“Would you like to ride in a single or in tandem?” the instructor asked.
“Single!” I said. Almost simultaneously he answered, “Tandem!”
My cheeks turned red, and he just smiled. My eyes fluttered down to look at my feet.
He was good. So good. With a big beautiful heart. He helped me grow; pushed me. He had been a really good friend to me for about two months before we decided to try and transition into being something more. In the end, it wouldn’t work out between us. But he was good and gentle and thoughtful, and oh gosh did he take care of me. Still, nothing could have portrayed our problems more than that moment on the South Carolina beach in the shadows of a lighthouse did.
The instructor looked from him to me.
“Why not tandem? Tandem is good, right?” he asked.
I looked from him to the instructor, then back to him again. Trying to shrug the awkwardness off with a laugh, I said, “Oh yeah! Tandem works great! I just thought, you know, you’d wanna go alone. Not have to worry about me and go at your own pace!”
“Tandem will be easier, better,” he smiled and nodded at the instructor to grab the double seater kayak.
Later he would say that he knew the current would be hard for me to paddle against alone with my bad shoulder. He would never know, though, how uncomfortable it made me feel to not be alone.
This had been the way it was for the past nine months: single, single, single. And I’m not talking about my relationship status.
I’m talking about the kind of single where, when given the option to connect or attach, and receive any help or gain dependency on another person, I picked being alone. Single over tandem.
So we rode tandem. Which meant he helped me carry the kayak to the waters edge, held it steady while I strapped in, pushed us off the shore, and then helped me fight against the current. He sat in the back where he was in charge of controlling our pace and steering, while I sat in the front quiet and anxious wishing I was in my own kayak.
Because what if he was doing it just because it’s what boyfriends are supposed to do? What if the whole time he was thinking that he wished he could’ve been going faster, exploring more areas of the Sound we were in, taking a different path? My singleness came from a place of fear: fear of resentment and the fear of being left because of that resentment.
We were out in the middle of the Sound for an hour and a half. There was me, asking all of my questions about the instructor’s life. “How long have you lived here?” “What got you into kayaking?” “What do you do during the off season to make money?” “How long have you been an instructor?” “Ever get any crazy people during these sessions?” “How many dogs do you have?” And then there was him, telling his own stories. He talked to the instructor about the week he had worked at this summer camp and had gone kayaking with some of his campers; he talked about how crazy they had been, and for a moment, he and the instructor had something to joke about.
She probably couldn’t even tell you the color of my eyes. But him on the other hand... he offered up stories from his past. It became a pattern that every time there was a lull in the conversation, she would ask him more about stories he had shared while we had been out on the sea.
I heard my mother’s voice from all the nights I had sat in my room and listened to vinyls instead of telling someone about the heaviness in my chest.“You have to share stuff about your life, too, Jenna. You don’t form relationships with people just by asking about them the whole time.”
There was the proof that she was right all along - an equal give and take of sharing and listening, and asking out in the South Carolina sound formed a relationship between the instructor and my kayak partner. Me? Well, I sat there quietly waiting to ask more questions, ready to carry on in a one sided relationship.
I took note of how much harder it would have been had we not ridden in tandem. I would’ve paddled slower, probably would have needed to slow down more often to catch my breath, my shoulder would have been killing me if I had paddled all by myself against that current.
When the kayak tour was almost through, our instructor was coaching us through the the marsh. She was telling us how to sit in the kayak, how to hold the paddle. For a moment, I sat still. Because the air was salty, and her voice was guiding us out in the middle of rolling waves that rose up against us from the strong wind, and I couldn’t help but see God in all of it.
Out in the middle of the South Carolina Sound, I knew - we are meant to live in tandem.
Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” (Genesis 2:18)
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
I thought that all I had to do was ask questions. Our favorite thing to talk about is ourself, right? So if I just asked everybody about them then a). I wouldn’t have to share about myself and the wounds I was still struggling with and b). they would love me because all I wanted to know about and hear about was them, them, them!
Relationships are based on connection, and connections involved linking two items up. Choosing singleness over tandem as a knee jerk reaction has been the most self harming, dangerous state I’ve lived through in all twenty years of life. A common statement made when two people break up or a friendship ends is, “Well I was always giving, and they were always taking.” In my case, I was always taking information from them and never giving anything about myself away. The two types of relationships are still one sided. They are still harmful and lonely, and leave you feeling empty. They don’t last.
God meant for us to live in tandem with one another, under the guidance of His voice. Just like the voice of the instructor guided us over the waves of a windy sea, God wants to guide us through this life. And it’s easier when we aren’t paddling alone.
But you say, “Jenna, you don’t know my life. You don’t know how many people have left, who have thought I wasn’t enough even after I bore my soul and shared my heart with them. It’s exhausting, and I have nothing to show for it.” You’re right, I don’t know your story. But I know I’ve shared, too. Sometimes, I shared too much, spoke too loud about what I thought, cried in the arms of someone I trusted who simply walked away like they hadn’t learned anything about me. So I was just like you - shut myself up, never talked about what was going on inside. All because it hurt to talk about, and I didn’t see the point in sharing if everyone leaves.
But not everyone leaves. It’s not good for man to be alone. Letting God guide you through this life makes the journey a lot easier when you have people around you to go it with.
People need other people.
So choose tandem. You'll enjoy the ride so much more with people coming along and helping you push forward.
Tandem is easier, better.
- Jenna // @jenbed