Valentine’s Day Special: Passengers Talk Love and Relationships

“Intimacy comes when two people, both standing clearly in their own lives—with their faults and their truths, their needs and their gifts—say to each other, ‘ This is me. I see you. I am willing to say the whole truth, make mistakes, forgive, trust, receive, give, allow our differences, argue, laugh, and stand together with you in awe. Not all intimates are lovers. Not all lovers are intimates. A friendship can achieve great intimacy and be entirely nonsexual.” — Anne Katherine, Where to Draw the Line

Inevitably, the subject of relationships came up numerous times when I was driving Lyft.

One male passenger described what it was like being in a polyamorous triad.  Another recounted a connection whose instantaneous intensity might have accounted for its rapid (and in his mind premature) combustion.

Questions brought up during these rides included How well can we ever really know a person? As Miriam Johnson put it, “Hearts and minds can be as opaque as a rain forest; only small pieces of them are ever visible.” I think also about how relationships can at times bring up conflicting emotions: “I get disgusted with myself, and then I get disgusted with him, and then I get angry. And then I don’t know what to do,” I overheard one passenger say to her friend.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, here is a compilation of rides wherein passengers talked about love in all of its forms.


A Kind Finnish Man on his Wife of 20 Years

“Watch out, dead animal on the road ahead,” Siri warns us. My passenger’s eyes widen in amusement.

 “Your GPS tells you that sort of stuff?” he asks bemusedly, while scratching his beard–which is dark brown and red with streaks of grey in it.

Thin and dressed in a white t-shirt, Rasmus* looks ahead with brown eyes beaming kindness behind his chestnut rimmed glasses. We’re headed to Walnut Creek, where my passenger is scheduled to see a client while in town from Finland for the next few days.

 As we drive through the tunnel connecting Oakland to Orinda, our conversation turns from marijuana (he doesn’t want his son smoking it) to relationships.

“My wife and I met through mutual friends,” Rasmus recounts. “Actually a lesbian couple introduced us. They said, ‘we think you two would get along.’ Then they had us both over for a gathering that turned out to be six women, plus me. And they were right. Hours passed and we just kept talking and talking.”

Rasmus and his future wife went on a date the next day, but barely an hour had passed before Sarah summoned one of her friends to break the ice, perhaps feeling nervous to spend too much time with him one-on- one. 

“We planned another date for later that week, but Sarah canceled at the last minute. So I told her ‘look, let’s just be friends.’ I thought maybe she’d feel safer getting to know me that way. “

Rasmus says that almost right after deciding this though, she changed her mind. A month and a half later, she was pregnant with their first son. 

They now enjoy the peaceful living of their town in Finland (population 20,000).

Rasmus asks me if I have a boyfriend; I tell him I’m gay, in response to which he adjusts his pronouns right away.

“So where’s your girlfriend?” he asks.

 “Somewhere out there,” I reply.

We approach his client’s house in Walnut Creek.

“I think this is it,” he says, peering, in an attempt to read the number, past the purple flowers blooming from the verdant front lawn. Wind chimes blow peacefully in the slight breeze.

“She’ll find you,” are his kind parting words to me just before he gets out.


Passenger Talks Anger and the Importance of Apologies

“The last guy I dated, he would never apologize after fights,” passenger Linda* explains. “It was always like, fully my fault. I did have things to say sorry for, because we both said shitty hurtful things– so my apology was never inauthentic.”

“The problem was he wouldn’t say sorry for his part. When I apologized for mine, he would snatch my apology into his hands and pile even more guilt and criticisms onto it,” she recalls. “He was my first boyfriend though so I didn’t really have any other relationship example to compare it to.”

Linda also believes that having been an only child caused her to lack conflict-resolution patterns with her siblings to draw from as a point of comparison.

Things with her current boyfriend are different.

“We get in fights and every now and then we say hurtful things, but we both feel horrible the next day and apologize and make up. I think that’s healthy. I think it’s a sign of equal commitment to the relationship– a balanced desire for and drive towards reconciliation.”

