The Five Minute Rule: How to Stay Friends with a Long Term Travel Buddy

 

Rooftop tea with the madrassas of Bokhara behind us.

 

It was 7 am, breakfast. Chris and I faced each other across a low table in a Moorish courtyard, still waking up.  We were silent as the owner of the bed and breakfast brought us bread, eggs, and melon, and we started eating without a word.

It was a while before Chris spoke. “So I think we should set up the stand in the bazaar tomorrow.”

I nodded.  “OK, what do you think we should do?”

It was a lazy answer from a tired mind.  Chris and I had been biking for almost two weeks straight, with all but two days of that spent camping and crossing the vast deserts of the Central Asian steppe. In the desert, we thought it would be fun to challenge ourselves to open a small shop for a day in one of Uzbekistan’s lively bazaars, which are at the commercial heart of every town.  We planned to use the adventure as a centerpiece for an article in Afar Magazine.

“Well,” said Chris, “I was thinking we set up at one of the free counters and use the camp stove to make Americanos.”

It was our first day in Bukhara, the perfect time to start executing on the plan. But I’d woken up in a sour mood, and wasn’t really feeling inclined to any new adventures that morning.

“Why don’t we make lemonade or something cold?” I snapped.  “People aren’t going to want to drink hot coffee when it’s this hot.”

Chris leaned in and smiled and tensed his shoulders, which is what he does when he gets irritated.  “But serving Americanos would be funny because we’re Americans. Plus we’d get to show off the camp stove, which I think would make people curious.”  He clearly was also tired, and didn’t feel like being second-guessed.

“Yeah, but then you’re also just a guy serving coffee.  And Americanos aren’t even American.  They’re espresso.  Don’t you think it’d be better to serve something a little more unique?

“I really don’t think it matters.  What else could we serve anyway? There aren’t any lemons in this country. Plus we should use the camp stove.”

“You’re so stuck on the camp stove thing! And it does matter!  What the point of going out there if nobody shows up to the table? Don’t you think people will prefer something cold?”

I will spare the reader the rest of the argument, which was some version of the above lines on repeat for another five minutes. The reason we plan these adventures is because they force us to change our routine, to do something unexpected and interesting.  But the fight had sucked all the fun out of it.

“You know what?” Chris spat, tired of talking to me, “I think I’m just going to spend the morning writing.”

There it was: the heart of the issue. Though we hadn’t been able to articulate it when we got up, the only thing we felt like doing that morning was spending some time apart.  We’d been glued together for almost three weeks, on a boat across the Caspian and on bikes across the Steppe, and now we just wanted independence.  We did not, of course, really care what we served at our bazaar stand. But we yearned to be able to dictate the decision, or at least some decision. We compromise on almost every little detail of our lives, and each of us wanted to make a few choices, however small, that were dictatorial.

It was not a new feeling. These kinds of arguments happen all the time.  The record low may have been a week prior to this incident, where a heated debate broke out on the side of the road about whether we should get bread and sausage from a market or eat bread and soup in a café. These arguments are the product of fatigue, stress, or sometimes just boredom.  They never have anything to do with what we’re actually stressed about.

Our secret is to see them for what they are.  We know each other well enough that we can almost tell when the other is angry, depressed, or just uptight before they know themselves.  Arguments are the product of emotional and circumstantial triggers, and it is understood that they have no bearing on the solid foundation of our friendship. We’re best friends, almost brothers.  We love travelling together.  We just bicker.

That’s where the five minute rule comes in.  We both understand that the arguments don’t matter, and so we never let them compound.  We argue whenever we feel like arguing, but it never makes the next argument more intense.  That’s because five minutes after one of these little bitch fights is over, it is forgotten.

Right after Chris told me he was going to spend the morning writing, we went into the room to go gather our things and I suggested we go visit the bazaar.  He immediately agreed; splitting apart when we’re angry sucks. So we spent a pleasant morning walking around, sampling homemade cheese and home-raised honey and Central Asia’s delicious pit fruits.  That afternoon, we spent a few hours apart, writing or reading in different cafes, recharging the batteries.  But it was short, and that night we met again for an over the top evening with some South Africans, an Aussie, and an Englishmen, and let loose on any energy we were holding in.  The next day we planned the bazaar stand all over again, being in no condition to go execute the plan.  We’re going to do it in Samarkand, and we’re going to serve coffee.

Bike Touring, Travel AdventuresPermalink

3 Responses to The Five Minute Rule: How to Stay Friends with a Long Term Travel Buddy

  1. pH says:

    The process you describe here, in its simplicity, represents the greatest of PostulateOne’s accomplishments. Sociologists and major government organizations such as NASA spend significant resources understanding how to overcome breakdowns in human interaction in order to keep critical missions going. You have accomplished it by shear will, and passion for your mission.

    Every PostulateOne reader has had many circular arguments á la “coffee/no, lemonade/no,coffee”. But odds are high that none has been tied at the ankle for 12,000 miles with the counterpoint person. Your situation is not unlike being locked in the space station.

    Reaching back to your writings in SouthEast Asia (Thailand , and Laos…?), when you had to confront the wear and tear of constant mutual dependency in the face of incessant logistical challenges with ridiculously modest means, this fan recalls the near collapse of the mission; your two personalities had ground each other down, and the joy of the travail seemed sucked out by the fatigue of the relationship. So this latest entry, as it breaks down the process of intellectually accepting the bickering as normalcy, disarming it in the process, then building from it, points to stunning maturity and intelligence.

    While one might see that statement as grandiose, it comes from understanding the destructive power of ego, and seeing how the PostulateOne team has been able to drill deep down into it to break through to the other side. Yours will have been a bold emotional and spiritual traverse, a social accomplishment that defines your mission: how joy can arise from conflict in the midst of a stress. This, I believe now, is what PostulateOne will have stood for.

    It is powerful. Riding across Eurasia on $10 a day while writing articles, developing a topline network of publishing contacts, blogging and producing media…all of that and the many other activities you pursue daily while on the move…they represent only a backdrop. How you do it while continuing to play off of each other’s strengths through conflict is The Big Experiment. It has so many ramifications of importance that it could be at the core of PostulateOne’s mission statement. It could define the future of PostulateOne.

    How did the Americano’s go over in Samarkand?

  2. A.W. says:

    To have realized that it’s really not about “should we serve coffee or lemonade” at this stage in your young lives is really quite remarkable ! Many people go through years of therapy…some even to an MFT masters program to figure this out! This awareness will always help you navigate relational conflicts along this journey called life.

  3. alan atkins says:

    It’s a wonderful moment when, after a heated argument reaches climax, someone blurts out the real kernel of the issue, which usually resides very far from the topic of the argument itself. I know a family who’ll debate about politics until the argument gets heated up to the point where one of them will suddenly break from the topics and scream, “you didn’t leave me the car and I had to wait two hours for you to get home!” Humans are wonderful, nuanced things.

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