But none of this seemed to matter to a thirty-something couple we saw dining there not long ago. They were seated one table away from us, an attractive, well-dressed pair. As the glorious panorama of a Hawaiian sunset spread before them, they looked past it and away from each other, into some dark place within. They didn't speak a word to each other during the whole hour-and-a-half of their excruciating dinner. Happy talk swirled around them as they sat in angry silence. The dynamics of this couple, the cold anger with which they regarded each other, brought a slight chill to the room.
And I puzzled over what their story might be. Had they taken this vacation to save or revitalize their relationship? Were they realizing that nothing external was going to help? That time away together, rather than being refreshing, was hurtling toward disaster?
Vacations can be stressful just logistically. There are travel schedules to meet. There is unfamiliar food, unpredictable rental cars, tiny and expensive hotel rooms or vacation condos. Vacations always seem to cost more than anticipated and, especially if finances have figured into relationship woes, taking an expensive getaway can add to the stress. And any unexpected stresses encountered on a vacation can speed the implosion of an already teetering relationship.
Many years ago, when Chuck and I were coming apart at the seams in the romantic phase of our relationship (as opposed to the warm, treasured friendship and the long professional partnership we've since shared), he proposed a trip to Las Vegas to help us work out our growing list of emotional issues.
While I thought Las Vegas a curious choice for relationship renewal, I agreed to any last chance for us to talk, to be together and perhaps work things out.
The weekend was an epic disaster. All the way there, he talked about the person with whom he had had a relationship while also seeing me and with whom he had now broken up in order to save our relationship. He said that while he imagined he would get over him -- yes, him -- it would just take time. I sat listening, nodding and quietly wondering "What in the hell am I doing here? Have I totally lost my mind??"
Half an hour out of Las Vegas, the skies opened and torrential rain started to lash the windshield. When we arrived at Caesars Palace, we saw that a flash flood had destroyed the parking lot and every car in it. We waded through knee deep mud, carrying our luggage above our heads, to check in. After we spent the first part of the evening cleaning the mud off our shoes and ourselves, Chuck hit the casino, spending hours silently playing the slots as I sat by in angry exasperation. We went to a late night show where a tenor sang "You'll Never Walk Alone" and Chuck put his head down on the table, sobbing loudly, observed impassively by four thuggish black-suited men in sunglasses (at the midnight show!) who were sitting at our long table. After four drinks and barely negotiating the plank that crossed the still swirling flood waters to our hotel, Chuck passed out on the bed.
The next morning, he was up early and moving briskly to pack. "This isn't working," he said. "Let's go." We drove back to Los Angeles without exchanging a word. It was the longest car ride of my life.
Being alone together in an unfamiliar place to work on a relationship can be very stressful -- even minus flash floods, thugs in sunglasses, the allures of a casino and specter of mixed orientation infidelity overshadowing everything. You're faced with unrelenting togetherness, are away from support systems, are spending a lot of money and probably not having much fun.
The fact is, if you're unhappy individually or as a couple, you're going to take this with you wherever you go, importing your own private hell into what could be paradise.
In many cases, it makes more sense to stay home and use your money for psychotherapy or marriage counseling instead.
Vacations are, at their best, celebrations -- of your life together, of life transitions, of your shared love of adventure or of a special place. Being alone together in a place you both love can, indeed, help you affirm your strengths as a couple and add yet another gem to your treasured memories.
And they can mean different things at various life phases.
Bob made the observation today that, in our previous trips to Maui, we were both working long hours away from each other and our vacation trips were a chance to enjoy uninterrupted time together. Now that we're retired, the underlying feel of the vacation has changed as well. "We have the gift of being together all the time now, whether we're at home or on vacation," he told me. "So this time, it's a relaxing trip to a place we both love that holds so many wonderful memories. It's a beautiful and familiar part of our shared history." I nodded in agreement.
We were fortunate to come over here expecting to enjoy this magical place as we always have. We came over with positive feelings and the knowledge that we can spend two weeks, every minute, together without feeling claustrophobic. Being with someone you love in a place you both love is a joy. Maui has often renewed our spirits. But the relationship work has been our responsibility in a variety of settings -- mostly at home -- over the years.
To expect a vacation to cure what ails a relationship is to expect too much. Beautiful scenery can't still that well of anger, the rancor between you or the ongoing depression you feel when things are not working out in your life or your relationship.
Whoever you are at home, you are on vacation. Sometimes that makes for silent and chilly evenings in seaside cafes. And sometimes it means that a person or a couple can spread sunshine in an already sun-blessed land.
Yesterday, Bob and I swam happily amid high waves and choppy seas in a wind-tossed bay. Our only companions were a young Japanese couple who caught each wave with excitement and joy, their laughter ringing over the sounds of the crashing surf. They reveled in the blue waters of Napili Bay, squealing with unabashed delight, jumping through and over waves, swimming like a pair of lean and lively dolphins in the rough surf.
Bob and I swam with them, squealing, laughing and jumping the waves, shared joy transcending time, language barriers and experience. The day -- and they -- were an absolute delight.