There’s this theory I learned about in Psychology 101, which probably has a name but I couldn’t tell you what it would be, that says in general cases, the more time you spend with a person, the more you’ll like them. It would be an understatement to say that I have spent a lot of time with my classmates in Panama. We take classes together, we work in the forest together, we eat together, we hang out together, we watch movies together, we explore the city together, we even brush our teeth together. We’ve had lots of time to talk and bond, and I have enjoyed getting to know some of these people so well.
To be completely honest, there have been lots of bad moments. Times when people are yelling at each other, or just too many people talking too loudly. Times where interactions are shaped by cattiness and selfishness and general unhappiness. Times when, no matter how lovely everyone else may be, I really just need a little bit of time on my own, but there’s really nowhere in our schoolhouse I can be alone. It’s been long enough that I’d begun to forget that group interactions didn’t have to be this way, that multiple days could pass peacefully and pleasantly without making me feel like I needed to scream into a pillow, or at least leave the room before I snapped at someone.
Thankfully, one of my closest friends has also been studying here in Panama, and we keep each other going. Almost daily I’m reminded of how much more there is to friendship and positive relationships than quantity of time spent with someone. It’s not about carrying a conversation to fill the silence, it’s about trusting enough to share personal thoughts, bouncing around jokes and joy, and sometimes reveling together in the quiet itself.
Over spring break, another wonderful friend joined us, and the three of us spent some wonderfully relaxing time together. It was exactly what I needed, and was a clear reminder that groups of people could, in fact, interact in a positive way, and make decisions so that everyone was content. We were a small group, yes, but it reminded me of various groups of my friends who have constantly done the exact same thing–made all sorts of decisions, about restaurant choices or rules for games–yet I never considered it any special success. I don’t think it occurred to me how much a group of people, planning on hanging out as friends, could conflict and argue and place their own wishes above anyone else’s, and how those types of interactions would turn so many little things, down to serving food for dinner, into unpleasant power struggles.
I don’t know if it’s amazing how much conflict there is in this group, or if I should instead be amazed at how little conflict there has been in many of my other groups of friends. I do know that I miss my friends from school and home very much. Spring break was fantastic reminder of how happy I can be when I’m truly comfortable with other people, and it made me realize that I have not ever been fully relaxed around this group. As amazing as my time in Panama has been, with every day full of new discoveries and adventures, I am very ready to return to my “norm” of overwhelmingly pleasant time with the people I choose to be around. And I would like to sincerely thank my friends, from all times in my life, for being so wonderful that I know just how positive spending time with people can be.