“Here we go again,” I thought, midway through an evening when Barry and I had invited a couple over for drinks. We were sitting on the terrace of our home in Guanajuato, the UNESCO World Heritage City in central Mexico, where we live part of the year, and, once again, I noticed the dynamics: each of us was paying more attention to Jenna, the wife, than to her husband, Ron, who looked a bit neglected.
“Why does it always work out this way?” I wondered. Barry and I don’t have many friends who are couples, probably because we both usually like one partner more. They get the attention, while the other feels left out. Not a good scene, obviously.
While we both like being with people, we have different socializing styles. Unlike many men I know, Barry doesn’t depend on me for friendships (thank God!). He has a lot of what sociologists call “loose ties,” casual connections like baristas, letter carriers, or cashiers, whom he knows by name and chats with. He also has close male friends, but they’re more likely to go on outings, whereas my friendships are more intense. Classic gender differences.
Barry can enjoy his own company longer than I can mine. He teases me that I’m not happy if I don’t have at least one in-depth interaction a day. This isn’t completely the case, but it is true that the mere knowledge that I’ll meet with someone I like or who intrigues me within the next 24 hours, gives me a lift.
This is just one example of several of our different styles — both at home and when traveling — that we’ve had to navigate over the years. For example:
Different Preferences Around When To Leave And Arrive At A Party
A few months ago, Barry and I were at a party in Guanajuato. I was chatting away with two women who I’d just met, when Barry came over to me and said he was ready to leave. “Cool,” I said, “I’ll see you later.”
We’ve come to realize over the years that I often like to stay longer at parties than he does. Instead of arguing over when to leave, as we used to do, I just stay longer. It’s easy in Guanajuato because everything is so near and within walking distance.
Although neither of us are big party types, we do like them in small doses. I, however, get mildly anxious beforehand. By the time I’ve arrived at a party and found someone to chat with, I enjoy myself, but I prefer to get there as soon as possible to reduce my early jitters. I don’t even mind being the first to arrive.
On the other hand, Barry, like most people I know, doesn’t want to arrive too early. Unlike when we leave a party, we haven’t found a solution for this, because although I’m OK going to a party by myself, I’d rather not arrive before him. I think it looks weird. I know, I shouldn’t care, but I do.
While we’re both early risers, Barry goes to bed later than me. It used to bother me that we didn’t go to bed together, mainly because I didn’t know any other couples who had different bedtimes, and I saw it as a failing. But I’ve grown to accept it, especially after noticing that when I’ve pressured Barry to come to bed with me, he lies awake for hours trying to sleep, and I know how frustrating that is.
It’s easier for me to go to bed before him in Eureka, our home on the North Coast of California, because our bedroom is right next to the living room, and it’s comforting knowing that he’s just a few yards away — unlike Guanajuato, where the bedroom is on the third floor of our home and the sala on the second. My solution there is to unfold the futon and fall asleep next to him on the floor. Later he wakes me and we go upstairs to bed together.
Different Styles Around Organizing Our Day
It was February 1983, and Barry and I woke up early one morning in our budget hotel to the fragrance of sandalwood, one of the features that Mysore, India, is famous for. We were on a 3-month-long hippie-style unstructured trip through Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal. Barry stretched luxuriously, turned to me, smiling, and said, “It’s so wonderful – we have so many options! We can stay in bed, read, make love, get up, have breakfast, visit a temple, or go to the market. So much freedom!”
To which I pulled the sheet over my head and began to cry. “It’s too much! I’m overwhelmed. Too many options!”
In Mysore, I wasn’t familiar yet with the personality instrument known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). While I’m more of a “J,“ which stands for Judging (a misleading term, because it doesn’t mean someone who is judgmental, but rather who prefers planning and order), Barry is more of a “P” (Perceiving), an easygoing type who can happily float through the day. Hence his pleasure waking up to an empty day — and my panic. (Full disclosure: Barry thinks Myers-Briggs is baloney!)
Fortunately, both of us have softened. While Barry prefers not to schedule too much, he’s not averse to planning, and I’m more easygoing now than I was in Mysore. Also, life in today’s world makes it easier for me to create structure when traveling. Back in 1983, there were no meetups, no internet, no couchsurfing — in other words, fewer organized ways to meet people.
Nor did we make connections back then as easily. While trekking in Nepal, a month after that morning in Mysore, for example, we stayed in guest houses owned by Nepali families. Over dinner in the village of Ghorepani, a woman from Quebec mentioned that earlier in the afternoon, she’d asked the mom and grandmother if she could watch them while they cooked. I was envious. It had never occurred to me that I could have a real conversation with our Nepali hosts and break through the host-guest barrier.
Happily, since then we’ve grown to love meeting people wherever we travel. For example, during the sabbatical we took starting in 1999, we spent a month in Tbilisi, Georgia, where we contacted people from a list given to us by an Austrian woman we’d met in Oaxaca, Mexico, 6 months earlier. One by one, we invited these folks over to our apartment for dinner.
And in Medellín, Colombia, where we did a home exchange with our house in Guanajuato, we chatted with taxistas about their lives and the city’s difficult history during the drug lord Pablo Escobar years.
Other ways we’ve found to meet my need for structure have been staying in Airbnbs (where I can not only cook, but go food shopping, which is great fun in foreign countries), and giving talks in English schools.
Over the years, we’ve learned we have to be creative, so I don’t wake up crying on a beautiful morning!
Different Priorities In Cities
For as long as I’ve known him, Barry has liked doing touristy, cheesy things like sightseeing; climbing towers (the more, the better, one after the other, in the same city!); riding the hop on/off tourist buses; exploring castles, museums, and ruins; taking trips on riverboats; visiting amusement parks (when we went to Six Flags in southern California, he rode the roller coaster over and over until the park shut down!); and other things I consider overrated and ridiculously expensive.
I’m much more of a snob. In Paris, for example, I’d far rather sit in a cafe trying my hardest to look très chic, drinking a cafe au lait and watching people, not climbing the Eiffel Tower.
But gradually, Barry’s sheer enthusiasm, his love of archeology and science, and his ability to put things into historical context have won me over. Nowadays, I love joining him, especially visiting archeological ruins, which we’ve done all over Türkiye and Mexico in particular.
It took us a while — nearly 50 years! — but at long last, our styles, if not exactly mesh, at least meet in the middle. No more panicked mornings for me. After we wake up, I’m ready to find the nearest market, chat with a taxista, or go to a meetup. In so many ways, both living and traveling are easier at 71 than at 31.