When I walked the 500-mile pilgrimage route in Spain, I knew I’d have time to reflect. I knew I’d see my life differently. I knew the experience was going to change me. Six weeks of walking will do that to a person.
The evening I arrived into the small village of Boadilla del Camino, I had no idea that I was on the cusp of a major turning point, not just for camino but for my “real life” too.
Backtrack a bit: Lucy* (not her real name) and I had walked together earlier on the trail. She was a native English speaker, travelling alone, and she walked at the same pace as I. We fell into each other’s company easily and I enjoyed the chat. That is, until I didn’t. Over the space of a few days, I slowly realised that I didn’t want to spend so much time with her any more. Our values felt very different. Our intentions around the camino felt very different. I felt increasingly miserable in her company. I decided to continue on alone, so I bade her a Buen Camino and never expected to see her again. Sweet relief! Bumping into her in Boadilla del Camino was a surprise. Her excitement at seeing me was a surprise, too.
From the minute she spotted me, she stuck to my elbow for the next couple of hours.
I went to find somewhere to stay, she followed.
I went to light a candle in the church, she followed.
I went to hang laundry on the line, she followed.
All the while yapping about herself, and her trials and tribulations over the intervening week.
Nothing wrong with that, you say.
For two hours, I nodded, I oohed and ahead, and felt my initial interest drain away from me like blood. Truth is, I was dog tired that evening, and being on the wrong end of a monologue sapped my remaining energy. I didn’t really care about the food she ate three villages back on the trail. I didn’t care about the amputee she’d met somewhere on the route. I didn’t even care about the conversation she had with the hairdresser when she decided to have her hair styled into a long-lasting blow dry.
I just wanted to chat with other pilgrims, eat some dinner, and get to sleep.
Lucy* wanted to monopolise my energy and my evening.
Countless times, I tried to steer the topic to me…just so we might have an actual conversation. Every time, she steered it back to her. Only once in the two hours did she ask:
So, how are you?
Well, since I saw you last I….
She cut across me and steered the chat back to her again.
We sat together over dinner and I watched her actively ignore the two German women sitting at our table, as she wanted to talk to me only. She couldn’t share the table with strangers. She couldn’t share general conversation. By the time we finished our evening meal, I was truly exhausted from five hours of being targeted. The next morning, I avoided her.
Over the next three days, I noticed myself getting angry every time I thought about Lucy*. I walked out of Boadilla del Camino with speed, determined to put some space between us but still, my mind kept tossing over the events of the evening.
Why am I so upset about this, I wondered. She’s gone, I may never see her again, why am I getting angry?
And then it hit me: I knew a whole list of people just like her in my real life at home.
Friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues…I knew too many people just like her. People who took advantage of my empathy, my listening skills, and time. People who, in theory, were contributing to a relationship but in reality, took my kindness for granted. For years, I had felt the imbalance of our conversations and time together but I gave everyone the benefit of the doubt.
Everyone was busy.
Everyone had stuff going in their life.
It was understandable that people neglected to ask me about myself, or listen when I offered to share. They just didn’t notice but next time we’d rectify that, right? For years, I had felt the hurt of being overlooked and unappreciated. I thought that if I invested more time in these relationships they’d balance out a bit.
I was wrong.
After spending the evening with Lucy*, I finally got some perspective on how these other relationships affected my life. I had felt hurt and lonely and ignored for too long. Spending more time with these people wasn’t the answer: I needed to spend *less* time with them.
Like everyone else, I too was busy. I too had stuff going on in my life. And I was as deserving of a listening ear and support as much as anyone. Relationships are supposed to go both ways. I decided to give less to the ones that were stuck at the end of a one-way street.
So, the friend who promised for three years that they’d call next time they were in town…but didn’t?
That’s okay. I’m not upset, just don’t expect me to keep initiating contact.
And the family member who expected me to visit them all the time?
Sorry, the road goes both ways. Next time it’s your turn to travel.
After the evening with Lucy*, I felt agitated and angry for three days until I realised that she was an echo of my real life at home. I could walk away from Lucy but I never realised that I could walk away from other defunct relationships, too. That surprise, unwelcome, and monopolizing encounter was a turning point: it gave me the strength to evaluate my relationships with less hurt and more pragmatism.
Does the person initiate contact with me? Yes/No
Does the person respond to me? Yes/No
Does the person take an active interest in me? Yes/No
Do I feel valued in this relationship? Yes/No
Do I see a future for this relationship? Yes/No
Do I want to keep this relationship? Yes? ? ?
I never knew I could say that.
Friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues…all of these relationships changed after camino.
Thanks, Lucy* for driving me so crazy that I changed my life 🙂