Last fall, my friend and I fulfilled one of our midlife crisis dreams by taking our husbands on a trip to the Mediterranean. The hype and expectations were off the charts, considering we spent between 2-3 years researching, planning and preparing. My friend was someone I had known since college—one of those friends with which I had an instant and enduring connection—a renewed friendship after losing touch. I knew she and I would have a fabulous time, but our husbands had only accompanied us on an occasional double date. Even though my husband possesses a high likability quotient and makes friends easily, I had no idea how our quartet would hold up after 2 ½ weeks on a 5-day jaunt through the Pyrenees followed by 11 days at European sea ports.
At dinner on the first evening while en route, my friend’s husband said, “I just don’t want to end up in a blog post.” “Oh, there will be a blog post—or several,” I confirmed, “But don’t worry—I won’t use your real names. I’ll call you Justin and Jessica, and your anonymity will remain intact.”
Throughout the trip, they played along good-naturedly. Occasionally I looked at my friend and remarked, “I think Justin and Steve (my husband) just earned themselves a blog appearance, don’t you?” seeking her confirmation that their actions were indeed blog fodder.
In short, we had the perfect vacation. The trip confirmed many benefits of mutual couple friendships. A few years ago, authors Geoffrey L. Greif and Kathleen Holtz Deal published Two Plus Two: Couples and their Couple Friendships, revealing many positive benefits for couples seeking and sustaining mutual friendships. Couple friendships can be used to enhance a couple relationship in many ways, and it’s often an under-utilized resource.
Benefits of couple relationships:
Another couple can provide a mirror to your own relationship.
At one point early in the trip, Justin commented that I was probably evaluating them and judging them for being so “screwed up.” “Actually,” I comforted, “it’s just like looking in a mirror—in an eerily predictable sort of way–incredibly validating, in fact.” I found myself completing sentences in my head accurately for both partners, based on my own spousal interactions.
At our first stop in Spain, I watched as Justin purchased a questionable culinary delight he experienced when he lived in Spain decades earlier as a young adult. He was excited to share what looked to me like the equivalent of a chocolate filled hot dog, evoking memories of my husband’s curious obsession with Argentine alfajores. The dulce de leche-filled cookies were one of the first things he wanted to share with me when we visited Argentina years ago, and even though they tasted to me just like the imports in the U.S., he was convinced they were far superior on Argentine soil. My palate was not discriminating enough to tell, and I’m not a dry cookie lover. On our first morning in Girona, Spain, when Jessica mentioned that she was hungry, and Justin remarked, “I already got you a chocolate hotdog for breakfast. What more do you want?” I smirked, recalling a similar conversation between my husband and me. When he parallel parked the car in a limited space with finesse and made a comment to Jessica, it reminded me of the many times my husband parked similarly and looked over at me and asked, “Honey, are my parallel-parking skills a turn-on?” I knew this would be a fun trip.
Another Couple Can Share the Humor.
One of the greatest benefits people identify in a long-term monogamous relationship is shared humor, and adding another couple to the mix is potentially more fun. Bottom line—if you don’t have a sense of humor, we probably can’t be friends. I think most people take themselves way too seriously. When Justin remarked that his calves were so awe-inspiring that they earned the “golden calves,” moniker, it led to endless jokes about worshipping at the golden calves. My husband played it up every time we had good luck, “It must have been Justin’s calves—she took one look and was mesmerized into giving us what we want.”
In another incident, we noticed a gentleman on our cruise whose appearance was both eccentric and comical. We even wondered if he was a candid camera plant (which he admittedly could have been). He was hard to miss at over 6’3” and gangly, sporting an impressive comb over that began only an inch above his ear and was obviously dyed turd brown to hide the gray roots which would have blended more congruously with his wrinkled skin. His outfits were so flamboyant that it took the eyes time to adjust. His garish wardrobe consisted at times of a bright “Members only” jacket, plaid pants and floral cuffs. A cartoon mustache completed the look, and my husband nicknamed him “Inspector Clouseau.”
During the trip, I commented on my husband’s own appearance, “Sheesh—could you look any more like an American tourist?” referencing his adornment of Nike swooshes and ubiquitous baseball caps. “Well, I am an American tourist, so…,” he replied, confirming that he could not care less about his global image.
At one point, I was running late while he and the other couple were waiting outside my cabin door. I hate being late, so, fueled by stress, I threw open the door to the hallway and nearly collided with my husband, who was right outside the door waiting, staring at me through mirrored sunglasses, striking a pose with arms folded. He had turned up his polo shirt collar and accessorized it with his sweatshirt thrown over his back and loosely tied in the front, “preppy style.” Jessica’s mascara, applied artfully on his upper lip, resulted in a fake “non-American-tourist,” mustache. While I feasted on his new “not tourist,” look, our friends were enjoying my reaction to his transformation. “Whaa…..?” I was dumbfounded. “Hey, you’re the one that claimed that I looked too American—is this European enough for you?” effectively shaming me out of future wardrobe complaints. Later, he snuck a photo of “Inspector Clouseau,” and sent it in a group text with the words, “How to not look like an American tourist,” leaving us all in stitches.
