I remember the day that things got a little weird. Jacky had flown out to California to visit me and we had driven down Highway 1 to Arrowhead. Sitting in a tent out in the middle of the forest, acid trip in full swing and mostly naked, we heard a car engine and some male voices in the distance.
We paused. I looked at her. She looked at me. Understanding passed between us wordlessly. We suddenly saw ourselves as a male observer might: two bisexual girls naked in a tent in the woods. As the air of sexualization settled over us, our discomfort was tangible. We grabbed our shirts and retreated to opposite corners of the tent, shaken.
After our come down, we debriefed this little exchange. What had happened, we realized, was that in the throes of our innocent, asexual acid trip, we had become suddenly aware of the stereotypes that society, particularly men, project upon our friendship. Realizing that there were men in the woods too, were were stricken with an uncomfortable sense of duty—were we supposed to be sexual with each other?
There’s always a narrative box that people seem to be forcing onto our friendship. The two slutty bisexuals, close friends and comfortable with our sexuality, meeting nice boys on the road and….
The truth is that Jacky and I have never been sexual with one another—and we never will. We’ve talked about it and talked about it, and talked about it some more. We’re happy exactly the way we are. But just because we are certain about our boundaries doesn’t mean that other people respect them.
What we’ve since realized is that nobody cares whether Jacky and I are sexual with each other—except for the men who want to be included. It’s the elephant in the room whenever we make a new male friend, it becomes a conversational undercurrent in hostel groups and at parties. We find ourselves consistently confronted with the discomfort of being sexualized as a package deal.
We could certainly unpack this further from a gender and sexuality standpoint, and we will in another post, but the real point of this article is the mechanisms that we have found to overcome this discomfort and keep our friendship intact. Truthfully, we’ve found ourselves in several sexually uncomfortable situations since that day in Arrowhead, and our friendship has almost ended because of it.
What saved our relationship, and the lessons that any travel team can take away from this, are these three communication strategies:
Communicate your priorities and create space for them
Our number one rule when we travel together is that our friendship is the most important relationship we have. It sounds unnecessary, but affirming this to each other helps us confront a lot of hard decisions.
It helps us overcome insecurity and jealousy on nights when we’re out meeting people. It means that we’re always on the same page when somebody we thought was cool starts making things a little weird. And it means we never have to fight over territory when it comes to looking for partners.
This prioritization helps us stay on the same wavelength. If we’re out hoeing and want to split up, we set meet up points and times. Whenever a new man enters our lives, we always check in to see whether one of us is interested in him. If somebody is, the other leaves space for them to work. If neither of us is, we agree to team up to maintain our boundaries. If both of us is interested, we maintain that our friendship comes before anything this boy might want from us.
By holding these conferences and committing to put our relationship first, we avoid a lot of uncomfortable situations and are able to consistently act like a team, even if we’re out drinking or partying.
Set clear boundaries, and commit to talking about them
We have very explicit boundaries with each other. But more than that, we have open lines of communication for when those boundaries are accidentally tested.
We have a standing policy of unpacking everything together, so we always know how the other felt about a given experience and how we can do better in the future.
If we find ourselves in a situation we’ve never faced before, we know that our priority is our friendship, and we aren’t afraid to take a time out to have a conference about what to do.
The trick is understanding that boundaries change and evolve over time. There will be situations we might not have faced yet, but we understand that discussing those boundaries as they are approached is work we are willing to do.
We leave room for existing boundaries to shift after careful dialogue, and recognize that a crossed boundary is a call to action for us to work things out, rather than a cause to end our friendship.
Now, it’s just assumed that we will talk about everything, and our friendship has been much better for it.
Communicate your insecurities
The fact of the matter is that for women with strong personalities, hanging out with other strong women is, while incredibly rewarding, very difficult at times. We are consistently put in situations where we find ourselves being compared. We become unwittingly competitive at times. It creates a lot of room for conflict, if left unchecked.
Our sexualities often exacerbate this issue. Often, we find ourselves measured up against one another or expected to compete for attention from men. It doesn’t help that we both tend to meet opposite standards of beauty and, like many women, have struggled with our self-images.
Letting this discomfort go unaddressed in any friendship, especially one as high-contact as a travel one, is a one way ticket to fighting, passive aggression, and hurt feelings. We overcome this by being brutally honest with ourselves and each other.
The most important thing here is that we don’t just talk about being insecure in general. We name our struggles explicitly so that we can unpack them and the impact they have on our relationship. We do this work constantly so that we can understand where our feelings come from and give space for them to exist in our friendship.
Communication with your travel partners is essential for a harmonious trip. Maintaining these open channels and leaving space for hard conversations has made our travel companionship much happier, and saved our friendship numerous times.
We have employed theses communication strategies on a regular basis since we began traveling together, and while building those dialogues takes practice, it’s worth the effort to build a much stronger and more validating friendship. Now, even if other people try to project their own fantasies onto our relationship, we always know how to confront this discomfort and remain close friends.