05 November, 2010

Couple in a kayak

It occurred to me yesterday that the best way to understand the dynamic between two people is to put them in a kayak together, and watch what happens. It's the perfect metaphor for the relationship dynamic.

You could really pick any of a number of types of activities, but the thing about a kayak is that you are tied enough to one another's "fate" that it models the interdependence of people in relationship; contrast that, for instance, with hiking, where people are less intertwined. At the same time, you are not so dependent on one another so as to be unrealistically associated, as would be the case with tandem cycling, for example.

The kayak is perfect.

When you get into a kayak, you are not fully in control of your own destiny. There needs to be cooperative decision-making, mutual effort, coordination, consideration, attentiveness to subtle details, patience, positive attitude. And when a couple is struggling in their relationship, the kayak reveals all truths.

I think back on various kayak relationships I have had. I remember bickering over the minutiae of planning a course, and navigating and executing the steering properly. What a fantastic metaphor for the kind of hypercritical battles that I had in that particular relationship! The big picture, i.e. "We are still moving down the river" didn't matter nearly as much as "But I told you not to go over there because of the rocks!" It didn't matter that we made it around the rocks anyway. It only mattered that there was a failure to follow specific instructions. I can recall being irritated with a partner who was not paddling as much as I thought they should be. All these angry feelings started stirring up in me, about how they just expected others to do all the work for them. It probably said more about my judgment and impatience than anything else because, honestly, there was more than one interpretation to their behavior. Perhaps they just didn't feel the need to turn the trip into work. Perhaps for them it was about leisure, and peace, and relaxation, as opposed to getting there.

When you see the healthy couple in the kayak, you see a silent, fluid rhythm. You see two bodies in harmony. Paddles switch sides without a word or a splash. Turns are gradual, and feel natural. Both people coast at the same time, or take turns coasting while the other maintains course, or halt to explore or observe something interesting or beautiful.

The kayak becomes a vessel symbolizing the connection between two people. In reality, there's always a kayak, even if it's an invisible one. The kayak holds us close to one another. Always within reach. Always with a subtle yet surmountable degree of interdependence. Capable of synergy. Moving through the world as one force. With one course, and one wake.

Yet also capable of drifting... listing... capsizing... sinking.



  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. that's the best way to put it. i love this entry. :)