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What I learned about relationships stuck in an airport

It took me almost 5 days, 5 airports, and 2 failed flight boardings to travel from Lithuania where I currently live to my home country, Panama. A COVID travel restriction to Panama turned a relatively short trip into an odyssey. 

I am sitting on a windy terrace after a hearty breakfast sipping on black Russian tea, thinking about the past few days and what I learned: Dutch 50-something-year-old ticketing officers are the crankiest people I’ve met. Spending a night in the airport is not that bad. And you have to risk becoming a pain in the ass if you want to get what you want. 

But there are a few more profound lessons as well. 

The group I was stranded with was as varied as it could get. Inner-city soccer players, a rich housewife, a shy middle-aged woman, a Salvadoran ex-con, a coarse Spaniard, a bus driver, a pair of sailors, a hipster film student, and me (it would be interesting how someone else would describe me). But we got along perfectly. Helping each other became second-nature to us. 

We had the perfect mix for camaraderie. A similar culture (Panamanian nationals or residents). And the same goal (to come back to Panama as fast as possible). 

I realized that shared culture and the same mission is all you need to bring cohesion to a group of people. It’s what keeps armies, ships, sports teams, and theater troupes functioning. It is perhaps the most elevated state a group of people can find itself in. You can use this formula to improve corporations, families, relationships, friendships, and entire countries. 

There is nothing more powerful than a group of people with shared values trying to reach a goal. Especially when the goal is clear and meaningful for everyone.  It makes reaching the goal much more likely and the experience enjoyable. Being alone stuck in that airport would have been awful. But with a group, it was actually a pretty good experience. 

If you haven´t been through hardship with a group of people, you will never know if you are right for each other.  It’s easy to enjoy someone’s company sipping mojitos and laughing in the sun. But once the blanket of comfort is removed you could realize that that person’s embrace doesn’t keep you as warm as you thought.  

When you face a challenge it becomes real. And only real can make you see if a relationship is going well.

If I am ever in a sinking ship or stranded on an island during a hurricane I would choose this same group of people to be stuck with. I know how they react under stress and vice versa. Everyone should stress test their relationships voluntarily. With friends, romantic partners, and even family members. 

Having common goals will strengthen and give depth to your relationships. There is no stronger glue to strengthen a relationship than overcoming challenges together. It breaks down the inertia that is inherent in long-term relationships. 

Relationships that haven’t been stress tested are fragile. Even the slightest detour from the “good easy times’ ‘ could be disastrous to the relationship’s well-being. No wonder the COVID has spiked divorce and separation rates. 

Getting along is not that hard. You just need a common goal and a shared culture. Of course, it also helps to know that deep down we are not so different. We all just want to reach home as quickly as possible.

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