As a matter of course, on the Camino, I sleep with earplugs and two sleeping masks. When you are sharing a room with multiple people it is overly optimistic to think that no one will cough, snore, rustle their belongings or have to get up early or in the middle of the night.
As I took my earplugs out the other morning I heard a woman quite sternly say, “Well you should have come alone then!” I felt guilty about intruding on this personal moment, obviously brought on by tiredness, possibly pain and definitely impatience. Witnessing this sort of exchange is not common, but the Camino is repleat with stories of couples.
The happier tales involve people that meet on the Camino and manage to build a life together afterwards. The other stories speak to the intensity of this type of adventure. Like having all of the issues in your relationship magnified and brought into focus, the Camino has a way of defining who you are and what your priorities are.
The main source of conflict is the speed with which the trail is covered. There are always practical considerations like having a finite amount of time set aside, but there are larger, more fundamental belief systems in place.
Put simply, is the destination more important than the journey? This is not meant as a rhetorical question. If it is extremely important to you to finish with a Compostela proving you have completed the trek, your priorities are different from someone who just wants the experience of hiking the Camino.
Many people choose to do a small piece of the Camino, or to cover the distance a week or so at a time over many years, so it cannot be assumed that everyone’s goal is to finish.
If the goal is to finish, a lower priority is placed on sightseeing, socializing and managing discomfort. If the goal is to enjoy the journey, this flips over.
Whether or not it is acceptable to cover some of the distance with public transport is also an area of conflict. Some of these decisions are not necessarily within the individual’s control as injury, illness and unforeseen circumstances can play a part.
But if your belief system sees taking a bus as a moral failure it would be very distressing travelling with someone who wants a ride to the next town.
Money rears its ugly head as well. Is a good night’s sleep or some privacy worth the extra expense? Should meals be taken in restaurants or prepared from supplies bought at a grocery store? Is sightseeing part of the experience or simply staying on the trail the most important thing?
How does your partner get along with strangers? Do you have similar approaches when it comes to small talk, language differences or someone asking if they can walk or sit with you?
Is the Camino an athletic achievement or a spiritual quest? Are your ultimate goals and expectations compatible or even articulated?
If the destination is more important than the journey, how will this translate into buying a bigger house, a new car, getting that promotion?
If money cannot be spent on the luxury of some privacy, when will “frivolous” spending be enjoyed?
If appearances are important and being able to say that you covered 45 km each day is essential, how will this play out with other measurements of accomplishments like how many hours of work are put in per week or how much money is earned?
The Camino can force very fundamental personal beliefs into clear focus. Add in the reality that there is little privacy, pilgrims get tired and sore and you have the perfect storm to set any different philosophies into stark contrast. Numerous couples simply find their priorities in conflict and their relationship unsalvageable.
Simply put. The stress of the Camino will bring out the worst in both of you. Do you still get along under trying circumstances? Would your relationship weather a storm?
So, if you are planning to do the Camino with a loved one, do it before long term plans are finalized. Just saying.