Monday, September 26, 2011

The Honeymoon Is Over -- Thank Goodness!

Maui is a honeymoon mecca.

Young honeymoon couples are everywhere: their beautiful young bodies entwined on the beach, embracing in the surf, their eyes meeting over Mai Tai's in beachfront restaurants, holding hands with newly minted wedding rings shining in the candlelight.

I don't envy them for a minute.  Some do seem truly blissful. However, I can see others struggle, along with the strangeness and sweetness of being husband and wife at last, with the expectations of what a honeymoon should be: with the stress of constant togetherness, of feeling that every minute must be exciting and memorable, not factoring in sunburn, jet lag, indigestion, the letdown after the adrenalin surge of the wedding or any other hopelessly human emotions. And many don't yet realize what a long, sometimes hard, road is ahead as they begin the long journey to becoming a family.

A young newlywed couple was at the next table when we had dinner at the Seahouse, our favorite restaurant in Napili, last night.  They were sweet and loving, but awkward with each other. He kept jumping up to take pictures of the spectacular sunset. She looked embarrassed and a little lost. They fidgeted with their food, struggling to make conversation.

I made some quiet wishes for them: to relax, to simply enjoy the moment, and to know that it's normal to struggle a bit with intensity of this new togetherness -- even if they, like Bob and me, had lived together before marrying. I wanted to reassure them not to worry, that words would come in time. But, of course, these are things that each enduring couple learns in the process of creating a life together in the days, months and years after the wedding.

The honeymoon, even in a magical place like Maui, is just a tentative first step.

Years ago, before Bob and I married, I dreamed of a Maui honeymoon. I had already visited the island several times with a former boyfriend and had all these favorite places I wanted to re-visit with Bob. And despite the fact that he wasn't exactly a swimming or beach enthusiast, Bob was game.

 I planned everything: our flights, the hotel and the whole scenario of our first night: we would rush from our wedding reception to the airport and fly off to Maui immediately. Once there, we would go to our hotel, take a walk on the beach and then have macademia nut ice cream at the hotel's beachfront ice cream parlor before going to our room and making passionate love.

What happened was, well, a series of unanticipated adjustments to this scenario. It was more than 34 years ago, but the memories remain vivid.

We rushed from our reception to LAX in Memorial Day beach traffic, the three of us and our luggage squeezed into my tiny 1976 Honda Civic. (My bridesmaid Jeanne Nishida Yagi was with us in our honeymoon escape, returning to her home in Hilo, Hawaii on another flight.) By the time we changed planes in Honolulu and landed in Maui, it was about 1 a.m. Los Angeles time. We stumbled off the plane in exhaustion, to be hit with high winds and rain.  "I hate it here!" Bob moaned.

Undaunted, I insisted that we take a walk on the beach after we checked in at our hotel. Wind, water and sand stung our faces. "This is horrible!" Bob yelled over the howling wind and thundering surf. "I really, really hate it here."

There was no macademia nut ice cream to sweeten his mood. The ice cream parlor had closed several hours before our arrival.

We trudged up to our room and I took a long, steamy shower before slipping into the elegant white silk gown my 'TEEN Magazine co-workers had given me. I made my grand entrance out of the bathroom and there was Bob, fully clothed, fast asleep, snoring softly, on top of the covers. No amount of shaking would rouse him. He slept soundly through the night. I sat on our balcony and pouted, unaware -- at least for that moment -- of my own starring role in making the beginning of our honeymoon such an ordeal.

It took about three days before we got our collective sense of humor back and stopped pouting and before Bob would go into the warm, tropical water and decide that Maui was his favorite place in the world.

We survived our honeymoon, obviously. But -- except for a fairly dreadful weeklong class on dream theory in Maui in 1993 when I was a graduate student in clinical psychology -- our honeymoon was the least fun of any of our trips to Maui. We expected too much of it and each other.  And we've found that life as long-marrieds is so much more comfortable, loving and fun than it was when we were young and full of so many dreams and expectations.

"The difference is a matter of perception," Bob said over dinner, watching the young couple struggle to converse. "When a relationship is new and, especially after you're just married, it seems you focus on how you're different and are afraid to reveal or discover annoying traits. As you age together, you're aware of the annoying traits of your partner, but their positive qualities and all you share is your primary focus. You've learned to accept the annoyances and celebrate what makes your partner so special."

