I’m wrapping up a two week stint in The Hague, Netherlands, and I’ve been thinking through why this trip seems to be a lot more difficult for my psyche than most of my other trips. The coworkers that I’ve been traveling with have been fantastic, and there has been no shortage of funny discussions, mostly regarding random contrasts between U.S. and European culture (and British culture, which is entirely its own thing.)
I am starting to appreciate, though, how much intimacy in relationships and conversation is so vitally important in maintaining my own personal sanity, and how much it’s missing in my daily conversations. When I say “intimate”, I don’t mean romantic or sexual, although clearly those components would be part of certain intimate conversations, but in this case, I mean the act of conversation with trust established and our guard down.
I am very blessed to have family and friends where intimacy is so engrained as to be invisible. I have a wife, brothers, and men in the church who taken on various roles in my life, willing to listen to my rants and weaknesses, and able to share their own with me. I’ve become so familiar with that blessing that I don’t realize how necessary it is until I’m removed from it.
When I am removed during business travel, relationships that on the surface seem similar after a while seem dull and colorless. The temptation appears to polish the dull relationships by fomenting intimate relationships with coworkers, and thus the danger presents itself. I realize I’m starving, and fear becoming ravenous. In order to protect myself, I force myself to distance myself, and start counting the days until I’m able to fly home.
I think this is why alcohol has become so intrinsic to business travel. Alcohol allows us an excuse to form temporary intimate relationships with coworkers or other local acquaintances without having a basis of trust. For the cost of a few dollars, we can consume a magic elixir that temporarily removes the established social mores that define our normal daily relationships. For that short period of time, we can fulfill the need that we have to share ourselves openly, and to experience others doing the same. We begin to emotionally undress ourselves and enjoy seeing others do the same. Of course, the magic wears off in the morning, and there is always the awkwardness of putting our masks (and clothes) back on. We deal with the physical sickness, but secretly reminisce and look forward to the next time.
There’s no substitution for good relationships, and when you have them, there are like a good, satisfying pantry, always able to provide strengthening meals. It can sometimes be difficult to appreciate the blessing while in the midst of it, but the absence is painfully obvious when it’s gone.