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.