Should husbands and wives take separate holidays?
ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN
THE OTHER day outside a restaurant check-room I ran into a talkative woman I know who has a way of putting her hand on my arm, closing her eyes, saying “So nice!” and backing away from me all at the same time.
She must have said something about holidays, because I remember mumbling: “M’wife and I might take ours separate this year.”
She disappeared around a pillar and a few minutes later I found myself standing behind her and her husband in a line-up for tables. She was still talking.
“They’re going on separate holidays,” she was saying. “I never could see how she could stand him, but I don’t believe in any marriage breaking up.” Well, I do. I believe every marriage should break up regularly, for at least a couple of weeks a year, including this woman’s. All the time she was talking her husband, a vague, pear-shaped little guy, stood with his hands in his pockets spreading his pants out like a sail. I think he was trying to catch a breeze some place and I’ll bet it was a place where
nobody ever talks. I think his marriage should break up long enough for him to see if he can get there.
For the truth is that few husbands and wives like the same kind of holiday. Most people, before they were married, were delighted to discover that they both liked spaghetti, walking in the fog, books, spaniels and old leather, but they’re lucky later on if they still like one another, let alone spaghetti and old leather, and to take holidays together usually means that one is doing something he or she doesn’t want to do.
I know one guy whose idea of a holiday is to rent a cottage about ten feet square at an intersection at Wasaga Beach just slightly less crowded than the corner of Bay and Bloor and sit inside drinking beer with as many of his family and friends as he can get to visit him.
They all sit around arguing about baseball and politics, all wearing suits, with vests and sometimes hats, and looking as if they’d just arrived from Minsk. They raise their voices above the thump of
juke boxes, t he clank of horseshoes, the clatter of a bowling alley. Horses gallop past the door, ridden by men in blue business suits and youths without shirts on, and the dust throws a sad lemon light over the whole scene, including his wife, whose idea of a vacation is to lie flat on her back on a windy hill.
I know a woman who, every year, drags her husband around visiting the sites of Indian settlements. She stands in the middle of these old sites and says, “Just think, hundreds of years ago people lived here,” and drives to another site, while her husband gets so bored he begins to look like one of the Indians dug up again. What he would like to do is to crawl into some little shack on a northern lake and quiet ly go to seed.
One time in Florida I lived next door to an old gentleman from Brooklyn whose wife always insisted that they spend their holidays on t he seashore. For three weeks, while I was there, he sat on the front porch of an ocean-front cottage, at seventy-five dollars a week, with his hat on and his back to the ocean, reading papers from home. He
hated the ocean. He didn’t even want to look at it or to think about it.
“It’s too big,” he used to explain as he settled down to ignore it for the day.
From a woman’s point of view, another reason for separate holidays is that when she takes a holiday with her husband she often doesn’t get a holiday at all. Her husband looks around fondly at the pump, wood stove and the holes gnawed by deermice and chortles: “This is what I like! A real change!” but the only change for his wife will be that she’ll prepare the same meals as she does at home, except that at the cottage she’ll prepare them with equipment from a museum of pioneer implements and crockery.
Not only that, she’ll cook for half a dozen extra people who will arrive from the city on week ends, hand her a roast, a ham, a chicken and some vegetables and sink into lawn chairs figuring they’ve done their share. They provided the food; all she has to do is cook it.
But one of the chief reasons for separate holidays
is to give married people a better appreciation of one another, and of marriage in general. A lot of us, after we get married, begin to dwell on the imagined joys of single life until we’re half convinced that it’s a state somewhere between owning a harem and flying a jet.
“Taking separate holidays is packed with dynamite,” an earnest husband told me. “A man may have so many affairs that he will return to his marriage emotionally exhausted.”
This guy doesn’t need a holiday, he needs a psychiatrist: he’s stepped right through the looking glass. Having so many summer romances that you’re exhausted may happen if you look like Stewart Granger, but most people, who are built in the shapes of various roots, won’t be bothered by anything but squirrels. The chances of anything really demoralizing happening in two weeks is about as probable as winning a trip around the world for a box top.
In fact, this is one of the reasons for taking separate holidays. For the average married man
or woman, two weeks of t he single life is enough to leave him or her content for the other fifty. I’ve seen it happen.
One man I knew became so obsessed with getting away from his wife for a holiday that the idea practically became a hobby of his.