Another couple can make terrible moments less painful, or even funny.
We had the good fortune of planning our entry into Barcelona from our Pyrenees adventure on the very day that the Catalonian independence movement declared a general strike and protested Spain’s aggression toward their political vote by blocking all major roads into Barcelona, center of Catalonia. A trip that should have taken us just over an hour took several, and our strategy of mapping side streets to avoid the congested highways landed us smack dab in the middle of a local Catalonian independence parade in a small village. We had no choice but to crawl forward in the slow line, give the thumbs up sign, honk our horns and yell “Independencia!” with the masses, receiving smiles and reciprocal affirmative gestures for our show of support. Had my husband and I been alone, we would likely have been annoyed, but with friends, it was hilarious. When most stores were closed in the strike, barring purchase of food, it also led to several jokes about how “I could really go for a chocolate hot dog right about now,” lightening the mood.
Another time, at a gelato shop at a French port, Jessica got up to use the bathroom but arrived back at the table looking rattled. She explained that she ran into a French man by accidentally going into the men’s bathroom and she embarrassingly explained to him, “Yo hablas Ingles.” If you’re paying attention, you realize that she was telling a man who speaks French that she speaks English, except she said it in Spanish with the wrong verb tense. It was very funny.
Another couple in your same demographic cohort can help you feel better about your age and reminisce about your glory days.
Jessica and I left our husbands to check out the solarium and spa o’high pressure sales tactics (e.g. “You’re going to die of aging embarrassment if you don’t buy this cream, offered now at the special price of three times the manufacturer’s suggested retail value—if you don’t apply it in the next ten minutes, don’t blame me when you are unexpectedly atomized by environmental toxins). Upon return, it took us a minute to find them. “Oh look,” I pointed at the basketball court, where they were taking turns shooting, “Isn’t that cute? How long do you think it will take before they hurt themselves?” “I hope Justin doesn’t aggravate his Achilles’ tendon,” my friend said while I mused about Steve, “He can’t jump…he’s having a hip replacement in six weeks.” For the rest of the trip, our husbands got cozy with the community Ibuprofen bottle and dinnertime conversation was saturated with comparisons of aches and pains earned from the day’s activities.
You can be sillier.
In Rome, we arranged for a private tour guide who Jessica aptly described as someone who “Seemed like he was trying to quit smoking but really needed a cigarette.” He was intense, anxious and loud. On our way to the Coliseum, when we were trying to clarify our return location, any question he had previously answered began with the subtly punishing, “Like I already told you……..” It became a joke among us that the man does not like to repeat himself. When we got back in his van to go to another location, I whispered in Jessica’s ear, “And don’t you dare ask him the same question twice, you ignorant American tourist!” As we drove toward the Vatican, he was pointing out various points of interest and Jessica, always one to inspire a charitable attitude and compassion for her fellow man, engaged with verbal interest in his recitations while I stayed silent, actively avoiding his verbal aggression. Plus, I had been to Rome and thought it was crowded and dirty the first time. At one point, we rounded a large thoroughfare which we had previously passed from a different side. When she asked, “What’s that?” more to be friendly than to satisfy her own curiosity, he spat, “It’s what I showed you before!” I couldn’t help myself. I poked her in the ribs and worked hard to muffle my laughter, instantly reverting to my junior high persona. She was trying so hard to curry his favor and in the end, he was as terse as ever. We still laugh about that.
Another couple can solidify all your gender stereotypes.
At the end of the trip, I told Justin and Jessica that I thought I had enough material to manufacture a push button device reducing the need for males to generate independent thought in spousal conversation. “I am thinking of calling it the Manologue,” I explained. “I think we can at least approximate a high degree of predictable conversational accuracy with a few key phrases. When your wife expresses worry about any potential outcome, you just push the button labeled, ‘OK—so then what’s the worst thing that can happen?’ For general use, we can add, ‘That’s not what happened,’ ‘No I didn’t,’ and ‘Well, you need to be more specific.’” The deluxe version will include, “You never said that,” “I didn’t hear you,” “I forgot,” “I can’t find it,” and “Huh?”
Somehow, a conversation related to the “Not About the Nail,” video came up, which led to our husbands bonding over the accuracy of the male experience in the video while we argued that it is dismissive and misses the point (no pun intended). While touring a medieval cathedral, my friend asked how the sculpted saint died, and one of our husbands blurted, “The nail in the forehead,” pointing to the stake protruding from her brow. High fives accompanied, “See—if she had just taken it out….” This was one of many similar testosterone-affirming displays.
Another couple can validate your stress.
