Business travel is built around the idea of the solitary. When you check into business hotels, you’re given a single room key and there’s only enough of that awful hotel room coffee for one. You’ll often get a king size bed, but that’s just the hotel’s way of saying that you might be sharing the bed with someone, but it’s not someone they expect will be sticking around for morning coffee.
Leisure travel is not designed in quite the same way. Where does one sense this more strongly than when hoping to order food from a restaurant accustomed to tourists? At an all-inclusive resort in a tropical location.
It begins on the plane. Again, a business traveler is used to certain type of fellow passenger: generally male, generally in an uncomfortable suit, generally furiously typing on a blackberry until long after the “turn off electronic devices” announcement. An amusing way to pass the time on the flight is to listen to those around you introduce themselves in pre-emptive, self-congratulatory ways. They strike up wary conversations, ostensibly to get to know each other, but in reality as first class versions of gladiator games. “I’m going to Salt Lake to close a million dollar deal. I cover the whole Utah region. Everyone needs pens.” “Oh really? Interesting. I have a meeting with the Utah governor to talk about paperless technologies.” “We should exchange business cards. I’ll email you!” The business traveler version of “I’ll call you” after a blind date.
Planes to leisure destinations are much louder, as they are full of people who already know each other, traveling in packs. A woman behind me boarding the plane to Puerto Vallarta asked the flight attendant about getting someone to switch seats so she could sit with her friend. “It’s all couples on this flight”, the flight attendant told her. “You probably won’t find anyone who will switch.”
Per usual, the taxi driver was quizzical. “You came by yourself? No husband? No boyfriend? No friends?” And here’s where I start to wonder if in addition to having no interest in coupling up, I’m fundamentally unable to even if I did want it. Because the idea of spending a few days entirely by myself doing entirely what I want whenever I want (or not) is exactly what I want to be doing.
Here’s another thing about an all-inclusive tropical resort. You’re not even allowed to book for just yourself. When they say, prices per person, double occupancy, what they mean is that you’re paying for two people, including meals and drinks, whether you invited someone along or not. When I called the hotel to arrange transportation and said it would be just me at the airport, they wanted to know when the second taxi needed to go fetch my traveling companion. When I checked in, reception wanted to know when the second person would be arriving. It’s a perfectly logical question, considering I’ve just paid for two sets of towels, two sets of meal bracelets. Who would do that?
Someone who thinks the solitude, the independence, the freedom are worth it.
Which brings me back to my pondering. I just read Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage. Back when I read the author’s first book, Eat, Pray, Love, I so identified with her agony over purposely destroying, with her own hands, what many would consider the epitome of success.
But unlike her, now that I have independence, freedom — all of those things you aren’t allowed to book at an all-inclusive hotel — I don’t know that I could ever go back. Her new book explores the idea that there’s really no such thing as balance. You can’t have the autonomy and independence and privacy and freedom to do absolutely anything you want anytime you want and have the intimacy and reliability and security of a permanent relationship. Her fear is of the institution of marriage, that marriage itself can overtake you. Perhaps, but I don’t think you need to be married for a relationship to erase large swaths of you, due to the very point that you can’t be completely independent and free and etc.
And yes. I know. Of course the other side of it is it really so important to be able to read in bed with the beside lamp if you can’t sleep at 2am, when the tradeoff is everlasting love and comfort and someone to hold your hand? And I guess my answer is that I don’t know.
When people find out I’ve decided, for real, permanently and non-reversibly, not to have kids, they sometimes ask if I might regret it later. If surely one day I’ll wish for the comfort of children and grandchildren and family and again, all the etc. that implies. I don’t know. Clearly I don’t think so.
And so it goes with relationships. Or, at least, that kind of relationship — the type where you pledge your love to one alone and you live in the same house and you tend not to go to all-inclusive resorts without.
I do sometimes feel like I’m the only person actively not looking for a white dress and a white picket fence and a dog and 2.3 children. Well, me and college guys maybe. And not even all of them are in my camp. Apparently, even the word “solitary” is not only not generally considered positive, with thoughts of unencumbered freedom, but indeed skews negative. Consider the only vaguely positive definition I could find: “following or enjoying a life of solitude”. It only allows for the possibility of enjoyment. But that’s overwhelming joyousness compared to the other definitions: having no companions; lonesome or lonely. endured alone. a recluse; a hermit. And it just improves from there: desolate; deserted; silent; still; hence, gloomy; dismal; as, the solitary desert. See also, solitary confinement.
No wonder everyone is scrambling to give up all that freedom for a relationship. Anything sounds better than a solitary life. Even the game of solitaire isn’t always, well, solitary. According to Wikipedia, “it is possible to play the same games competitively (often a head to head race) and cooperatively”.
Last night, I was in a club in Puerto Vallarta, talking to Omar. He was telling me about his ex-wife and how she took all their money and was in and out of rehab and eventually left him for another guy, with whom she’s already had two kids. But you know? I could tell that deep down, he wants her back. He said he knows some people who have been able to make relationships work and have been happy. What did I think?
How did he find me, of all people, to ask that question to?
I didn’t tell him what I think. Although I didn’t paint him a fairy tale world either. I was noncommittal. Which all said, seems about right.