes challenging yourself to experience something new is productive on its own. And sometimes it requires productivity like planning in order to have the best new experiences. For instance, before every vacation, I make what I call an “itinerary,” but it’s really not a real itinerary. It’s a list of all the places and things to do (and food to eat) in the area that look interesting with all the key information about them bulleted such as hours of operation, website, price structure, type of food, etc. There are no times or official schedules of events. When we get to the location, we see how we feel and pick things to do as the time at a location progresses. This way, I’ve done all the research “work” before the trip, but there is no stress to get X, Y, or Z done within the specified amount of time. It has worked out well for my husband and I as a couple, since I am type A and tend to schedule too much and my husband is definitely type B and would tend to lay around not doing anything with himself and regret it later. It’s also worked out well on trips where one or both of us get sick and the original general plans are just not working out for us anymore. Since all the needed information is right in front of us, it’s just a matter of a decision and quick preparation so we are “productive”, but not stressed or feeling overly obligated with our time.
Nature- To me, this is the most important aspect of a vacation, and it often satisfies all of the other desires too. Within nature, we can feel intimate- with ourselves, with nature, and/or with whoever our partner in crime is. Within nature, we can be at peace while having an adventure, exploring new places or even just exploring ourselves within the quiet. Nature is unpredictable, beautiful, dangerous, and yielding. Accepting that a vacation within nature will be in part what nature wants you to experience and also a large part how flexible you are to the experience it is providing will bring you to a better understanding of yourself and things around you. Bring a raincoat all the time so you don’t miss the beautiful sounds and smells of a fresh rain. Plan to accomplish something, but ditch the plan as soon as plan A isn’t working out as well as you had hoped. You may find a vacation in the rain is the best one you’ve ever had. (I’m talking from experience—a backpacking trip in the rain on the Appalachian trail pulled me out of my sinking depression quicker than months of talk-therapy did. See picture below.)
Intimacy- I’m not just referring to sexual intimacy, though of course that may be on your agenda too. 😉 Intimacy is not even entirely about personal or significant relationships. Intimacy is about “a close association with or deep understanding of a place, subject, etc.” We can feel intimate with people we just met, who happened to be on the same trail as us. We can feel intimate with the squirrels sharing our space. We can feel intimate with ourselves. And in order to gain intimacy, one needs to quiet all the thoughts we typically we have running through our heads like cars in NASCAR. A peaceful, safe, and beautiful moment must be created to yield deepness and clarity within words, within silence, within touch. And these sometimes brief moments allow us reflection into what holds our world together: connection. It is easy to forget connection when we live our lives within our separate cars and houses and cubicles. And it is this lacking connection that continues to make us feel we need vacations at all. It doesn’t seem society is going to change anytime soon, so vacation is where you can embrace this and rejuvenate your feelings of being part of this world- your significance and insignificance within it.
Wherever you are off to on your next vacation, be sure to balance rest, adventure, productivity/ new experiences, nature, and intimacy into it in order to have a *great* trip.