Twenty eight people assembled around the Tour Director at Catania airport: thirteen married couples, me and a solo gentleman. I’ll call him Gentleman X. And what with seating arrangements at meal times, and finding ourselves paired during free time on daytrips, we were thrown together quite a bit over the next week. But – a couple?
Our hotels provided a mix of tables seating even numbers of guests (12, 6, 4 etc) to allow a group of twenty eight people to dine together. Well the married couples were very traditional and always sat together at the same table (even sitting next to each), so there were always 2 spare seats for me and Gentleman X – next to each other on the same table. Sometimes on a table for 6 the other 2 couples arranged themselves so that, even though they were sitting together as a pair, Gentleman X and I didn’t have to sit next to each other. (Can you work out this GCSE Maths problem?). Not that I minded much as Gentleman X was engaging, amusing company. It was just that I felt I hadn’t had a choice.
Similarly on daytrips to Sicily’s historical sights, whenever there was free time for group members to do their own thing, Gentleman X and I ended up together. But it wasn’t a case of neither of us being picked to join another team. At least initially, it was because Gentleman X needed a bit of chaperoning help to get around. As a result of contracting a life threatening illness, he was visually impaired and had balance – not to mention daredevil – issues. And it just so happened that, on a previous trip with the Travel Eyes holiday company, I had been a sighted guide for visually impaired travellers. When on Day 1 of our trip the Tour Guide was looking around for someone (not a couple?) to help Gentleman X negotiate the heart of Taormina, I wasn’t just the ONLY one available, I was the right fit for the job!
Partly because of my usefulness, that was the start of more daytrip lunchtimes and afternoons for me and Gentleman X to enjoy each other’s company. And as the week wore on we even made arrangements to meet for pre-dinner drinks, a walk to the beach or to chill by the pool back at our hotel. We became companions, in the same way that I might have become the companion of any other single person, or persons, travelling alone, like me, in a group made up predominantly of couples. But there was no blossoming romance. We were not a holiday couple.
It was unusual in my experience of travelling in such a group for there to be only 2 single supplement paying guests. Even more unusual: 1 man and 1 woman. I’m aware that I was at first uneasy on this trip, coping with the very different social dynamic, both inside and outside the tour group. Inside the group were people who WANTED to see a relationship develop between me and Gentleman X. Outside the group were strangers seeing us together who thought that we WERE a couple – basically because we must have looked like one. We were even treated like a couple: as I looked around for Gentleman X on returning from the loo in a pizzeria, one of the waiters asked me, “Have you lost your husband?” I felt uncomfortable with this, not just because his assumption was false, but because I was not used to being treated as if I was someone’s partner, spouse, or other half.
I wonder now if all my solo years of NOT being afraid of being alone, of NOT minding there being no partner at my side, has developed a sense of myself as NOT being partner or relationship material. Perhaps in Sicily it was the seeds of that realisation that made me feel uncomfortable. And perhaps I now know that I’d like to feel once again that I AM indeed one half of a couple in a relationship. Then I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable with a stranger’s belief in that – because it would be true.
15 August 2019