love and one giant plane crash

I just finished reading the chapter in Outliers explaining the ethnic theory of airplane crashes and realized how similar flying an aircraft is to ending a relationship. Both are just one giant crash landing – some just have better results than others.

From the statistics author Malcolm Gladwell includes, I learned that most fatal accidents are primarily the result of pilot error. And when you think about it, the same thing applies to relationships. The only difference is you can’t really blame relationship problems on mechanical failure. Wait… I take it back. You can, but this isn’t that type of blog.

Gladwell describes various plane crashes throughout history and details the combination of problems that ultimately resulted in their failures. The top reasons: lack of communication/miscommunication between pilots in the cockpit/air traffic control, compounded with stressful operating conditions and poor weather. When you consider the cause of most failed relationships, the main problem seems to be directly related to miscommunication between the two parties.

Case in point: Yesterday. I was sitting in the car with a girlfriend of mine who was upset about the current state of her relationship. After 18 months, several false starts and a nose dive, they two finally appeared to be making some headway. The two were finally talking about the direction their relationship was heading. But was it enough? Was it too late? She was concerned they were just going to continue their pattern of circling and wind up exiting at the exact same place they started.

“Do you think you are only allotted so much love per relationship and when you run out, it’s over?” she asked as she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

Immediately I thought of airplanes. (I couldn’t help it. Outliers makes you think about almost everything in your life a little differently when you are reading it.) Each flight is equipped with enough fuel to get from destination A to destination B with a little extra in case of emergency. In extreme conditions if a pilot has to land early there is a surplus of fuel which can cause problems. Not only is it a potential fire hazard, but the additional weight can damage the aircraft so the pilot has a choice: dump the extra fuel, or risk a more complicated landing.

Maybe it’s the same with relationships. In my experience, those that have been the most difficult to get over are the relationships that ended early. They didn’t have a chance to burn off all the additional fuel – they just died. And then you have all this extra baggage to carry and you’re stuck in Miami wearing snowpants. You were caught totally unprepared.

At least with relationships that burn out you made it to your final destination. There was no place else you could go – there was no fuel left to take you there. With relationships that end suddenly you are forced to continue on some other flight, with some other pilot, to some other destination altogether.

I confessed to my friend that I wasn’t sure how it all works. Maybe we all have an unlimited amount of love to give – maybe we just have a limited amount for each person. I told her I could only relate with my past relationship experiences. I have only had one emergency landing and the situation was always as follows:

He allowed me to board, we got all the way through the safety announcements and seat belt instructions, but we could never actually get off the ground. The thing is, he couldn’t stop fiddling with the controls and would never let me help navigate. And I couldn’t stop wondering where were headed and asking if we were there yet. In the end, I had to make the decision to find a more competent pilot, one who wasn’t afraid to communicate – one who wasn’t afraid to fly.

6 thoughts on “love and one giant plane crash

  1. So odd, after dinner Tuesday, as I was driving home, NPR had Malcolm Gladwell on, discussing outliers. I found it fascinating, and this morning was trying to remember his name (Malcolm Gladsomething). So there you go.

    Here is what I think about love: if its the right person, you never think of love coming in measured or limited amounts. You might wonder how you’ll endure it or get through a rough patch or something, but if its the right person, forever, then the question of enough love probably won’t cross your mind.

    Of course, I could be spectacularly wrong. Usually am.

  2. Here’s the problem with comparing relationships to airline flights.

    The entire point of boarding a cramped, smelly, stuffy human transporter known as an airplane is to get somewhere else. Somewhere different and far far away.

    I, for one, would like to consider relationships much more about the flight than the destination. I feel to many enter into relationships with an idea of where it must go, where it should go. Inevitably, this mindstate leads us to be concerned that we’ve arrived in the wrong place. That the airplane has hung out too long in the holding pattern, that we haven’t arrived where we need to, and someone needs to grab the parachutes and bail.

    Why can’t we be more like the children who fly for their first time? Fingers and nose pressed firmly to the window, enraptured by the god’s eye view of mountains, clouds and fields. Amazed that we have been given this gift of flight, this gift of a fine relationship.

    And inevitably, if the two parties can continue to enjoy their flight, can continue to love the relationship for what it is, not where it is going, then they will eventually get somewhere….

    Ok-sorry- Kristen, you can have your blog back, but I like the relationship & flight metaphor, I just had to add my 2cents. (They’re big pennies, those of mine)

  3. I love your two big pennies Crites.

    And I think you are right. It should be more about the flight than the destination. Just as long as they don’t run out of the beverage and snack service. I love that damn mini-packaging.

  4. Munsey, I LOVE this post. Also I really want to read Outliers, I am just waiting for it at the library cause I’m not one to pay for a hardcover, heard Great things though!!
    This sounds a LOT like my relationships too!
    It is hard when you feel like it ended early or you never quite got your chance (vs. figuring out early on you don’t actually want to be with that person – check) – and then you end up dating somebody five or six times over several years and they are stuck in your snowpants forever.

    Alas i like how your story ends too, looking for a competent pilot!

    And how is marathon training going?
    Missing you!
    xox Megs 🙂

  5. Hey Miss Megs,

    Definitely read Outliers. The only problem is you might start blaming your personal failures on your birth month. You’ll see what I mean…

    Marathon training is a long story. In the meantime, I am pretty sure my future pilot is still circling while looking for a safe place to land. Hope your future pilot has better luck.

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