I followed M. to a conference in Oregon and we made something of a poor man's vacation out of it. Everything was pleasantly green, and the locals were friendly, and the food was cheap (and in Portland, also good), and the weather was warm even through the night. But years from now, I won't remember this trip for being pleasant; I'll remember it for being awkward.
Imagine that you and your boyfriend are staying with your boyfriend's friend Ray in a city that's totally foreign to you. You meet Ray at the restaurant where he works, and as he's driving you back to his house, he lets you know that things aren't going so well at home. In fact, they're downright ugly: he and his live-in girlfriend are constantly fighting. They can't stand each other anymore. Ray has privately decided to flee back to the Midwest, never to see her again. What's more, he had planned to break up with her a week earlier, only to be foiled by your vacation plans. Oops.
"So when are you telling her?" you ask.
"Oh, as soon as you leave," he says.
So you get to his house--in fact, his girlfriend's house, filled with his girlfriend's things--and meet Ray's soon-to-be ex. You get the voyeuristic sense of being witness to something that ought to be private. There's also the discomfiting feeling of walking in the presence of some kind of animated corpse. (And one, I might add, that the girlfriend doesn't realize is dead.) All four of us go out to drinks at a depressing, smoky dive. The resentment between them is palpable, the conversation duly awkward.
To make things slightly better, it was clear that Ray was making the right choice. His girlfriend was abusive, negative, and whiny. She wasn't attractive in any way, physical or otherwise. She lived in a dingy gray house in a dingy gray suburb many miles away from the city center. The house was termite-infested and smelled of rot; its cluttered interior lacked natural light, and the yard was overgrown and filled with trash. Living like this seems mighty depressing. In Ray's place, I would have gone back to the Midwest in a heartbeat.
Being amid the wreckage of a bad relationship made me doubly happy about mine. We bicker sometimes, but we rarely fight. We enjoy being around each other nearly always. We share the same tastes. After almost four years of close proximity, we aren't sick of one another. That has got to count for something.