It seemed like a good idea at the time. Mary and Del had been friends for years. Both of their husbands are involved in projects that make vacationing impossible. The kids are grown. Why not vacation together? Off they went for a dream week at the beach. By Wednesday, they were barely speaking. By Friday, they weren’t speaking at all. What happened?
Like many friends, Mary and Del had made a lot of assumptions about each other’s idea of a vacation. And, like many friends, the worst assumption they made was that they knew each other so well, they didn’t need to talk much about their vacation plans other than to decide where they were going.
When things get awkward or a little uncomfortable at home, it’s easy to let things go or just to gracefully leave. But when there’s no home to go home to, it gets more complicated. Can you work it out? Or do you give in, give up, or take over? For friends who have never had to work through a conflict, a disagreement about whether to spend a vacation day at the beach or out shopping can become a crisis.
The antidote is lots of preplanning and lots of talking. The more everyone knows what to expect and what’s expected, the less chance the dream vacation will turn into the death of a friendship. Del and Mary could have had a wonderful time if they had only taken the time to reach some basic understandings.
The six most important things to talk through before you pack:
- How do you define vacation? Mary’s idea of an ideal vacation day was to take her blanket, sunscreen, a book and a bottle of water to the beach and stay all day. Del was bored, bored, bored after about an hour. She wanted to go to the local museum. She wanted to explore the village. She wanted to do almost anything but bake in the hot sun and brush sand off her book.
- How much time do you need together or alone? Mary didn’t know that Del expected that they would spend almost every minute of every day together. She needs some regular alone time to reflect on experiences and to relax. For her, luxury is the chance to take an afternoon nap. Del, on the other hand, thinks there is almost no point in seeing something if you can’t share it. Laughing alone to her feels just lonely. She wanted Mary to be as excited as she was to see the sights and take a ton of pictures. She thought napping is something you can do at home. Why waste an hour or two a day in bed when there are places to go and things to see?
- Do you have the same idea of a daily schedule? On this one at least, Mary and Del agreed. At home, both saw themselves as victims of their alarm clocks. Neither are morning people but they both work at jobs that start by 8:00. How luxurious to sleep until 10:00! How wonderful to watch a little late-night TV or stay up late reading! Mary and Del fell easily into a late morning start. But imagine if one was a start-the-day-chirping-at-5-a.m. type and the other a night owl.
- How much money are you planning to spend? Del is a foodie. She’s happy to have coffee and a bagel for breakfast and a yogurt for lunch but, for her, dinner should be an EVENT. She wanted to dress up a little and try out some fine restaurants where, she thought, they would linger over some excellent wine and treat themselves to a sumptuous – and expensive – dinner. Mary likes good food but she doesn’t like to spend the kind of money that fine dining in fine restaurants involves. She was OK with one special meal out as part of vacation but an expensive dinner out every night? No way! Deciding where to eat every evening became a major source of tension.
- Do you have the same ideas about recreational drinking? Mary knew that Del sometimes drank a little too much. When that happened at home, she’d laugh it off and leave. She didn’t know that Del’s idea of vacation included a few beers in the afternoon and wine at dinner. She didn’t know that when she drank that much, Del got a little too loud for her comfort. Mary felt trapped. If she said something, she was afraid Del would see her as spoiling her fun. But if she didn’t say something, she felt like her own fun was being spoiled.
- How will you handle disagreements? Disagreements are inevitable when people spend a lot of time together. Yes, it would have been wise for Mary and Del to do some preplanning. Since they didn’t, they could still have managed the week if they had skills to constructively deal with their differences. Sadly, they didn’t. Neither liked conflict. Neither liked to be bossed. And neither liked to give in. As the week went on, the stress built up. Each decision about what to do next became yet another struggle to get along. By the time they went home, they were disappointed, angry, and sad that their friendship had taken such a beating.
You might find yourself wondering how two women who are so different were even friends in the first place. The fact is that their differences are part of what each finds so interesting. While Del is an outgoing go-getter, Mary is more contemplative and thoughtful. In regular life, they balance each other and introduce each other to new ways to think about things. They have long talks over tea about their families, their jobs and books they both love. But virtually living together in one room during their week in a beach hotel turned those interesting differences into annoyances. If they had talked about their expectations ahead of time, they might have made plans that let them enjoy each other and their week off. Or they might have decided that theirs was the kind of friendship best nurtured at home.