Linda says they often grow closer after those reparative talks, whereas it seemed like fights with her previous boyfriend would lead to him “hating her more” thereafter.

“It’s like they supplied him with more ammunition for guilt-tripping the next time we disagreed,” she says.

Linda admits that at times she had a hard time figuring out whether their fights were just anger-filled or had crossed the line into abusive. This plants a couple of questions in my mind in regards to relationships: One, what is healthy, normal anger and when does it become emotional abuse? 

Two, how can we respond to anger—both our own and that of the people’s we are close to — in a way that not only prevents escalation of conflict and relational harm, but maybe even strengthens the relationship? 

I understood the distinction on an intuitive level, but had never really been challenged to put it into words–so I looked to my reliable and sage friend Wikipedia to help me out:

When people are angry they may lash out or say things they don’t mean out of difficulty being rational, while abusive behaviors tend to be a lot more purposeful. Abusive behaviors are meant to control the other person” (so one’s reactive, the other’s more purposeful and proactive?).

Also: “When behaviors become abusive, the person doesn’t take responsibility for them afterwards. They may deny that the abuse occurred or minimize the seriousness of it. In contrast, people who exhibit angry behaviors can take responsability for their role. They also work on making changes so that it doesn’t happen again.”

Author Sarah Schulman posits that “at many levels of human interaction there is the opportunity to conflate discomfort with threat, to mistake internal anxiety for exterior danger, and in turn to escalate.”

So how to navigate this? What helps me when someone is upset with me over something that I’ve done that has let them down, (given that the relationship is important to me and I’m invested), I find it helpful to tell myself this: “Right now it’s my turn to stay steady. Somewhere down the road, I’ll be the one in their shoes. I’ll be feeling vulnerable and upset about something they’ve done– and they’ll hopefully be able to take on that ( steady, receptive) role for me.  But now is not that time. We can’t both be fending for ourselves in this moment. So right now I prioritize this relationship over my desire to be right and feel infallible.”

Wouldn’t it be great if implementing this were as easy as writing it? Naming it gives you something to strive for at least.


Lyft Question: Did entering a new relationship distract from your productivity?

Over the course of a year I asked the following question to different college-aged Lyft passengers. The answers (paraphrased below) ran the gamut.

“I wouldn’t say that, no. It’s like with any good thing in your life, if you let it take over then yeah, eventually you’re gonna see it as a bad thing. You’ll be like, ‘I gave this thing up and this other thing up and that thing over there, to make this work! And now look what’s happened.’ But the whole time you had a choice. You could’ve held onto those things you gave up. You gotta hold onto those things. Don’t give them up in the first place.”– Male passenger *Pratik

“When I was younger and less mature, I was in those kinds of relationships a lot. My grades took a hit. I neglected my friends. But I’m not like that anymore. Janie and I have been together for two years, and our relationship is important but not the only thing I have going on, and my life has balance.” –Female passenger Shawna*

Yes. That’s why I don’t want to date until I finish med school. There are a few people I’m interested in, but it’s not worth it. You know that experiment with the kids and the marshmallow? I’m trying to be the kid who waits. Because it’ll pay off later on.”–Nonbinary passenger *Erin

“That’s a hard one. I think it depends on who the person is that you’re dating. Like on where they’re at in life. Whether their life’s really full and you’re just a bonus. Or if they’re in a place where they sort of need a lot from you. That’s when I think it can be a distraction.” –Male passenger Joe*

“No, I mean we’re not going be around each other 24/7…and when we’re not, that’s when I get my work done. And it’s easier for me to work when I’m happy. When I know someone’s supporting me. Loneliness is a distraction. It took me nine hours to finish an English essay one time when I was feeling too on my own, so yeah, support helps a lot.”–Female passenger *Pauline


College Boys Just Wanna Have Fun

Girl Passenger 1: “’It’s not you, it’s me. You’re an amazing person but I don’t feel like we have that connection anymore.’ That’s what he said to me. And  I couldn’t help but thinking, what even triggered that thought process?

 Girl Passenger 2:”Yeah! Because usually when it’s good, you don’t think about not being with them. Something has to happen to lead to them feeling that way.”

