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Cover Story

Honeymoons gone bad

9/30/2015

The honeymoon is the paradox of romance. Theoretically, it plays out as scripted in bridal show dreams conjured from the promotions of high-end resorts. Like all things theoretical, honeymoons sometimes fail the test of real-world complications such as delayed flights, missed connections, downgraded rooms, bad weather and unrealistic expectations.

The honeymoon has always been mired in duality. In the oldest known literary use of the term, Richard Huolet explained in 1552 that it was coined as a reminder that passion and love are as inconstant as the waxing and waning phases of a moon cycle: “Hony mone, a term proverbially applied to such as be newly married, which will not fall out at the first, but th’one loveth the other at the beginning exceedingly, the likelihood of their exceeding love appearing to aswage, ye which time the vulgar people call the hony mone.”

George Monger’s “Marriage customs of the world: An encyclopedia of dating and wedding traditions” suggests that the term might have originated in a tradition of Welsh, German, Scandinavian and Babylonian cultures where mead (a honey-based alcoholic beverage) was drunk in great quantities at weddings, after which a month’s supply was given to the newlyweds. The idea was that drinking regularly for a full month would return the best odds of bearing a child in the first year of marriage.

More likely, the term began as a description of the first month of marriage and its potential for being the sweetest. Amazingly, the term translated literally into French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Welsh, Russian, Arabic, Persian, Tamil, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Turkish and Marathi. First recorded in the 16th century, the concept of honeymoons as we know them today began in the Belle Époquem, the years between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I. The concept was promoted by British travel agencies and is credited for beginning the era of mass tourism.

Some aspects of the honeymoon are consistent. Italy was the favorite destination during the Belle Époque and, according to Modern Bride’s annual survey of travel agents, it still battles it out with Hawaii annually for that distinction. Although the cost of a honeymoon has risen through the decades, it has long been a rule of thumb that couples spend one fifth as much on a honeymoon as on their wedding.

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We asked several people about sour honeymoons, trips that did not go like they do in bridal magazines. Insurance executive Graham Cook recalled the distinct absence of a honeymoon.

“We got married at the courthouse in the morning, and then I went back to work,” he explained.

Retiree Patrick McGoff said his honeymoon went up in flames.

“We almost burned down the cabin we received as a wedding present for our honeymoon and did manage to burn up the antique dining room table. We left the candles burning in a moment (hours) of passion. Boy, was that a hard one to explain. The cabin belonged to my bride’s mom’s best friend.”

Midwest Food Alliance Director Catherine Lambrecht recalled a hilarious story she read in the Chicago Tribune.

“A reporter went to hotels unlikely to be honeymoon destinations. They called in advance to reserve the honeymoon suite and later showed up to experience it. In Chicago, there is Barbara Ann’s BBQ in front of a modest motel. I always thought it would be the perfectly unlikely place to reserve a honeymoon suite. If the honeymoon doesn’t work out, at least there is mighty fine BBQ,” she suggested.

Frank Dunn spent his honeymoon stranded in a blizzard.

Frank Dunn spent his honeymoon stranded in a blizzard.

Retired businesswoman Tai Johnson Spratt recalled downgraded expectations on her honeymoon.

“We went to Key West. Had the smallest room in the world — like when you put your luggage in it you had to climb over it to use the bathroom. Tom got beat up downtown, and we would have gone to jail if not for a witness that saw the other guy start it. And then we ended up with new tattoos,” she recalled.

Philanthropist Jennifer Wilson explained her honeymoon fiasco simply.

“Galapagos Islands with four guys, including the one I married.”

Artist Kemlyn Tan Bappe remembered the disappointment of “a hot tub suite without any hot water.”

Businesswoman Lucey Bowen recalled contracting poison ivy poison the night before her honeymoon on an island in Maine, which grew worse. She said she still laughs remembering that cold weather forced her groom to borrow a flannel nightgown from her, then rocking in it “a la the Bates Motel.”

Brian and Mary Conley’s honeymoon included a harrowing boat ride and bat attack.

Brian and Mary Conley’s honeymoon included a harrowing boat ride and bat attack.

Media relations consultant Aaron Jaco said he and his wife missed the departure of their honeymoon cruise after spending almost 24 hours flying to Florida due to multiple flight delays and technical problems. Then they took an unplanned four-hour, $400 taxi ride from Orlando to Miami in the middle of the night, before renting a car to drive to the Keys, which was the first port of call on their cruise.

“I dove into the ocean, flooded my supposedly waterproof $5,000 insulin pump. Waiting overnight for our ship to arrive, we found out we arrived in the Keys during ‘Fantasy Fest’ (an event self-described as ‘an intergalactic freak show’). When we finally got on the cruise, we paid federal government mandated $300 fees (each) to board midway through its voyage.” He did say they enjoyed a lovely honeymoon after all that.

Blizzard of the century honeymoon
Many of the best stories include an element of danger. Asphalt and racehorse businessman Frank Dunn still laughs about his honeymoon fiasco.

“It was the weekend that became famous here because of the 1958 snowstorm that stranded thousands of kids at Vets Auditorium during the girls’ basketball tournament. I was working my first job, at KRNT TV station, on a 3 p.m. to midnight shift, when my wife-to-be informed me that the rabbit died. In those days, that was the only pregnancy test there was.

“So I borrowed $5 each from 10 different guys at the station, and we drove to Marshalltown to pick up the couple who would stand up for us. Then we drove to Blue Earth, Minnesota, where there was no waiting period to get married. We found a Justice of the Peace who performed the ceremony and headed back to Iowa. Snow began falling in Garner, and by the time we hit Jewell, we were in the middle of a full-fledged blizzard. My wife kept suggesting we stop at a motel, but I wanted to push on and drop off our friends first.

