Traveling is the ultimate test of a marriage. What should be a carefree fun trip that offers a relaxing diversion to everyday life, often turns out to be a test of wills between me and my spouse, with each of us digging in our heels and refusing to budge an inch regarding every grisly detail of our excursion. (In other words, we take our perpetual power struggle on the road.)
After more than four decades of marital bliss, my wife and I still obsess over each and every outing.
The reason for the friction is simple. I’m a homebody. I don’t like to leave our domicile for any reason. My idea of taking a trip is leisurely strolling to the fridge, retrieving a tasty snack and then returning to the happiest spot on earth; my full body massage recliner in front of my 65-inch 4K Ultra HD TV. Mission accomplished!
My bride, on the other hand, never wants to stay put. No matter where she is at any given moment – she wants to be somewhere else.
Now, in a long-term marriage, there is a certain level of unavoidable stress that builds up when two people live day after day under the same roof, but it does not hold a candle to the annoying aggravation experienced by those same two individuals when they are cooped up together on a long car trip.
At home, you can at least maintain a “save your sanity” distance from each other. If you believe you’ve been grievously wronged, you have the option of stomping off to another room to escape the offending behavior of your partner. Happily, most of those rooms are furnished with a door that is suitable for slamming should you choose to emphasize your point.
On the extremely rare occasions when one of us feels inclined to employ that particular form of emphasis, the resulting loud bang! never fails to make the cat ricochet around the house at breathtaking speed turning her into a fuzzy furry blur.
But in a car, you’re trapped. The other person is at arm’s length. You are, unfortunately, able to hear every crazy accusation and completely unfair remark they make. You are forced to look them in the face and desperately defend your position, no matter how untenable it might be.
In our case, the dissension that is stirred up by the decision to travel actually begins days before we leave on a trip. First of all, we are never able to agree on a destination. My wife always wants to go to somewhere we’ve never been before, while I prefer the familiar spots we have visited in the past. In other words, why take a risk when you can enjoy a sure thing. (Now that I think about it, that is the foundation of our entire relationship.)
As we attempt to discuss this like two mature adults, I am told that I lack spontaneity and that I never throw caution to the wind or embrace a sense of abandon. While I feel these criticisms are sorely inaccurate, we have been married long enough for me to know that it is highly unlikely that I can persuade my spouse to alter her opinion of me at this late date. But I’m okay with that. I’m more than happy to go through life as a boring predictable person. That’s my comfort zone. It’s where I thrive!
Once our destination has finally been chosen, (by my wife) we begin to engage in the torturous ritual of packing for the trip. The very mention of this particular activity quickly degenerates into an overly dramatic discussion about exactly how much luggage is required for us to be legally clothed and to carry all of the other necessary items needed to keep two human beings in their mid-sixties functioning at an acceptable level in a public setting.
As with everything else, my wife and I have different ideas regarding proper packing procedure.
No matter where we are going, or how long we plan to stay, I believe everything I could possibly need can be jammed (with enough force) into one small bag. With unbelievable determination and strength, I am able to wad up and cram all of my clothes into one piece of luggage that will not close properly due to various shirtsleeves and pantlegs hanging out. On our last trip, my ever-patient wife dryly pointed out that my clothes had more wrinkles than I did.
As for my bride, she packs thoughtfully and thoroughly, filling multiple pieces of luggage to make it possible for her to stay away from home for a minimum of several months – even if it is only for a weekend getaway.
Of course, the fun starts the moment we begin our journey. I am always curious to see just how far we can get from the house (usually not more than a mile or two) before my wife suddenly yells at a coronary inducing volume, “Stop!!! Turn around!! We have to go back. I forgot……” and right here you can fill in the blank. Each trip is a different forgotten thing – but it’s always something.
After I slam on the brakes and make a frantic U-turn, causing cars to swerve in every direction, we head home.
Twenty minutes later, we are on our way again, and soon we engage in the eternal debate over what music to listen to. Well, we don’t actually listen to music because we prefer to while away the hours critiquing each other’s curious taste in recording artists.
