As much as I’m an adventure nerd, I’m also one to totally geek out on social theory and wax philosophical on the state of modern romance. I’ve proudly shuffled my body onto the front lines of the tenaciously curious, the publicly vulnerable, and the sex positive. On the trail, a few days ago, I had a brief moment of revelation when I thought about how nice it was to consciously hike alone in silence for a while, even though my friend was only 50 feet behind me.
And that’s what got me thinking— why don’t we treat our relationships like long distance hiking? Sure, the comparison might sound like quite a stretch or an ill-fated metaphor at first, but hear me out! I had ten miles to think about this stuff while I hiked, and I think it’s an awesome concept.
First of all, giving each other the space to walk away into the woods for a while is an incredibly empowering practice. On the trail, sometimes you’re having a kick-ass day in which you want to sprint down the switchbacks after summiting a challenging peak or you’re deep in a poetic trance and need some extra room to meander. Life is totally the same way! I feel like people too often get caught up in being nice or subscribing to a false notion of security (codependency) and forget how to ask for a moment away here and there. I think a lot of people forget that there’s a way to ask for space in way that’s kind and affirming, rather than a harsh ultimatum. I also think that specifying a set amount of time away can really help to manage a partner’s expectations and insecurities so that you can both truly be at ease and come back to a space of togetherness feeling more whole. For example, demanding space to work on a new project indefinitely might make your partner feel like suddenly he’s being swept aside and not cared for. Instead, setting a week to agree not to call or text or a month to only hang out via Skype every three days could be the perfect balance of the two worlds – whatever works! In nature, I highly doubt that someone would throw a branch at you for pushing ahead one day for a while or asking to hike alone in silence for an hour, and allowing for that kind of conscious space within more of our urban relationships could really strengthen the bonds we form.
As I hiked, I also thought a lot about how important it is for me to psych myself up before a huge, uphill chunk of trail. I’ll take off my pack, eat a square of chocolate, check the map, tell the god of death “not today,” and do a few yoga poses to really get into it. It would be really awesome to create partnerships in which both people took a moment to acknowledge how difficult a new work project, move, or family illness is going to be before just barreling into it without a mission re-up to guide the way. If we take a moment to pause, we can learn to turn crisis into a regenerative experience. Life is a constant dichotomy of the ecstatic and the morose. Being able to accept and move gracefully between and around the two seems to be the shortest route to happy living, but you gotta take a moment to define the next step before it happens!
Contrarily, I thought about how goddamn silly I get after a huge push is completed. My legs feel like springs when I take my pack off and bounce around after a high mountain pass! Light as a raven feather! Then it hit me – we should endeavor to create a system of consciously rewarding ourselves as a partnership after a difficult challenge is faced or overcome. Even if it’s just something super simple like making plans to bake a cobbler together on Wednesday or splurge on those Sweeney Todd tickets next week, carving out space to relish a success together (even a tiny one!) should be a habit we teach ourselves in every relationship. I have a group of friends that practices “Victory Ice Cream,” where every Thursday, they treat themselves to ice cream and proclaim their wins for the week. Humans are incredibly adept at creating ritual, and these little additions are crucial to modern living.
Looking back, I suppose you could boil this all down to simply embracing a more conscious and mindful living pattern, especially within relationships, and that’s absolutely true. But, I also feel like long distance hiking, whether alone or with a partner, gives a person some serious first-hand practice in camaraderie, meditative space, and self-care. And, perhaps most importantly, when you become confident in your ability to go it alone for a bit, even in the wild, you allow your partner essential space to breathe. As Rainer Maria Rilke put it, “a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”
I wish to always see myself and my loves as whole and before an immense, blue sky.