Girl Passenger 1: “Well I asked him ‘where did this come from? And he said ‘I dono…I just kind of want the single college guy experience.’ And I was like ‘What the fuck?!’ You can’t help ask all these questions to yourself, if someone doesn’t give you a good reason. Or if they’re vague about why they want to break up.

After a brief pause:

Girl Passenger 1: “That whole ‘I want the single college guy experience’ comment. That’s the one that hurt the most.

Girl Passenger 2: That could have been the most honest thing he said though. I don’t want to blame it on biology but there’s this thing in many guys where they don’t want to settle down until they’re 25. It’s inborn, and a lot of guys feel that. So what he said to you about wanting to be single is probably very honest and also probably doesn’t have much to do with you. No one girl would satisfy him at this point if what he wants right now is to play the field.”

Girl Passenger 1: “I just don’t get it is all. I don’t like the idea of hookups. I really don’t like the idea of making out with a person I don’t know. I’m very much someone who wants to be in a good relationship. When you don’t have that emotional connection, the sex isn’t good either.”

Later on:

Girl Passenger 1: ” I’m sitting there crying and he’s trying to put his arms around me but I’m like, don’t touch me. You’re hurting me right now, get the fuck off me. 

The last thing I said to him: Enjoy single life. I hope it’s as liberating as you want it to be. But when push comes to shove, I think that you’ll miss me.

I don’t want to be his friend. I don’t want to get coffee with him three months down the road and hear him talk about this new girl in his life. Because friends talk about that sort of stuff. They talk about their love lives. And I don’t have it in me to hear about his.”

Overhearing this exchange I think to myself: We do all this talking and analyzing. We wonder what went wrong, we question ourselves, we want to know why things didn’t work. What’s going through the other person’s head?

When maybe… “They didn’t want the relationship anymore. End of story” is all we really need. As painful as it is and as much as those two sentences feel like a bludgeon, knowing any more than that won’t serve us. It might even hurt us more—by distracting from the work of moving on.


Codependently Yours

 “This has happened before, when I needed time to myself. Jasmine just doesn’t get it. I’ll take a break and then she gets all worried, and she’ll text me like ten times in a row. And then I wanna run away. So I turn my phone off.” 

The passenger shook his head. “I just wana be like, don’t trust me. Don’t rely on me. I can’t even take care of myself, how’m I gona take care of you?”

 “What happens after you turn your phone back on?” his friend asks.

 “Jasmine’s pissed. And then she’s sad. And then she’s apologizing. Begging for my forgiveness, wondering if we’re still boyfriend and girlfriend. And I always say yes,  because even though it scares the shit out of me when she’s like that, I can’t imagine life without her.”


No Need for Words 24/7

“I wish my boyfriend was more comfortable with quiet. Like we could be reading or doing something independent while together, and share in the experience, but not have to talk.  Just be by each other’s side. Closeness isn’t built just from conversation, I don’t think. It comes from little moments.” 

His words reminded me of a passage from Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: “It’s only in silence that people can truly hear themselves. Talking can keep people in their heads and safely away from their emotions. Being silent is like emptying the trash. When you stop tossing junk into the void—words, words, and more words—something important rises to the surface. And when the silence is a shared experience, it can be a gold mine for thoughts and feelings the patient didn’t even know existed.”


Photo Credits

Angry stick figure—

Two hands—

Two women—

Sidewalk heartbreak —

Men with beard—


Couple guy with plaid shirt—

Published by esteph42190

A 30-year-old queer bilingual writer born and raised in the Bay Area, I’ve been writing since before I knew how to spell. Balancing my generative energy with a desire to inform, as a child I printed and distributed to classmates publications that included The News Newsletter and Health Digest (ironic considering I also ran an illicit candy business that landed me in the principal’s office several times). As a student at UC Davis I wrote for The California Aggie, with pieces ranging from an exploration of gender roles in the movie Tangled to my own weekly psychology column. After graduating I kept a bilingual blog of my 14 months living in Montevideo, Uruguay, and upon returning continued to blog about social issues and human psychology.

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