My friend, Katie, is preparing for her best friend’s wedding and was thinking through what to say since, like me, she is a single woman that has spent more time traveling than having relationships, and has no marriage plans in her near future. She felt underqualified to provide any advice at a wedding; yet, she was right in identifying that in place of the above, we’ve had some unique experiences that not too many people get. We have learned things about love out there, and she asked me to share what that has been for me. With some minor edits, this is what I wrote for her.
I’m not going to talk about elusive romantic love because I don’t think that’s the kind of love that brings you to marriage.
What travel has taught me about love:
- Love is a choice. When you’re coming and going as much as I do, love becomes a choice. Not just romantically, but friendship and familial love require effort, communication, and willingness to stay connected with those you don’t see everyday. I’ve learned that this connectedness can be lost even when you are physically close to another. Keeping ties while growing is a labor of love. There will be a lot of ups and downs throughout the duration of any relationship, and it will be a choice to ride those through together. Love is also an investment. Time is the best gift you can give and receive, and it’s important to carve those spaces of time in busy schedules for those you care about. Love is shown with actions. It must go beyond words.
- Love invites love. Traveling requires you to depend on people that you don’t know. Kindness from strangers can make a big difference when you’re lost and/or alone. You begin to appreciate the smallest gestures. Smiles. People taking an interest in your life. You reciprocate. Love and kindness transcends language, steps in when words fail, and it will take you farther. This is a survival skill when traveling, but when practiced enough it becomes a positive habit in daily life.
- Love is the answer. I have spent so much time around the world learning about its problems, trying to help alleviate them, and improving certain conditions. I have slammed against many walls. There are too many variables. When almost everything is outside of my control, the only thing I can control are my attitudes and actions. I’ve discovered that if I act from love, then I’m doing the only good thing I can do, and perhaps its ripples may grow into waves. In the face of many uncertainties and unstable circumstances, love is often the only justifiable motivation to keep going and the one, definite answer.
- Love requires compromise and an open mind. I have learned to live with, and love, people with whom I have very little to nothing in common. I rarely agree with them, and they mainly think I’m odd. On paper, this is an obstacle to love and friendship, but with compromise and an open mind I have learned to appreciate people for who they are, and for their goodness—whatever that may be—and not for qualities I value for me. We are not the same, and what’s good for me isn’t universal. Still, we can coexist and have mutual respect for each other’s views.
- Love doesn’t have a formula, but it’s definitely hard work. In my travels I have found women in arranged marriages, and those that have married for love. There are the people that fell in love at first sight, at a very young or older age, those that moved halfway around the world for their love, and those who just followed the practical, sequential step in their relationship’s development. What the couples that have stayed together have in common is a relentless commitment to their families, prioritizing these relationships above all else, and working everyday to keep them in tact, nourishing their members.
- Communication is important. Though human beings are very social, the truth is we each live our own lives. What we feel and go through is intensely personal. We’re all alone in our version of our own experiences, and how we interpret these based on a multiplicity of factors. No one can read minds, and no one could or should assume what another person is thinking or feeling. Communicating directly, clearly, honestly and well is a skill worth developing that will result in improving every kind of relationship. This not only includes knowing yourself, but also learning to listen, controlling your reactions and immediate impulses (which has often been very hard for me) and having calm, objective conversations. Say no to passive aggressive interactions and not saying what you really mean! A brief example: When my mom likes things done a certain way, I can’t magically know what that way is, and it’s usually not important to me. If she describes it to me, and stresses it’s importance to her, then I would happily do it because I love her and want to help her/make her happy. I’m not maliciously rejecting her preferences to spite her. I just did not know. Just speak up! It saves all involved a lot of arguments and anger.
- Love is urgent. I had to answer a question recently on what drives me. I answered: the idea that time is fleeting and that we should not waste it. I believe that so deeply. Life and love are urgent things that are happening right now. I can’t stand it to think that I’m wasting it with pointless activities, rancor, or simply, by letting opportunities pass by silently. Sometimes, I get stuck on the idea that we could be missing out on knowing so many cool people, or having the best experiences, just because we didn’t speak up, put up excuses and stayed in our comfort zones. I try to avoid this as often as I can, and it has worked out amazingly. When I’m not traveling, being plugged into music is how you will most often find me, but I often wonder if I’m inaccessible to others because I couldn’t just stop and be. I’m trying to change that; but, it also requires that other people reach out. I seldom encounter this kind of attitude in spaces that are not filled with travelers. We should change that, and be more present. I want to live in world where we see that we don’t have forever, and that daylight’s wasting, so we better do something before the moment passes or time runs out. (Yes, I am paraphrasing Beyoncé.)
- Love is a lair. I consider myself to be a flighty individual, who has moved around often and fears being trapped. I got stuck in an elevator once: it was not pretty. Houses—static, boring, unchanging, long-term constructions filled with stuff—have often resembled cages to me; but, after a great conversation, my perspective has changed and now I see that a house—or rather a home—can be a lair. I don’t have my own house yet and this is a cliché, but true: home is where the heart is. Though my home range spans as broadly as Ecuador to Indonesia, Atlanta to New Orleans, to places I’ve never lived in but that contain friends, I’ve gotten really comfortable with arriving, staying awhile, and feeling at home, basking in the glow of their love. Now, I love being in the presence of those who don’t see houses as cages, but have made beautiful lairs where ‘routine’ is called ‘tradition’, and where nostalgia fades quickly because those you love best are near. You don’t have to miss them; you just go see them. What a novelty! For me, there was a time when all places would quickly become enclosures, inspiring a need to flee, but now I see, that in any place I choose to be, I’m free.