Best Relationship Advice EVER: Take a Walk. Anywhere.

Parents of adolescents and teens know this better than anyone: the best place for a neutral, non-threatening heart-to-heart is…the car. Think about it: enclosed space but no eye contact, no discomfort with long pauses, plenty of scenery to look at while processing responses. And it works even better when it’s dark.

But what if the person you’d like to connect with doesn’t naturally spend car time with you? Another relative, perhaps, or a friend, or a co-worker. I would like to propose an excellent substitute to the car for close, productive conversation: the walk. 

Ready? Let’s walk & talk.

***benefit: EXERCISE!***

I recently rediscovered this on the walking tour I organized for the Mate and me with my 80-something parents (plus another Senior friend) in Ireland. The #2 purpose of the trip: seeing Ireland. The #1 purpose: talking. And I was not disappointed.

IRELAND! Just what you imagined.

Think about it. As in the car, while walking, your eyes are generally forward. No intense eye contact as when sitting at a dining table. No awkwardness with long pauses (especially going uphill when you need your breath!). Plenty of scenery and time to process responses. And even better (unlike in a car), plenty of shared joy in that scenery, which serves as a magic carpet to whisk you over any emotional toughness in the conversation.

Spread out as necessary…then come back to talk when you’re ready.

Most of our conversation, over the course of six days and sixty miles of hill-walking (around the Sheep’s Head Peninsula in Southwest Ireland, in case you’re curious), was light. But as it happened, I did have some deeper, more difficult relationship issues to discuss with my dad. And the rhythm of our steps, the green hills, the shared forward movement–all contributed to the depth of that conversation, removing the difficulty.

And when you need to rest, rest. Whole new possibilities of conversation arise then. (Necessary pun: Ireland, I like your stile.)

But why go to Ireland? Why go anywhere further than around the block, through the park, over to your favorite cafe…on foot? Invite someone. Go somewhere that takes an hour or so. Let your feet and the scenery carry you past the difficulty and into the depth. 

And enjoy whatever local scenery you have: sheep, alley cats, sparrows…all part of the harmonious background of communication.

Repeat as necessary. I intend to.

Ireland, Aging Parents, and Pubs, or, Why Go Halfway Around the World to Go For a Walk?

In my experience, there are three reasons why Americans travel to Ireland:

  1. Their heritage is Irish. (ethnic pilgrimage)
  2. They’re in love with Irish culture music or whiskey, or both. (cultural pilgrimage)
  3. It’s so greeeeeen! (photographic pilgrimage)

There are probably a few other reasons, and some hybrids. But here’s the reason the Mate and I are going:

my parents

That’s it. (And no, they’re not Irish, nor do they live there.)

The Mate and I made a list a few years ago of trips we hoped to take one day. Then we put those places into three categories: a) need to go as soon as possible; b) can go any time in the next 10-15 years; c) can wait until one or both of us is no longer mobile.

Many countries and special places made the list (like New Zealand and Grand Canyon). Ireland did not. So why are we going?

Well, turns out one of the “places” on the “as soon as possible” list was, “somewhere we can go with Gretchen’s parents while they’re still as active as they are.” They are GREAT travel companions. But since they’re also great travelers, finding a spot to visit together was actually a bit tricky. Slovenia? They’d just been. Ditto Croatia, and various parts of Italy.

Then, last year, my folks did a walking tour of the coast of Cornwall–you know, the kind where they carry your luggage for you from wee hotel to hotel, or inn, or B & B. Very local, very low-key. They LOVED it. So I tried to find another bit of the U.K. to walk, and quickly found that the chunk of Cornish trail they’d walked was the flattest available, and it had challenged them.

(Did I mention that my folks are 82 and 87?)

So I started looking around…and this bit of southwestern Ireland seemed to be rated gentler than its counterparts in the U.K. The tour company could be totally blowing smoke. We might ALL be challenged. And, if I know anything about Ireland in September, quite wet.

OK, so it looks a LOT like where we already live…but hey, cute little hotels, right? And that accent! (courtesy Hillwalktours.com)

But we’ll be happy. And feeling blessed. And I’m pretty sure I’ll learn some Irish sayings about that.

So please don’t bother sending me lists of ancient sites we must see or pubs we must visit or bands we must hear. We’re going to Ireland to do something we can’t do in the U.S.: walk together for days, from quaint hotel to quaint hotel, meeting mostly sheep along the way.

I also fully expect–hope!–to be slammed by love for a culture I know mostly through music.

And speaking of music…I’ll leave you with this heart-rending version of Mo Ghile Mear by the silvery-voiced Mary Black.

So thanks, Ireland, for the grand excuse. And readers–I’ll check back in on our return. For the next two weeks, I’ll be walking and talking and looking at sheep. And hoisting a Guinness or two, with my very cool parents.