So I guess I would want to tell this struggling couple that a honeymoon may have its moments, but life together gets even better with time. I would want to tell them how important it is to be kind, to have compassion for each other, to laugh at your own foibles, relax and have fun.

And who knows? Maybe some of the young honeymooners will look back in years to come and smile over their shyness and unease and wonder if there really was a time when they struggled to carry on a conversation. Maybe they'll laugh ruefully, as we do now, at memories of over-orchestrated honeymoons, over-the-top expectations and first impressions of a place now loved. Maybe they'll smile, as we do, at memories of less-than-ideal beginnings that have given way to kindness, acceptance and celebration. Maybe someday they'll know, beyond a doubt, that the best times come well after the honeymoon.


  1. We didn´t have a honeymoon. A few days off, but then it was back to work. We survived and I like how you formulated it: "Maybe they'll smile, as we do, at memories of less-than-ideal beginnings that have given way to kindness, acceptance and celebration." So very true.

  2. What a lovely post.

    My daughter and her husband are in the midst of getting a divorce. The sad thing is, they are perfect for each other, but life got in the way. It's sad how it does that sometimes, isn't it?

  3. I remember the awkward honeymoon. It wasn't on Maui. We both got food poisoning in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Still. The second honeymoon was more fun. We left all our kids at home and flew to Boston for a week.

  4. Remembering 40 years wasn't the honeymoon that was awkward, but the day to day living that required some adjustment. I'm envious that you are basking in warm tropical breezes.

  5. Observing my son, his wife, and their friends, I wonder if some of the problem was that these younger couples were stuck by themselves thousands of miles away from a crowd of their friends about to keep them entertained. I am not sure that my observation is across the board for this generation, but my son and his friends seem incapable of doing anything a mere couples. There always seems to be a crowd of friends with them.

  6. I think honeymoons and New Years Eve celebrations seldom live up to the expectation of being the greatest time ever. Too much pressure.
    Had to laugh at Bob's comment about annoying traits. I'd have had to have said," Annoying traits?? Surely you don't mean me. I have none.":))
    Arkansas Patti

  7. My Bahamas honeymoon was a resounding flop. I was struck by a self-consciousness--not with my husband, but with the whole wide world--that froze me in place. It was a kind of stage fright that I never would have anticipated: "Ta-da! The happy couple wake up to the next day of the rest of their lives!"

    I'd always managed to duck such dramatic moments in the past (skipped my graduation ceremonies, for example), but this one had sneaked up on me and I was unprepared. I'm lousy at smiling on demand for a camera, too.

    These days, not only honeymoons, but weddings lead to fevered expectations and almost inevitable disappointments. Somebody, let these poor kids off the hook. If there is one small blessing in a massive recession, it's an end to the Fairytale Wedding brought to you by the Wedding Channel. I hope.

  8. Thanks so much for your insightful comments, Betty, Jo, Linda, Jann, Sextant, Patti and Nance! You're right that the expectations of honeymoons tend to be over the top and more emphasis on the wedding than on the relationship. Maybe the recession will be a help in toning down some of the excesses. Bob and I had a 70's style park wedding and spent less than $300 on everything including the catered picnic lunch. A close friend's daughter just got married a week and a half ago in a very unique ceremony in an urban music studio and the bride and groom made many of the decorations. I doubt that it was terribly expensive, but it was very expressive of the people they are -- and, as such, was very much enjoyed by their loved ones! And Sextant, I think you're right about some young people not being used to being alone together as a couple. Jo, so sorry about your daughter and her husband. When I was doing couples counseling, it made me so sad to see young couples giving up so readily when faced with life's happenings. Linda, I'm glad you got a chance at a fun second honeymoon. And Patti, I readily admit to annoying qualities, though Bob and I don't always agree on what those are!

  9. This is a fascinating post for me -- Rick and I have never done the marriage/honeymoon thing, despite 16 years of being together. So, I never thought of that potential awkwardness. With us, the silences are comfortable, needed. And yes there is plenty of talk, too. But we've learned our flow. Now if we could just learn to live in the same space!

  10. Sounds like you're doing great, Jeanie! Being comfortable with silence is no small thing.