The next big test in our developing relationship came the following week: our first road trip. A chance for Mario to see some more of America, and a chance to see if we could travel together – and spend an enormous amount of one on one time together – without wanting to kill each other.
The itinerary was ambitious – especially for a man who, being Italian, considered anything over 3 hours in the car an exorbitant amount of traveling time. The plan was to leave Wednesday afternoon (after I spent the morning at work) and drive up to Niagara Falls – the Canadian side. After spending the bulk of Thursday at Niagara, we would head to nearby Palmyra where there were a few important historical sites for our church. Friday, after touring the historical sites, we would turn south, traveling to New York City. Saturday (which was also Mario’s birthday) and Sunday we would spend in the city, before driving back to DC on Sunday night.
The trip did not have an auspicious beginning. Mario had been in the States a full week by this point and the strain of high expectations and little sleep was beginning to show. The balance of trying to do my job while keeping Mario entertained kept me in a constant state of stress and the combination of culture shock and jet lag – not to mention the fact that he felt at loose ends since he wasn’t working and therefore felt unproductive – had Mario wound tight. When I returned home from work (having spent longer there than planned) and Mario was not ready to leave, the tension level spiked. As we ran around, trying to get out the door before rush hour would create a miserable journey, the anxiety, pressure and little frustrations that had built over the past week reached critical levels and we both snapped.
It wasn’t pretty. Both of us suffer from passionate temperaments and a good dose of stubbornness – a combination that is less than helpful when you’re trying to reach some sort of understanding. As the argument escalated, I could feel the fears in the back of my mind being fed: what if this visit was a huge mistake? What if he wasn’t everything I thought he was? What if this relationship was doomed to failure? What if? What it? What it?
We reached a major turning point, the moment where our decisions and our actions were going to determine the path we took. Either we could let this argument derail everything, giving up on all future potential between us, or we could take a breath, calm down, and work through the problem. The choice was ours. And it was a choice we were going to have to live with for the next two weeks.
By this point we were on the couch, both of us hurt, annoyed and stubbornly clinging to our individual point of views. I don’t remember who reached out first, but fortunately pride was swallowed and an effort was made to bridge the gap of our misunderstanding. Though by now we were hours behind schedule, the time was taken to calmly and rationally discuss the different points of frustration that had surfaced throughout our argument. Like all couples, we faced the typical differences between men and women, but it was clear that we were also going to need to discover and acknowledge the differences that arose from our distinct cultures as well as the misunderstandings that inadvertently came due to language.
As the moments passed, understanding slowly dawned and peace was restored, Mario and I realized that we had overcome our first major obstacle. Though slightly shaken, and infinitely more aware of the challenges that we were facing, we had managed to reach towards each other in order to get to the other side or the argument and, as a result, had emerged stronger. However, it was clear that at this point, the honeymoon phase of early romance had passed. It was time to walk forward with our eyes wide open.