“I’d just like to do what I want— when I want,” he’d say. “I mean, if I wanted to lie down and read, say, something about the early Romans, at four in the afternoon, and I got so interested in it that I didn’t want to stop for supper, well, I wouldn’t have to stop.”
He talked about it so much that he began to fascinate his wife, who had often secretly wondered what it would be like to have something tall and continental chase her around a fountain.
They decided to give separate holidays a try. They both went up to a beach they’d been going to for years, but the husband went to their own cottage while she rented a friend’s place on a point opposite across a bay. They both solemnly agreed to pretend the other wasn’t there.
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He took along Plutarch’s Lives, which he had been putting off for years but couldn’t put off any longer, as well as two self-help books called Personality With Power Steering, and The Well-Adjusted Aministrator, but forgot to take along a change of socks, underwear, his glasses and the keys to the cottage. He had to break the lock, spent one day repairing it, the second being sick from some toadstools he cooked. On the third he met a fascinating little blond divorcee who went for a ride with him in his outboard and later, helping him to land his gear, dropped his outboard into ten feet of water. He spent the next day salvaging it, and the next he dropped in on his wife.
She, in the meantime, had struck up a friendship with a tall cultured Englishman who had finally taken her to a party and after several drinks of lemonade into which he poured something that be said jovially would put purple pants on it, pouring quite a bit more into his own, he drove her home. He saw her to her cottage, asked her frigidly who she was and why she was following him, bowed from the waist, and did a half gainer over a veranda railing. Since then she had spent her evenings reading some old magazines she had found behind a pile of kindling.
Philandering Is No Danger
But from the time her husband called on her, the prospect brightened. Each became absorbed in how the other was making out. Her husband would go over and peek in her window, come back and say, “Well, she’s at the jigsaw again,” or “had poached eggs for supper tonight. Did them a hit too soft for me, though.” She used to get a friend to report on whether he was sending his laundry out or doing it himself.
They had a wonderful time. It was more fun than bird watching. Sometimes they’d stand on their porches waving to one another across the bay and looking a bit like an illustration for a calendar. Finally they moved in with one another again. They haven’t discussed separate holidays since.
It’s an odd thing about marriage counselors that as soon as they think of separate holidays they think of infidelity. In fact, they have no faith in marriage. Philandering is neither a danger nor an objective of separate holidays. Anybody who’s kept in line just because his wife happens to be around is going to get away from her sooner or later.
Taking separate holidays has other, more important purposes. Besides being a valuable experience for people who have become restless about marriage, a separate vacation is a good thing for people who are so satisfied
with marriage they’re in a coma. Not that I’m against people being satisfied with marriage. I believe in it. I believe in being satisfied with our jobs, too, but we should get away from them now and then. If we don’t, we begin to regard events like Miss Whosis using a pink requisition instead of a blue one as something just slightly less important than a flight to outer space.
In marriage, our sphere of interest and activity is apt to get so small that we eventually retreat beneath little toadstools of mutual approval and make small chirping sounds at the rest of the world. This is all right for things like crickets, but mankind should maintain a broader view.
The man who did more than anyone else to convince me of the broadening effect of separate holidays was a big, burly technical-school teacher I once lived next to, who spent most of his time explaining how he and his wife felt about things like germs. His wife, a quiet girl with loose golden hair and a permanent little smile, sterilized everything; she washed turkeys in soap and water, scrubbed steaks, scalded wine glasses, scraped the inside of fish, and boiled everything until it fell apart.
“After all, we’re living in a scientific age. No use eating germs,” her husband would explain bluffly.
They were always exchanging quick glances about things like garlic, Russia, England, finger painting, Lollobrigida, television, cocktail bars and bringing up children.
I’d say, “Gave my kids a raise today. A dollar a week they get now. But man! They’re going to work for it or I’ll cut them down to a dime.”
They’d dart a look at one another. The woman would look at her shoes, smile secretly and shake her head. My wife and I wouldn’t know whether she thought our kids were funny, that 1 was funny, or that the man she bought her shoes from was funny.
Her husband would finally explain: “We give Horace five dollars a week, but we don’t think an allowance is really pay for anything.”
Horace evidently used to spend it on hashish. He’d come up to me and sneer in my face, tell me I had two chins and they both looked funny and that I reminded him of Gerry Muskrat, wind up a little diesel engine and let it go at my ingrown toenail and while I blinked at him through tears ask me why I didn’t go home.'
