Side by Side

Posted by on Feb 28, 2017 in Blog, Featured | 5 comments

Side by Side

I was recently thinking back over some of the best personal interactions that I’ve had when everything felt perfect—the setting, the person I was engaging with, and what we were talking about. These three memories came to mind…

  1. On our honeymoon 45 years ago, Farn and I stopped at a campsite in the Badlands of South Dakota on our way to California. That night, as we lay in our sleeping bags, we looked up at the incredible array of stars and had a lively conversation about our hopes and wishes for when we arrived in San Francisco. We had no jobs, little money, and no place to live and yet our discussion was full of energy and optimism.
  1. Our younger son, Alexander, decided to move out to California from New York about 10 years ago, so I volunteered to help him drive his truck across the country. As we drove, we alternated between listening to music, being quiet, and chatting comfortably the entire trip. We talked about his struggles in New York, what he wanted to do when he got to Los Angeles, and what it would be like to live in these small towns that we were going through along the way.
  1. When I was in graduate school at UCLA in the 1970s, some friends and I periodically headed for the High Sierra to go backpacking. We often spent two or three days up on a lake at around 10,000 ft. What I remember most vividly were our hikes where we would have wonderful discussions about life beyond graduate school, where we wanted to live, and what we wanted to do for a living.

What is interesting about these three stories is that none of them took place when I was actually looking at the other person directly. Farn and I were lying there in our sleeping bags, looking up at the sky, Alexander and I were staring out the window of his truck as we talked, and my friends and I were walking side-by-side along mountain trails.

Why is it easier having an intimate discussion with someone when you aren’t facing each other? I think it has something to do with feeling safe. For some reason, it’s difficult to be totally honest directly to a person. But honesty can slide out easier when you have some space. I wonder if this is the reason that psychiatrists have couches instead of chairs? Or that upscale restaurants seat you side-by-side?

I know that I am triggered by landscape—the stars at night, small towns and back roads, and the beauty of mountains. They captivate me and evoke strong feelings in me. I can let go of my inhibitions—let down my guard—when I have the natural world in front of me. It allows me to open up and share my innermost thoughts and feelings. With that in place, having a safe person to listen and respond to makes for a perfect interaction.


  1. Its the reason that many times best conversations occur in the car! George and I get along the best on a good long road trip and my girls many truths came spilling out on car rides back and forth to school.

  2. Great piece, John. Thank you.

  3. I concur John – riding in car or walking side by side. I remember the road trip we took some years ago through New England and the good talks we had. Although it didn’t help that I’m going a bit deaf in my right ear and I had a hard time hearing you when I was driving….hahaha. I would add a few places where this phenomenon has occurred for me:
    * Sitting outside by a bonfire on a dark night, staring into the fire,
    * in a hot tub, again on a dark night with no light around

    It’s the looking out, or looking into that frees something in us all.

  4. Looking into another person’s eyes can feel too intense. My teenage grandson and I have had many deep, empathetic conversations in the car or walking down the road together, avoiding direct eye contact. It is safe and warm there. On the other hand, when you want to criticize, demand, or threaten another person, you tend to look directly at them.

  5. In truth long trips in a car gives us time to connect.

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