We both consider ourselves to be knowledgeable connoisseurs of classic rock, but since we can’t agree on particular bands or solo performers (for example the Beatles vs the Rolling Stones or James Taylor vs Bob Dylan) we end up listening to mind-numbing new age instrumental music so that everyone suffers equally.
The next area of conflict centers on my ability (or lack thereof) to get us safely to our destination without endlessly getting lost while I continually employ what I believe to be an ingenious series of shortcuts that, in fact, frequently lead us into bordering states.
Being born with no sense of direction is a genetic defect that I have, unfortunately, struggled with all of my life. Therefore, my wife insists on using the GPS on her phone instead of relying on my negligible navigational skills. (I drive an eight-year-old car, so it does not have built-in GPS. Obviously, I’m not getting rich from this little blog.)
Let me clearly state for the record that I cannot impart with mere words just how much I despise any form of GPS. I hate it! No matter where we are, it is always trying to locate our current position. As the traffic light turns green, and cars behind me start honking, my wife firmly says, “Don’t move. It’s trying to find us.” How can it possibly lead us anywhere if it doesn’t even know where we are now?
This little terror of technology has led us down so many unmarked dirt roads and dead ends that it is a wonder that family members have never had to file a missing person report.
That is why I prefer not to clutter things up with directions. I like to head out and just wing it. But if I really feel like I need to know where I’m going, I have my trusty twenty-year-old atlas. At least I think it’s twenty. The dog ate the cover some time ago, so I’m not sure.
Although I admit that, over the years, we have enjoyed our share of scenery that does not exist on any known map, my wife and I have always made it to our destination (late, exhausted, and no longer speaking to each other – but, hey, it’s all part of the adventure, right?).
The point is, once we are finally traveling, I like to keep going. I want to get there. I don’t want to waste time or get sidetracked. But my lovely bride is just the opposite. She enjoys making endless spur of the moment changes to our preplanned itinerary. She believes that everything from truck stop gift shops to roadside fruit and vegetable stands deserves to be thoroughly investigated so she can purchase a wide variety of impulse items that are worth every penny that gullible tourists like us are expected to pay.
However, I do not see the need to constantly interrupt our trip with such frivolous activity. I want to get where we’re going, and I don’t want overpriced cantaloupe, that is beginning to ferment, to stand in our way.
But because my wife sees things differently, she believes that every tourist trap is a photo opportunity. My spouse feels it’s both necessary and desirable to stop and take pictures of ourselves with all kinds of interesting artifacts.
A recent example was stopping for an hour, so we could marvel at the world’s 2nd largest ball of hair. I don’t know about you, but I find it just a little disturbing to think that somewhere in America there lurks an even bigger ball of hair.
At that particular stop, I had to wait patiently while my wife coerced an elderly couple (even older than us) into taking our photo in front of the “forest of follicles”. When the deed was done, I congratulated my bride. “There you go. Now we have a photo for this year’s Christmas card!”
It is important to understand that these are interruptions we don’t need because we have to stop often enough as it is for bathroom breaks. At our age, any road trip is defined by when and where we can hit the restroom. What would normally be a four-hour drive for a younger couple becomes a torturous eight-hour marathon for us, all because of our aging bladders.
The problem is that we can never get in sync. If my wife and I were both on the same schedule, we could cut the visits in half, but we are always at least a half-hour off the other person’s pace. So, every forty-five minutes or so the frantic search for a bathroom begins. As my wife squirms in her seat, she hisses through clenched teeth, “You better stop fooling around and find a place RIGHT NOW!!”
I calmly look to both sides of the road and see only cows peacefully grazing in large pastures. Unfortunately, we have ended up in the middle of nowhere (of course, the GPS can’t find us) because I took what I was certain was a clever shortcut that could save precious time by avoiding all potential tourist attractions. (Which, ironically, feature clean spacious bathrooms.)
And so, we travel on, peeing our way across three states as we playfully squabble about everything under the sun while my wife adds to her ever-growing list of “rational reasons” for why we should consider taking separate vacations.
For God’s sake, we’re retired. What are we taking a vacation from?