Friday, July 17, 2015

Against Honeymoons

My wife is seated in a beach chair. She peers over her book and sees me approaching some seals hauled up on the sand. There are only a little over a thousand of these Hawaiian monk seals in existence. When they are discovered on beaches, volunteers rope off an area around them to form a zone where they can rest undisturbed.

So my transgression of one of these knee-high boundary ropes draws the attention of everyone who has been standing at the edge of the rope watching the seals. Hauled up, they look like smooth brown boulders lying on the sand. They don’t move. All spectators, wife included, hold their breath as I continue to bear down on the group. When I get very close—just a couple of steps away—the nearest seal heaves its head back. Its nose is suddenly drawn directly upwards. It lets out a double “haauwll … haauwll” that is Jabba-like: a wheezy barking that vibrates in the air in a way that communicates girth.

My wife’s favorite part of our honeymoon is this moment: my shoulders-up posture of mortal fear, stunned sandaled foot stuck out momentarily in mid-stride; then the acrobatic leap-pivot of redirection that looks like I have bounced off of something springy. To the spectators, until then incredulous at the edge of the rope, I am pardoned. Not a rule-flouting asshole after all. Just oblivious. Or, more precisely, actually that oblivious. As it lays its head back on the ground, the seal makes a sound like the last of the water gurgling down a drain.

Then a hard, sand-scattering sniff. I retreat at a pace slowed so as not to recall prey in flight. A tall woman with short blond hair smiles at me commiseratingly as I cross back over the very bright and obvious orange rope. Maybe it has unconsciously struck some of the spectators as an image of all our trespassing on the island.

Probably there are lots of different ways to be distracted. You can be distracted because you are elsewhere, like if I had been walking on the beach but really, in my mind, I was having a conversation with my sister or something. Then there are various ways of being in a “state of distraction,” where the mind can’t get a grip on anything, e.g. kids with ADHD. Then there is the way in which I was distracted on the beach. This was different. I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I was in paradise, with no responsibilities whatsoever, but my mind was like that of someone with stage fright: attention bent back on itself, focus jammed up and cresting like the big storm-heaved Hawaiian breakers. In some sense I think I saw the seals.

I was on my honeymoon. The strange and tricky thing about a honeymoon is that even while it’s happening, it’s already lived as a story. We sit inside it saying, “We will have been here.” (...)

In the twentieth century the honeymoon was for intimacy and initiation. In the last couple of generations, it lost this more direct function. Now intimacy and initiation take place in the first months of, as we put it in our maximally understated and sweetly simple way, “being with” someone.

What happens when the honeymoon loses its function? Does it just become a vacation with a special name? That’s basically how I approached it (not really thinking one thing or another about it). I thought it was a good excuse to go somewhere warm in December. We were, as everyone else we know is, exhausted. I vaguely figured that if twenty-first-century honeymooners don’t fall into each other’s arms anymore, well, then they collapse on the bed side by side. It sounded nice. But my experience was that that’s not quite the honeymoon’s mood either. Instead the honeymoon has gone the way of weddings and a lot of other traditional things: what was once performative becomes commemorative.

by Charles Comey, The Point | Read more:
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