His mother and father would say, “H-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-r-a-c-e! Is that the way to talk to Mr. Allen?”
Horace would curl his lip and say: “Yes.”
This man never actually organized separate holidays but one time he had to spend a week on some family business in Larder Lake with a moonfaced, grinning, good-natured aunt of his named Rosy who had seven kids and ran a boarding house and had been disgracing the family since shortly after the first gold strike. He came back on a Saturday morning when I happened to be at his house, and, within the next hour, put his feet up on the
table, had three beers and half a dozen unwashed oysters, told his wife to buy some garlic and gave Horace a clout on the back of the head that sent his little diesel under three bridges and into a flat car.
If his wife had been with him on this trip they’d have been so busy exchanging secret looks, smiling at their toes, causing little draughts of disapproval and laughingly saying things like “I think I’ll just sterilize this oyster; you don’t mind do you?” that they would have missed Rosy who, in spite of her unhygienic way of life, had a lot to
offer. In other words this guy came out from under the toadstool of his marriage and saw another part of the world, from another angle that cut his wife out of the picture. He liked it so well he stayed out in the open. It did him a lot ofgood.
“Anyone who wants a separate holiday from bis wife isn’t adjusted to marriage,” says Doctor Leopold.
If you ask me, one of the most important reasons why we should take separate holidays is that we get loo well ad justed to marriage. We get so well ad justed that we can communicate by
grunts, sneers and frozen looks; by snapping books shut, slamming down plates and making low moaning sounds. Many married couples are so well adjusted to one another that they have all but lost the faculty of human speech. They should take separate holidays if for no other reason than to see if they can communicate with their fellow man.
A man and wife get up in the morning and begin walking past one another like two bus passengers. The guy puts an egg in a saucepan, peers at it unhappily, then abruptly says something
He May Forget the Point
like: “End of month tomorrow? Did you post it?”
His wife purses her lips, bends down and peers into the pop-up toaster, nearly shorting it with a curler. She says, “No. Maybe we’ll make it. Record player’s finished.”
The husband laughs sardonically at the egg and says, “What next?”
His wife closes one eye, peers down at the top of the toast and says, “That’s right. Blame it on me.”
They both know exactly what they are talking about, but nobody else would, and to go on holidays together just means coming back in a couple of weeks grunting at one another in slightly happier tones.
Another thing, when a man and wife take their holidays together they unpack along with their golf clubs, cases of beer, fishing tackle and frilly bathing suits all the little feuds and annoyances that will make two weeks in July the same as any in February.
Last year I rented a cottage next to a tall brown investment salesman with sleek silver hair and light-blue eyes who spent most of his two weeks, as far as 1 could see, quarrelling with his wife, a short, square brunette, over her habit of interrupting his stories. Evidently he had been doing this for years. The only difference being on holidays made was that he glared at her from beneath a sign that read DUNROMIN.
He’d just get started on a story when she’d say something like: “You forgot the part about his first wife.” She’d turn laughing to us and explain, “She used to go to dances in her bare feet.”
Her husband would stop, look over Lake Couchiching at the gulls, cloud effects, waving pines and sunset, turn to her and whisper: “I wasn’t going to forget it. That part comes later. Now will you let me tell my story?”
His wife would smile at a point in mid-air about three feet in front of her nose. He would give her a last dirty look and go on. “SO—-as I was saying —this man had always been very broke and borrowed a lot of money . . .”
“You should tell them that he never borrowed from his friends,” his wife would say, looking out at the sunset.
He’d take a drag at his cigarette that would make it crackle like hemlock, and say, “That’s the point of the story. We all tell stories our own way. I JUST DON’T HAPPEN TO LIKE TELLING THE POINT OF A STORY AT THE BEGINNING.”
This sort of thing is no holiday. I’m not particularly blaming his wife. It’s an unfortunate part of marriage that men and women get so close to one another’s faults that they begin to think of one another as being just barely capable of making change. When a woman, for example, has spent twenty-five years watching her husband forget things like what drawer his socks are in, the dates of anniversaries, and occasionally the fact that he’s married, she can’t be blamed for feeling that he’s going to forget the point of a story.
That’s one of the reasons we need separate holidays: to restore some
confidence in each other as responsible human beings. By taking separate holidays each finds that the other can survive among other people without aid. It’s a lot like a man who has taught his wife to drive: he’ll never believe she can do it until she takes the car out by herself and comes home safely.
