The saying goes that you don’t really know someone until you live with them. Well, I think that it ought to be, you don’t really know someone until you travel with them. I’m not talking about two weeks in a 5 star beach resort here; I’m talking about 9 months, on a budget, in Asia.
We’d been together for a long time and I practically lived at his anyway. He used to come and stay with me during my weekends and university and we’d been on numerous holidays together. We’d always had a mutual agreement that we were able to have a fulfilling and intimate relationship without:
a) Using the toilet in front of each other
b) Using bodily gas as a form of retaliation, weaponry or defence
c) Me giving up on regularly shaving my legs
We still abide by these rules, they aren’t difficult to stick to and we are both more than happy to comply…but somehow after the last 9 months, they just don’t seem that important anymore.
Firstly, disposable razors in the village shops of rural China are expensive and blunter than a toddler’s fromage-frais spoon, so my silky, smooth legs were the first thing to go. He quietly accepted this while he was knocking back laxatives because he hadn’t been able to go to the toilet for a week. When he did finally manage to stimulate some movement, we were trapped in a miniscule bedroom with a shower curtain for a bathroom door. I couldn’t leave while he did his business, for fear of being ambushed by the Indian hotel owners who were constantly lurking outside, so I sat on the bed and hummed Mumford tunes to myself until it was over. This was closely followed by me missing a couple of my pills which gave way to the worst period I have ever had. In Malaysia, they don’t sell tampons, only huge, nappy style towels with an absorbency level equal to that of a duck’s back. After sending him out on a mission to find me a better product due to an embarrassing leak on the bed (cringe) he came back and found me attempting to thread my own upper lip – something which I had previously opted to do without an audience.
The first time he used a squat toilet for a ‘number 2’ he came out before he managed to ‘go’ because he couldn’t work out how do it. I told him, red-faced and with actions, how you just have to crouch as low as possible and…you know. He came out afterwards and explained that he had only managed to ‘go’ after he had gotten butt-naked; the flip flops stayed on, and hung all his clothes on the back of the door. A few days after this, it was my turn to emerge sheepishly from a public toilet after having some serious issues with the water pressure from the ‘bum gun’. I’d managed to soak my entire self with one powerful blast. We even once spent an awkward 20 minutes while waiting for a train, discussing the ease in which the clean process takes place after using a squat toilet (if you’ve done it, you’ll understand.)
Toilet troubles soon became an almost daily occurrence. In Indonesia, he got a horrendous case of food poisoning after eating a whole barracuda. Hearing him retch up fish bones whilst wetly farting in-between each painful heave is a noise I wish I could erase from my memory…and I’m pretty sure that he’s keen to forget me screaming at him during a jungle walk in Sri Lanka that if I didn’t get to a toilet in 30 seconds I was going to have to shit in a bush.
Aside from the personal issues which you would normally be able to discreetly keep to yourself, there is no escaping the fact that if you decide to travel together, you are with each other for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You have no choice. That is some hard-core quality time right there.
By the end of our trip we made a joke about the fact that we would take books to dinner to avoid the mind-numbing conversations about how much sand we’d each found in our ears that afternoon. God forbid we would forget our pack of cards and have to spend the time between our beer and our dinner trying and failing to find something to say to each other that we didn’t already know. It was however, nice to know that we had nothing to talk about because we were with each other for every waking and sleeping moment, not because we had chosen to switch on the telly or browse Twitter instead of telling each other about our days. We learnt more about each other in those 9 months than we had in the 9 years that we’d known each other.
We’ve now seen how each other make new friends, how much each other’s families mean to each other and we’ve had time, away from all the distractions of home and the opinions of friends and families, to go over and over and over the type of future that we both want. We’ve changed our minds a lot and compromised a lot but it seems as though now, more than ever before, we are finally on the same page. It’s also, for both of us, taken away that fear of being human in front of each other. With nowhere to hide, we’ve seen each other at our best and worst now, and that is actually a huge relief!