23 Sep The Art of Maintaining a Good Relationship (HAEMIN SUNIM)
If happiness is what we hope to achieve in our lives, shouldn’t we put more effort into cultivating good relationships with the people around us?
In my twenties, I went on a two-week backpacking trip in Europe with a close friend from my monastery. When we arrived at the airport in Rome, our spirits were high. We had known each other for a couple of years and got along very well. I liked his sense of humor and warmhearted nature, and he appreciated my adventurous spirit and optimism. Since he did not speak much English, I felt obligated to stay close to him. After the first seven days of spending every moment together, we’d run out of things to talk about and both became irritable. It was not because of any concrete problem in our friendship; it was just that we longed for some time alone. So the following morning I suggested we take different routes and meet up at the hostel at night. My friend welcomed my suggestion.
As I left the hostel, I felt free—I knew I could choose to do whatever I liked for the day; I did not have to negotiate with my friend about where to go first and what to see next. But as the morning turned into the afternoon, I was reminded of the advantages of traveling with a friend. When I needed to go to the restroom, I could no longer rely on my friend to watch my backpack. Eating alone was no fun; it felt more like a chore than a time for enjoyment and relaxation. I didn’t take any pictures of myself that day because I did not want to bother strangers. When I encountered something beautiful, such as a famous piece of art, I was not as thrilled since there was no one to share the excitement with. When I arrived at our hostel at the end of the day, I was quite happy to see my friend. Over dinner we found many new things to talk about in recounting our respective days.
From this experience I realized that the art of maintaining a good relationship can be compared to sitting by a fireplace. If we sit too close for too long, we become hot and possibly burned. If we sit too far away, we cannot feel the warmth. Similarly, no matter how well we get along with someone, if we stick too close without building in some personal space, we soon feel trapped and burned out; it is easy to take the relationship for granted and feel resentful about not having enough privacy and independence. On the other hand, if we put in too little effort to stay in touch with friends and family, we can’t feel the warmth of their love. Striking a balance is key.
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