I went for a long walk in a country park with some friends yesterday. It was drizzling and we still covered ourselves with thick winter coats. After a refreshing walk, I told my friends how grateful I was to be with them, as it was the most comfortable walk I have had for a long time.
What do I mean by being ‘comfortable’? During our walk, we walked more or less at the same pace, but sometimes the group would split into two, and some walked ahead and we would catch up later, or the other way round. We would stop for a short break, having a chat. It was simply a leisurely walk, with good conversation. We didn’t set a goal as to how many miles we would have to cover in two hours. Later, we even stopped for a hot drink and comfort food and had another long break.
There was no pressure of achieving any goal, apart from spending some time together out in the open. We didn’t stick as a group of five all the time during the walk. We all had total freedom, yet we enjoyed each other’s company. There was no competition of speed or knowledge into little unknown flowers. That was how I felt, being relaxed and comfortable, and I hope my friends have felt the same pleasure towards the trip too.
Comment 1: “You walk far too slow”
Walking with friends has slowly become more and more difficult for me, as there’re many conflicting walking styles. Sometimes our expectations failed to meet each other’s, and without sufficient mutual understanding, the walks couldn’t be enjoyable. Once, my friends commented that we (my son and I) walked too slowly during a country walk with them. We were simply TOO SLOW. They emphasised this a few times and I asked them please stop criticising me. I couldn’t help how I walked. My son and I would sometimes stop and chat, and sometimes he needed to adjust his shoelaces (more than once), and he would complain the journey was too long. I was also worried being lost and kept asking where we actually were. It’s become clear to me that we had became a burden and nuisance in the wild and we certainly had reduced their joy of walking.
However, a few days ago, I was very upset to tell my husband that my neighbours complained that I walked TOO FAST with them. I was confused. My friends in Group A complained that I walked too slowly, now my friends in Group B complained that I walked too fast. I hated the feeling that my friends’ joy in walking was diminished and their happiness cut because of my legs.
Comment 2: “You walk too fast”
In our two hours’ walk the other day, my neighbours had their dog with them. Normally people walk their dogs, but sometimes dogs walk people. The strong dog was on a lead and he would sometimes pull and his master would get dragged along. Before we set off, I wasn’t told of any set rules of walking with their dog. However, once we started walking, it clearly dawned on me that I wasn’t compatible with the group. The purpose of the trip was to ‘take the dog out for a walk.” My neighbours set me a golden rule: the dog must lead.
I wasn’t allowed to walk in front of the dog, as the dog wanted to be the leader in the pack. At the beginning, I wasn’t aware of this rule and every time I was slightly ahead of the group, my friend would shout at me, “Janet, please slow down, please let the dog go first.” Then I had to stop and let the dog have his way.After being kindly reminded repeatedly of a need to be more respectful of the dog, I became cautious and made an effort to actually slow down. However, it was very difficult to walk behind a dog who would suddenly stop in my track, sniff, wee, smell the poo, turn around, bounce, get distracted by other dogs……I felt rather irritated by being stopped by the dog and wasn’t allowed to be ahead of the group, and I wouldn’t be surprised if my friends felt that I lacked the basic patience for walking with their dog. I had thought we were going for a nice, relaxing walk before we set off, yet my movement was restricted by the behaviours of the dog. At one point, I felt rather ‘claustrophobic’ in this little group — though we were outdoor, through the wood and walking by the canal, surrounded by lovely spring flowers, mentally and physically I was trapped by the dog.
My son thought I dislike dogs. He was wrong. I told him stories of me growing up with a stray dog called Poppy in Malaysia. One day, a stray dog appeared in our house, refusing to leave, so my mum decided to keep her as my mum trusted that this dog would bring us luck. For many years, I played with my Poppy, gave her shower, picked her fleas. I built her a little house when she had her babies. My Poppy was loved, but she wasn’t spoilt. In my original country, dogs didn’t have to go through any agility training. My Poppy was our family member, but she wasn’t the boss.
I’ve now realised it’s never easy to find the right people to be around, even for just a walk. I walked the same speed, and the conflicting judgements that I received somehow made me feel guilty and unpleasant. We’re incompatible walkers. Perhaps we’re incompatible friends? Or perhaps we could be friends in a different setting, but not walking together. But, if you can’t even bear each other while walking in the wood, what kind of friendship is that?