Monday, 26 March 2012

We're Not Fighting, We're Disgusting

Disclaimer: This post is long and largely personal, even by my standards. If you could care less about Vincent and me and are just here for the pictures and information about travel destinations, please accept my apologies in advance and go buy a Lonely Planet.


Being in a couple is hard.

Don't get me wrong, I love Vincent very much and we have a great marriage, but even the best relationships can be a challenge. Regardless, after nearly ten years together and a few hundred "discussions"* about everything from whether to have kids to where to put the kitchen sponge, things generally run pretty smoothly at the Bertot household.

(*As a random side note, I learned to say "discussing" instead of "fighting" from my parents, who, when we kids implored them to "stop fighting," would always respond, "We aren't fighting, we're discussing." One time, my little brother and I were playing in my room when we heard shouting from downstairs. David, who as a five-year-old didn't have the strongest grasp on the English language, turned to me and said in a matter-of-fact tone, "Mom and Dad aren't fighting, they're disgusting.")

But traveling as a couple, especially long term travel, is hard. Traveling raises new issues, creating even more topics that need to be "discussed."

The steepest hurdle that we have faced while on the road is the fact that traveling together, unlike in real life where our jobs provide us with a daily 10-hour respite from one another, forces us to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week together. That doesn't sound like it should be that difficult for two people in love, but think about it: no alone time; no time with just your friends; no one else to confide in or talk to.

Just the two of you.

All. The. Time.

For the first two weeks of the trip, we felt like we were on vacation- we liked being together all the time and congratulated ourselves for being so rock-solid that we didn't need anything but each other to be entertained. As my brother (who has grown into a remarkably witty, articulate young man, despite his early confusion with words) always says: no one was as cool as we thought we were. That was Vincent and me at the beginning of the trip.

By Week 4, we were ready to kill each other.

Slowly, we learned that we needed some time apart from one another in order to appreciate our time together. We started actually blocking off designated alone time and changing our habits so that we each felt like two independent individuals instead of some two-headed couple monster created from a pair of people who were fused together against their wills. You know that old saying, "How can I miss you if you won't leave?" Well, from experience, I can say that it is painfully on point.

Granted, we didn't come to that conclusive solution by simply "discussing" it like civilized adults. No, we were in denial about just how much we needed to change our ways until a theatrical, quasi-public blow-up in a hostel courtyard.

Now, before I tell you all of the embarrassing, ugly details (and you know I will. Over-sharing is kinda my thing.), let me first preface the following by saying that I am a firm believer in fighting fairly. I think that losing your temper is childish and weak, and that getting ugly while fighting- I mean discussing- can have serious negative effects on your relationship. I generally hold to this principle and pride myself on keeping things mature and civil during a disagreement.

But not this time.

Vincent and I had been at each others' throats for a week or so, and despite recognizing that we needed more alone time, hadn't actually changed anything to make that a reality. I have no idea how the fight started, but it culminated with Vincent laying in a hammock, pointedly and disrespectfully ignoring my attempts to communicate with him (which makes me crazy. Like, The Incredible Hulk, rip-your-shirt-off-and-overturn-a-car insane) and me standing on the other side of the open public space, facing him, slightly bent forward at the waist, fists clenched into little balls at my sides, eyes bulging and face contorted with a fiery rage.

"Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck yoooooooooooooooou!," I bellowed, in a deep, guttural voice, not unlike the little girl from The Exorcist, before turning on my heels and stomping away, right arm stretched as far as it would reach over my head with my middle finger waving spectacularly in the air back towards the direction of my husband.

I abruptly turned the corner, causing the cleaning lady, who had been pretending not to watch our drama, shriek and back out of my way against the wall.

Once inside, I couldn't help but peek back around the corner to witness the effect my outburst had caused. But when I looked back, there was Vincent, pretending to read like nothing had happened.

Ignoring me.

For half a second, I fantasized about busting through the courtyard wall like the Kool-Aid Man and ripping Vincent's head off. But instead, I did what any normal person would do: I dissolved into dramatic, self-pitying tears, ran to our room and curled up in the fetal position on the floor.

Which is where Vincent found me later when he decided to make sure I hadn't blown a fuse completely and came to make peace. We had a long, long, long discussion about how we needed to make some serious changes to our situation, which had obviously gotten ridiculously out of hand. I mean, I couldn't even brush my damn teeth without asking Vincent where he had put the one tube of toothpaste that we shared. Something had to give.

And it did. We have learned that we don't need to do everything as a team. We have to trust each other to make good decisions for the couple and not constantly be peering over each others' shoulders. I can be trusted to go to the store on my own and come back with something other than popcorn and beer (most of the time) and Vincent can be trusted to buy bus tickets without consulting me on the seat location. Our team is stronger when we allow ourselves to divide and conquer our responsibilities and spend our together time actually enjoying each others' company.

So that is the challenge, and believe me, it's a big one that we have to constantly struggle with. But that said, I can't imagine doing this trip without Vincent.

When we aren't wanting to strangle each other, we are sharing an experience that is strengthening our bond and challenging us to be more patient, more caring, more open people. Every new struggle- a missed bus, a room so tiny that we are literally running into each other, two weeks of sleeping in bunk beds- forces us to grow; while every good experience allows us to appreciate what we have.

Traveling with Vincent means having someone with whom I can share that amazing chorizo sandwich or make fun of that guy posing in front of the salt flats in jean shorts with his shirt off, flexing his abs so hard for the camera that he ignores his facial expression and ends up looking constipated and angry about it.

I have someone to help me climb back down the canyon wall and who will carry the six-liter bottle of water that I impulsively bought back to our hostel. I have someone to tell me that wearing one long earring like the Argentine girls looks dopey, and who will assure me that having a beer at 10:15am is ok as long as it's with food.

I have someone who might be pissed (and I do mean pissed) at me for losing my fleece (and my tank top, and my headphones), but who will still let me borrow another layer when I'm cold. Vincent is my emotional crutch, my comic relief and my excuse when I don't want to go out to the bar with that weird German girl who keeps trying to be my friend.

There is no one else in the world besides Vincent that I could travel like this with and no one else I'd rather be with on this adventure.

Traveling as a couple isn't easy- in fact, it's really, really difficult. But I'd rather have to deal with being scolded for losing yet another pair of underwear, than to have no one to hug in wonder when the fog starts to clear, and Machu Picchu comes into view.


  1. Beautiful. Wise words!

  2. L O V E! Keep the personal stuff coming, who cares about macho pistachio :)

  3. I loved reading that Elissa. Thanks for sharing! You two stay stong :)