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.