How Sleeping in Walmart Parking Lots Saved My Relationship

This past summer Brian and I decided to take a road trip from Maryland to Montana to celebrate graduation from our respective undergraduate institutions. We had spent the past 4 years living in different states and, expectedly, our relationship had changed quite a bit. Honestly, I look at us now sometimes and wonder how the heck we work out. He’s a methodical, thoughtful, calm, thorough, extroverted engineer. Just last night he took apart our rice maker while we were trying to cook dinner because he thought it wasn’t heating fast enough. I, on the other hand, am a flighty introvert whose head is mostly in the mountains while my feet pitter-patter on the concrete. When I’m not running super long miles or irresponsibly spending money I’m changing my career aspirations or talking a million words per second. Opposites attract?

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Our experience was never easy and I really wouldn’t do it again but we had gotten through it and were trying to figure out the next steps. He was starting work and I was beginning graduate school and we didn’t know if too much had changed between us. I was looking at this trip as a test. I figured if we could get through hours in the car together, no showers, sleeping in the car, so. much. trailmix., and experiencing the most amazing mountains in the world together, then we were supposed to be together.

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We loaded up his tiny eighteen-year-old car at 3AM on a random Thursday after graduation, flashed peace signs to Maryland and hit the road to Montana. I got car sick in the first 10 minutes of the drive, but we were doing it damnnit.

What fell out over the next 2 weeks I don’t think Brian could have planned for or I could have dreamed up. We began to relearn everything about each other. Even though we have 7 years together under our belts, a lot about us changed. And it was dang uncomfortable at first.

He talked too much. I talked too much. He drove too much. I slept too much. Right music, wrong music. Good conversations, scary conversations. Too much touching, too much space. I had a bewitching hour where hangry was my first, middle, and last name. It went on and on. Re-learning your partner is—as you might imagine—very odd. We were figuring out our new roles in the relationship and how the other person fit into them. And we were doing it within the confines of a tiny little sedan.

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So as we were driving through Bumfuck America and the miles and states started to run together, we sang along to Bruce Springsteen and Beyoncé, ate disgusting amounts of trail mix, ran miles at rest stops on the side of interstates, and peed on the side of the road. I drank more root beer than I had in my entire life combined. He bought hand-crafted wooden spoons from a man in a small mountain town. We looked for the best breakfast burrito in the country. And I ate my weight in gas station cookie ice cream sandwiches.

Our first defining moment was when we needed to sleep and nowhere to go—aka the first night. I suggested Walmart. Brian—being the planner, more straight-laced guy that he is—had a difficult time committing to this at first. We ended up sleeping in Walmarts in 7 different states; learning to see them as a safe haven of Zzzz’s and surprisingly clean bathrooms. It was these parking lots that we began to rebuild our trust and intimacy. We were slowly building back routine and a bit of the reliance that had eroded over the past few years.

It was at these Walmarts that we started and ended our no shower streak; using the sinks to maybe rinse off some grime from the day. Things got ripe and knarly and I loved it. We were as perfectly raw as we could be with each other. There were no distractions or responsibilities or bullshit to pull us away from our focus on each other.

As we hiked to glaciers, alpine lakes, and beautiful summits our bodies were working and our souls were full. We were reconnecting in the purest places on Earth, figuring things out as we went, and beginning to appreciate forgiveness and patience for all they are worth. I started to truly see my own imperfections and our differences. Brian began seeing our relationship for what it had changed into, which meant really letting go of where we had been and the ideas of what we should be. Most of all, we learned that We. Are. Really. Different. And that’s absolutely okay.

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The mountains that surrounded us served as a constant reminder to strive to be humble and quiet; reflect within ourselves before searching for the issue or answer within the other; and that we are so minuscule in the grand scheme of things. That’s not really a lesson we related back to our relationship but something I think we all need to remember from time to time. It was amazing and stressful and fulfilling all at the same time.

Experiencing the magic of the Tetons, Jenny Lake, Grinnell Glacier, Lake McDonald, the Badlands, Big Horn National Forest, and Upper Two Medicine together was a bonding experience I don’t think could be comparable to anything else.

To sum it up, road tripping, hiking, running, exploring, eating, swimming, and forgoing showers with your partner can be an incredibly revitalizing experience. And a little stinky. And totally freaking awesome

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