B efore they had me and divorced, my parents honeymooned at Niagara Falls. As a teenager, I went to the Falls for the first time myself. I rode an elevator down into the rock, and stood in a line in a cave that opened onto the rushing water, to throw a penny into the waterfall from behind. Each person wished, tossed, and advanced; the line moved quickly. Wish, toss, advance. When I got up there, I made a wish, tossed a penny, and then 10 gallons of freezing water flew back into my face, soaking me head to toe. "That's just how it happens every once in a while," the guide told my mother. Some tic of the physics.
The Falls has not lived up to its promise for our family. Or maybe, it occurred to me recently, it has, in a perverse way. That was my reaction to the discovery that the word "honeymoon" originally contained the premise that love is sweet, like honey, but wanes, like the moon. Both my parents have remarried, but I don't think any of these happier pairings have really honeymooned. Honeymooning seems, I don't know, moony. Maybe fate-testing.
In August, my new husband and I flew to Venice, Italy, for our honeymoon. If this sounds contradictory to what I just said about honeymoons, well, it is, but we had our reasons. Our wedding had been understated. We told ourselves that the marriage itself would be our focus, not the one-day celebration of it, and anyway, after a long year of laying the foundation of a blended family with two kids, three dogs, and a complex web of extended relationships, we needed a vacation.
When I say our wedding was understated: It was a pool party. At a public pool. Side note: There are few things more recommendable than hosting your wedding at Colman Pool on the shore of West Seattle, where the rental rate is $460 for two hours for up to 30 people, and then eating bring-your-own food as the sunset smears across the late-July sky and kids push you around the pool on a giant inflatable swan after your first dance done in bathing suits on deck. Also, there's a slide.
That wedding was organized in a matter of weeks, and only later were we able to celebrate with family, who live out of town and who we didn't burden with a short-turn invitation. The wedding was not about theater—which is not to say I'm above that. I actually planned one like that just a couple years ago, to a different man I'd known only a few years, which I had to cancel at the last minute. This 2013 wedding, to a man I'd known as a friend for the better part of 15 years, was rather about getting on with the business of our lives.
So why were we having a honeymoon? Because it was our one concession to the gods of perfectionism, our one stab at rising up out of our wild storm of complexity. I couldn't help imagining it as ideal. I should have known this was a setup. I had not yet heard that thing about "honeymoon" being composed of conflicting stem words, but I did notice the knowing look on married or divorced people's faces at the slightest mention of the word "honeymoon." It looked like a mix of pity, envy, and schadenfreude.
Until I got on the plane, I hadn't realized the magnitude of my anxiety that everything would simply fall apart at the last minute. When the flight attendants announced takeoff, I let out a massive sigh that surprised me; I heard it before I felt it. The flight attendants were stalking the rows, but I was determined to send an e-mail to my parents sharing this feeling with them. It was a dividing moment. This good thing was finally, safely real. At our stopover in Philadelphia, I was elated, for the first time in a long time. Something frayed in me felt repaired.
But the next flight brought a new set of feelings. As the doors closed for Venice, I eyed a group of young single people at the front of the plane. Irrationally jealous of them, I wrote, in a journal entry, "Imagining myself traveling alone"—I'd traveled alone to Venice before, in 2007—and went on about "the romantic adventures I might have" if I were not married.
Two things. One: Maybe don't take your honeymoon somewhere you've been before. Someone smart once said comparison is the root of all suffering. Two: If you have a grass-is-always-greener problem, it will only be exacerbated if you believe yourself to be undertaking a Honeymoon, a Big Romantic Fantasy, not a honey-moon, with two sides, a natural split down the middle that's like a pressure-release valve. Because the reality of my 2007 Venice trip is that I didn't spend it dreaming of "romantic adventures" with anyone I met; I spent it missing my longtime partner who'd stayed at home. What I was now idealizing en route to my honeymoon, instead of anything overtly romantic, were the micro-adventures of solo life that seem so enticing from the other side—detours, lingerings, a way of being silently apprehended by others as alone.
Most of that journal entry from the plane strikes me now as self-centered. Of course it makes sense that in the midst of all this husband and family conjoining, I was scribbling out me, me, me. But at the time and all during the honeymoon, I kept scolding myself for these thoughts, as if anything conflicted was infecting my Honeymoon.
The only reason I can admit any of this to you is that I'm crazy about my husband, calm-crazy, just the way I want to be. So if you're calm-crazy for your new spouse, too, and if disruptive thoughts rise up in you like sneezes while you're honeymooning in the Maldives or something, I just want you to know that you're not doing it wrong. The natural tides of real relationships are right there in the word. For centuries, people have known that honey can survive the moodiness of the moon—and maybe that they even need each other. It's more than a lesson about a week's vacation; it's something about the naturalness of change even over short periods of time and about shrugging at the illusion of control.
I've told you all the conflicts involved, going all the way back to my parents, and all the ways I brought my everyday life on my honeymoon with me. But what doesn't happen every day is that I have dinner at a restaurant named after assassins with a man I love more than I thought was possible, sitting under an umbrella in an alley while it rains so hard that the restaurant wraps us in plastic bags to send us off, but we get soaked anyway, taking all the wrong turns to end up at our apartment overlooking the Grand Canal of Venice. I'm not telling any more than that. The best parts are always private.