Marriage brings us so close to each other it’s like looking at an oil painting with our noses about an inch from the canvas. All we see is a lot of lumps. With separate holidays we see the
complete picture, get one another in the proper framework.
I had a wonderful turkey dinner a few nights ago with a man I used to work with, whose wife, a smart elderly woman with a white pony tail and upswept eyes, is one of the besteducated women I know. Yet all she could talk about, for the first twenty minutes of the meal, was the way her husband carved the turkey. I could see her point. After she’d prepared a meal worthy of a bit of ceremony, the guy just sawed away at it happily, laughing and telling stories and leaving the turkey looking as if it had been carved by weasels.
“Charlie has been carving turkey like that for ten years,” his wife said looking at me a bit wildly. “Other men can carve, but not good old Charlie.”
Hut the point is that knowing how to carve a turkey is not, after all, a basic issue, and a few weeks away from her husband would get this woman’s mind off it.
Not that I’m saying that all husbands and wives fight. Sometimes the ones who have never had a fight in their lives are the ones who need separate holidays the most.
I once lived next door to a solid little guy, built like a soccer ball, who bounced along giving the impression of perpetually kicking goals on life. He’d tell me that he was planning on knocking a side of his house out and building two TV rooms, sending his wife for a holiday on Majorca, and settling a couple of fifty-thousand-dollar annuities on his kids. He’d bite the end off a cigar, spit it out like a machine gun, pat his stomach, hoist his chins and say: “I picked up a nice pair of wing steaks for supper tonight.” I often used to wonder what his wife did.
One year his wife went away for two weeks with a girl friend and I found out. He fell apart faster in two weeks than most movie derelicts do in two years. He sagged, grew a short beard, got food poisoning and began to look like someone who has lived too long in banana country.
1 found that what his wife did was keep him laced up and full of air, and lieaded in the direction of his office every morning. Without her, he’d always wake up at noon, no matter how many alarm clocks went off. He didn’t know a wing steak from a pot roast and I found that his wife used to put a note in his pocket for the butcher, and another note in another pocket telling him what pocket the first note was in.
The trouble was, of course, that both this guy and his wife had actually begun to believe the part she had built up for him. It took separate holidays to straighten things out. One of the major precepts of psychology is to be honest with ourselves. This guy couldn’t honestly assess himself until tiis wife left him on his own.
Separate holidays never did anyone more good. He became quieter and more relaxed. From the time his wife came back we used to sit out in our back yards drinking beer and doing nothing more brisk than smiling occasionally and grunting things like: “Nice breeze.”
The last thing I happened to see by a marriage expert on taking separate holidays was the remark that if people want separate holidays there’s something the matter with their marriage. “It’s a danger signal.”
This is like saying that if you get out of your car to eat and sleep you don’t like driving. Marriage doesn’t provide everything we need: for instance, it doesn’t provide privacy. All of us need to get off by ourselves now and then and take a look at our lives, in fact to take a look at our marriages, to which most of us haven’t given any objective
thought since that wedding day a long time ago when we looked into the shaving mirror or bedroom vanity and thought with mounting panic: “What have I done!”
Yet enthusiasts like Doctor Leopold are still coming out with things like: “In a new environment we can discover new facets of one another’s personality.” Most husbands and wives already have so many facets exposed to one another they are contemplating hiding in ovens and crawling under work benches. What we want is a chance to hide from one another, and
holidays provide the opportunity.
Holidays may, as some experts say, be the only time of year most married couples can really be together twentyfour hours a day, but the husbands and wives who complain of not seeing one another twenty-four hours a day exist only in surveys by marriage experts.
Most couples in real life, don’t go around saying, “Darling, let’s become better acquainted.” They try to sneak off to bowling alleys, bars, bridal showers, afternoon bridges, stag parties and matinees, and if you ask me it would be a lot more practical and more
dignified to do it all at once on an organized vacation.
As for the marriage expert who said in one magazine recently: “Don’t take separate holidays unless you have professional help,” I say all the guy is doing is trying to get a free ride some place. All the professional help you need is to stop reading advice like that. In fact, it's because marriage has reached the point where people think we need professional help if we try wandering off into the hills alone that husbands and wives should take separate holidays. ★