“About half-way between Highway 69 and Marshalltown, we got blocked by a semi that had jackknifed across the road. I turned off the engine to save gas, but snow blew up under the hood, and the engine wouldn’t turn over for 19 hours. My wife said she would leave me then and there for anyone who had a warm car. A tow truck finally came but still couldn’t start the car. We ended up hitchhiking home.”

Today Dunn realizes it was not an auspicious beginning.

“When I told my mom I got married, she told me I had to go immediately to church. I was so weak and tired, I passed out at St. John’s. My wife’s parents would not speak to me for two years,” he recalled.

Still, the marriage lasted 30 years.

“She divorced me then, but we dated for another five years,” he concluded.

Bats and worse things
Retiree Brian Conley and retail store manager Mary Conley got married in a whirlwind after meeting in Minneapolis.

“We met in May of 1982, at a place called The Loon Café, got engaged in June and married in October. Mary’s mom told her immediately that she still had time to get out of the marriage,” relayed Brian.

Their first date was to a Des Moines Rugby Club game in Fort Snelling and to its inevitable post-game party bedlam. While Brian paid for gas afterward, Mary said she “rifled through his glove box trying to learn his last name.”

After their wedding, at Lady of Grace Church in Edina, a friend loaned them his Lake Vermillion island cabin for their honeymoon.

They drove to the lake and arrived about 4 p.m. on a Sunday. Mary says the first harbinger of trouble was toward the end of that four-hour drive.

“I grew up in Boston and was a crazed hockey fan. We passed the Hockey Hall of Fame, and he refused to stop. He was hell bent to get to the cabin,” she recalled.

They then took a 16-foot aluminum boat, with a small 20-horsepower engine, across the lake to the island.

“The boat lift wasn’t working, so we lifted the boat up to the dock and spent a nice first night there. The next evening, we were playing cribbage in the cabin when a bat appeared,” said Brian.

“I saw something swoop. I grabbed a pillow and ran into the kitchen with it over my head,” recalled Mary.

Brian tried to convince her that it was not a problem, and he could handle with a tennis racket.

“I failed, however, and there was no way Mary was staying there, so I grabbed a flashlight, and we made our way to the boat. A storm was kicking in. The boat lift was rocking. By the time we got the boat in the water, there was both lightning and thunder. It took 15 terrifying minutes to cross to the mainland. We nearly got swamped by the waves and rain. I kept telling Mary it was nothing to worry about, but I was scared to death. When we finally made it, I kissed the ground,” Brian said.

Because they had no money for a motel, they drove all the way home to Minneapolis that very night.

“The last 33 years have been the honeymoon,” said Brian.

“Way to embellish a story, dear,” Mary replied.

Risky chances
TJ and Bri Noberg were determined to not have a bridal magazine honeymoon. Travel agents suggested Barbados. One night during a fish fry, they met a local who shared the last four digits of his phone number and the same number of sisters with TJ. The coincidences made them more trusting than they might otherwise have been.

TJ and Bri Moberg wanted an edgy honeymoon.

TJ and Bri Moberg wanted an edgy honeymoon.

“All of a sudden, we hop into a car with this guy and three of his friends. I felt a little anxiety but soon got over it. They offered to show us the Crane Resort, a place so exclusive it’s usually off limits to anyone who is not staying there,” Bri explained.

Then they were invited to a local Hennessy party.

“We had spent all our money at the fish fry, yet no one minded,” she added. Drinks were bought for them all night.

“It was a real cultural experience for us. We were the only non-Bajans (the name locals call themselves and their cuisine) we saw all night. Later on the trip, we took a wrong turn walking to a beach and were caught in a rising tide, holding on to rocks until finally getting tossed onto a beach full of pink umbrellas. We dusted the sand off and walked to the bar to order beers, even though we did not pass the dress code. No one minded,” she continued.

Not really knowing each other
Businesswoman Stephanie Jewett said she recognized several harbingers of disaster.

“I was not ready to get married. The eve of the wedding, I told my dad I was calling it off. He said there was no way, he had 600 guests coming, and many were from out of town. On our first morning after the wedding, my husband complained about my ‘toothpaste,’ which was actually my vaginal cream. He did not tell me where we going for our honeymoon until the last minute, so I was not sure how to pack. The morning of our trip, he tells me it’s Maui, which sounded great, but when we went to my place to pick up the luggage, he had added a cooler. I asked what that was, and he said he packed a week of food so that I could cook for him. Clearly we did not know each other very well,” she recalled.

Jewett said that she had never flown further from Des Moines than to Las Vegas or Florida, and the eight-hour flight from Chicago to Honolulu stressed her out.

“Oh, I was a mess — pacing, getting drunk and taking tranquilizers to calm down. After that, there was a puddle jumper to Maui.”

The first day there, Jewett said she wanted to take the Honeycane Train tour, but her husband wasn’t interested.

“So I just found a bar and had a great time with a recent divorcee who got a kick out the fact I was drinking alone on my honeymoon. She and I took the Honeycane Train and had a blast.

“The next day my husband took me on a four-hour drive on the Crooked Road to Hana. I got so sick of the twists and the altitude changes that I asked him to turn around, which was not what he wanted to do. I told him I needed to stop at a bathroom to throw up, but actually I just wanted to take some tranquilizers. Seven hours later, I told him I needed a fleet enema, and he had to help administer it. He refused so I had to try doing that alone.

“We had a good day the next day. We snorkeled in the afternoon and went on a dinner cruise at night. Then (a friend) called with distressing news about a newborn child. I can’t remember if we both flew home early together or if I did by myself,” she said.

The couple lived together for six months and officially divorced after one year. “Somehow we have remained pretty good friends since then,” she said. CV

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