More Thoughts on Conflict
Last week, I wrote about the challenges I face, being a conflict-averse person, writing novels that turn directly on emotional conflicts between characters. That post seemed to spark a lot of interest, mostly from other conflict-averse writers. Their comments have led me to think more about how conflict works among family and friends–people who are supposed to love and support each other.
Years ago, after completing law school and taking the bar exam, I traveled with my college roommate through western Europe. We both had Eurail passes, which allowed us to travel by train to most (all?) western European countries. (For a small surcharge, we could reserve a “couchette”, a fold-down bed, and we did so for a few overnight trips, thereby saving ourselves the cost of a room in a student hotel!)
We started our trip in Amsterdam. Within two days, we met numerous people who had begun their trips with one or more friends, all traveling by Eurail pass, but who had split up along their journey.
We quickly realized why these splits occurred. To (mostly-) sheltered US kids, EUROPE loomed large and terrifying–there were borders to negotiate, money to exchange, languages (or pantomime) to master–all sorts of details we’d never grappled with before. But the train system, especially with a Eurail pass in hand, turned out to be trivially easy to figure out. And the rest of it–borders, money, languages, etc.–all fell into place in short order.
“Europe” turned out to be a lot easier than most of us expected. At the same time, sharing plans and compromising on travel arrangements with friends sometimes turned out to be more difficult than expected. Travelers need to negotiate meals and a schedule for visiting tourist attractions and an agenda for which cities to see when, and, and, and. There are a hundred decisions a day (at least!), and if those decisions are made with friction, the game soon gets old.
Therefore, for a lot of people, it was easier to turn to travel companions and say, “Hey, I don’t need your support. I’ll venture out on my own. I’ll take my Eurail pass and go.”
So, being sort of odd, my college roommate decided to see if we could argue with each other to the point where we would say, “Take your Eurail pass and go.”
These mock arguments were over silly things. “You ordered alfredo sauce with your pasta–that’s disgusting! Take your Eurail pass and go!” “You wanted to walk from the Louvre instead of taking the Metro–that’s absurd! Take your Eurail pass and go!” “You wanted to sit in the English Garden instead of taking in one more museum! Take your Eurail pass and go!”
We collapsed into laughter every time.
But the truth is, we both avoided the real pressure points. On days when we were especially tired, or hungry, or stressed about being lost, we didn’t play “Eurail pass.” When we played, we never dug deep to real criticism of personalities, or choices, or … whatever.
We were both too conflict averse to truly fight.
Twenty-six years later, we’re still best friends. We still joke about taking our Eurail passes and going. And we still avoid the truly hateful things we could say to each other. (Which, let’s face it, is a list that’s grown, with twenty-six more years of ammunition!)
This evening, I travel across country to see my college roommate, for an intense trip at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (five plays, three days!) We’ll stay up too late, talking. We’ll eat too much. We’ll take shortcuts in conversations, just quoting punchlines to each other because we already know the stories.
But we’ll never get close to the true bone. We’ll never actually take our Eurail passes and go.
How about you? Do you have “Eurail pass” friends and relatives in your life? Have you ever been the one to take your pass? And how did that turn out?