he carries ruins to ruins

One of my least favorite things about OkCupid is the near-ubiquity of “I love to travel” in everyone’s profiles. I don’t, and I don’t think that makes me unsuitable for a relationship, but it seems that travel and romance are identical in a lot of people’s minds. I know things couldn’t work with someone who insists on a lot of travel, and it’s because they’d reject me over it, and there’s something wrong with that.

My attitude to travel is a lot like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s (Self-Reliance):

It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.

I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.

Travelling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.

There’s at least a little bit of hypocrisy in my dislike of travel, since I’ve done quite a lot of it…in childhood, involuntarily.

It had a profound effect on me, mostly positive, but it was difficult and not a lot of fun at the time. Airports were always a stressful ordeal. Usually a fight of some kind that morning. Getting uprooted from a place and my friends there, never to see them again.

And I hate flying since 9/11. No, I don’t want to get searched, scanned, and groped by the federal government. I don’t want my time wasted with security theater while I’m surrounded by people who appreciate how much they’re being protected from the spectre of brown people. I look suspicious. I can’t hide my irritation. It’s just a horrible place.

I’d much rather have a calm, sustainable routine than a stressful life punctuated by epic vacations. This is wise. I’m autistic, yeah. I like to have stuff planned out. I like knowing I’ll be able to find food and a bathroom whenever. New things have a cost in terms of downtime to process them afterwards, and endless novelty and stimulation is too much. I don’t like pushing myself through the sleep deprivation and jet lag. I don’t like driving all day.

That said, I’ve travelled in relationships before. It had its moments, but it wasn’t exactly relaxing. I was pushing myself outside my comfort zone with my partner, without being able to explain how much because I wasn’t diagnosed yet. It was just like, “PLEASE can we have no music at all for a bit while I’m driving?”, where I couldn’t explain that for serious I can’t take loud CocoRosie for any more hours.

The reason I’m thinking about this topic is an article in The Week, “I wanted a soulmate who would travel with me. Then I met him.” Cassidy Randall starts:

Recently, I stumbled into a new relationship, and he’s everything I’ve been looking for: intelligent, motivated, caring, hilarious. I’m so attracted to him I can barely stand it. There’s just one problem: He won’t travel with me.

For me, this has the potential to be a deal-breaker. You have to understand: I’ve structured my whole life around travel. I work for myself so I can operate remotely, navigating time zones and disconnection. My desire to adventure is one of the reasons I don’t want kids; I need to be able to fly across the globe at a moment’s notice. Travel isn’t just a fun hobby for me. It’s a lifestyle, and I always thought I’d fall in love with someone whose lifestyle matched my own. I wanted a soulmate with whom to experience all the globetrotting epics: learning to surf in Hawaii, skiing in Argentina and refining our Spanish, watching the Northern Lights dance across the Icelandic sky, or even just heading out for a last-minute weekend road trip together.

See? Dealbreaker. I don’t bother messaging people like this. I just accept the rejection preemptively without bothering anyone.

She structured her whole life around travel, she says. Of course it doesn’t add up that she’d live a jet-setting adventure life on her income as a freelance writer. Yeah, right. She’s a bit more honest about that here:

Unlike much of the ski-town crowd, I don’t live in a van or a tiny home (although I’ve been known to live out of the back of my truck for weeklong stints). I’m a classic weekend warrior, generally working full-time as a freelance writer and marketer. I like to have money in my bank account and an adult home, and I tend to choose a nice bottle of wine over a night at the bar these days.

Uh huh.

Having the money and leisure to do this stuff is mistaken for being a good partner:

I suppose that may sound cliche and overly romantic. But my dream of a wanderlusting lover isn’t far-fetched. I’ve looked wistfully at those many relationships where each partner is the other’s built-in travel buddy: my sister and her husband hitchhiking on sailboats together through the South Pacific, or my two good friends driving around Europe this fall. Those relationships are made stronger by shared travel experiences. They are forged in an environment of wonder and, inevitably tested by hardship — there’s nothing quite like getting hopelessly lost in the rainforest in Colombia or being ripped off by a cabbie in Vietnam to measure your compatibility as a couple.

Meanwhile, social media has created its own special brand of romantic FOMO that can leave us feeling lonely in our own relationships, or extra lonely in our singleness. It’s all too easy to watch with envy as couples on your Instagram feed dip their toes into the ocean or climb ancient Aztec ruins hand-in-hand. I admit I often catch myself thinking: I wish I had a partner like that.

Why is taking a tour of the colonies romantic?

What’s wrong with her friends and relatives that they can’t experience wonder without getting on airplanes, one of the best ways of preventing snow at her ski resorts and corals at her tropical islands? Travel is gratuitously destructive of nature.

And how privileged is someone that they need to pay out the nose to have inconveniences they call “hardships”, just to test their partners? Any time I’ve been in a relationship, life found ways of introducing hardships without any extra effort needed on our part.

She admits that it’s a narcissistic social media competition, done in part to make others feel bad.

At heart, the question I need to ask myself is this: Do I really need my partner to be my travel buddy? The answer, I think, is no. We often expect our romantic partners to meet all of our needs — intellectually, sexually, and beyond. We want them to be our companions and our support system, to share our dreams and our living costs. But it’s impossible to ask another person to fulfill your every need. And, frankly, having a partner whose passions are all the same as yours is probably quite boring. Your unique ambitions and separate experiences bring depth to a relationship, ensuring you always have something to learn from your partner, if they’re willing to teach you. More than anything, your differences pave the way for a lifetime of growth as a couple.

My partner meets so many of my other needs in ways no one else ever has. And it’s not like I’m giving up travel for him. I just have to scratch that itch in other ways, with other people. Luckily, I’ve surrounded myself with adventurers. I learned Spanish in Mexico with my sister, and snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef with my dad. I backpacked in Patagonia with my best friend. Soon I’m heading to the Yukon to mountain bike with my regular riding crew of a dozen women, and planning a trip to float Desolation Canyon on the Green River with good friends.

It makes me wonder what she’s avoiding. When my marriage was falling apart, my ex put all her focus on a vacation to Indonesia with her obnoxious friend.

My new relationship has also revealed to me a need I never knew I had — a need to be grounded, to touch base, to be still between bouts of travel and adventure in which I immerse myself in foreign cultures and generally exhaust myself seeing the world. I’m shockingly content lounging on his couch at home and talking for hours, or making dinner and walking the dog.

Yes, travel is exhausting and lounging with a partner is restorative. News at 11. It definitely sucks getting used as home base, though. She’s taking all her best energy, exhausting herself, doing a bunch of other shit where she’s physically separated from her partner. Then she crashes and he dotes on her, always the afterthought.

But apparently he broke through her bullshit:

Real love, the lasting kind, isn’t the first day of your most exciting adventure. It’s not even the worst day, when you’re tired and lost and everything’s gone wrong. Love is a thousand ordinary nights at home, the sum of which make you happier than you ever thought possible.

We can’t control who we fall in love with. We can’t force our partners to conform to our preconceived notions, like my imaginary globetrotting soulmate. The real thing is right in front of me, and the deal-breaker would be my failure to see it.