While waiting in line on our ship for a land-bound tender, in a chaotic stream of people who were entering one hallway from several directions, Jessica called out, “The line starts back here.” Her husband gave her a death stare and sarcastically thanked her for keeping everyone else in line. “She’s just saying what the rest of us want to say,” I affirmed, relieved that someone was as rattled as I was about the whole mess. Every time Jessica asked the time or mentally calculated distance/time ratios, I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one who worries about time.
Another couple can increase your compassion for your spouse.
In another blog fodder moment, after my husband spent the better part of a few days priding himself on his “still got it,” reflexes to kill any bees who dared buzz anywhere near our food, he got stung by a bee, in a display of radical beehive justice. Amid my “you deserved that,” mentality, I realized that my friend was much more compassionate, and asked my husband later how he was doing. “Wow, I should probably be nicer,” I learned. Several times.
Another couple can expand your narrow culinary experience.
Chocolate hot dogs aside, I have Justin to thank for my religious experience with fresh churros y chocolate in Barcelona. We could easily have missed this gastronomic specialty without his expertise. I doubted I would offer new ideas for our comestible journey, but my strange fondness for floral-flavored desserts led to my obsessive quest for a gelato shop offering rose, lavender, poppy, hibiscus, orange blossom and violet flavors, which was worth every contemptuous eye roll it took to complete my order. Jessica and Justin also sampled my violet candy. “If you travel with my wife, you’re going to eat perfume,” my husband accurately confirmed.
Another couple can provide a layer of support when you need it.
It became a predictable mantra that when Jessica expressed concern, Justin would say, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” On one occasion, when she was worried that we were on the train going the wrong way, he took a vote about who thought we were going the right way. We all voted yes. Except Jessica. When the train started, going the wrong way, our husbands cleverly manipulated the conversation into the benefits of going the wrong way, and how much amazing scenery we were viewing which would have been entirely missed by going the “right way.” Jessica amazingly stifled an “I told you so.”
In another mirror moment, while entering Barcelona in the middle of the public declaration of independence, traffic was a nightmare. Jessica was trying to tell Justin where to go, but so many streets were blocked off that it seemed impossible. We were tired and cranky. In the chaos, suddenly, Justin yelled “HON!” and showed frustration about her directions. While Jessica left the car to talk to our hotel personnel, her husband apologized for his impatience. When I was about to say that my husband would have responded the same way, my husband said, “What? You said ‘hon,’” which led to a round of laughter, breaking up the tension.
Another couple can reduce the tension.
One night, we arrived at a tiny mountain village called Estamariu, where we had reservations at a relatively obscure bed and breakfast, booked by Justin because, “You said you wanted adventure.” In this case, part of the adventure was hunting down a key in a medieval village devoid of signs of life, eliciting scenes of Stephen King novels and zombie raids. Part of the discussion was, “If we were murdered for harvested body parts/zombie food/zombie recreation and thrown off the precipice, how long would it take to find us?” We were all tired, and Jessica offered the possibility that a door hidden in an archway down a ramp might be the way in, and she was actively ignored. Finally, one of the men said, “What about this door?” (the one Jessica had pointed out three times previously) and it opened right up. “What? You mean the one that I asked about first?” Jessica asked with the slightest hint of annoyance. I was impressed that she didn’t slap someone upside the head, despite the late hour.
While a tender was pulling away from the cruise ship after depositing tourists at the end of a long day, I realized my husband was still on the tender (no surprise—the man likes to take his time, which is a constant thorn in my side, I tell you). Instead of having to panic by myself, I calmly pointed out that my husband was still on the tender; Justin and Jessica did the yelling for me to alert the tender operators about their stowaway—and then I could laugh instead of being more annoyed with my husband.
Another couple can motivate skill development.
Let’s just say that pickle ball was an important topic of conversation, along with musings of becoming seniors pickle ball champions. To be continued….Also, my husband and I realized that foosball is not our team strength.
Another couple can increase opportunities for embarrassment.
While I rarely had to kick my husband under the table to keep from embarrassing me, I wanted to muzzle him when he recounted a previous cruise in which we entered a doubles ping pong tournament. He was exaggerating my skills. Justin, an athlete through and through, decided we needed to face off in a couple’s match. Despite my protests that I hadn’t played in a LOOOONG time, my husband agreed that we were up for some healthy competition. “Why why why why why did you have to throw down the gauntlet?” I whined. “I’m totally out of practice.” “You’re a natural,” my husband said, “It’ll be fun.” I found every excuse to avoid the “tournament,” but to no avail. By some cosmic miracle, I didn’t completely lose face, but I was annoyed with my husband for embarrassing me.
Because I’m a foodie, I can go a little crazy on cruises because I want to try everything once. At my urging, Jessica joined with me in ordering more dishes than normal so we could taste them. As the waiter began bringing her food, her husband repeatedly exclaimed, “You ordered that, too? How much food did you order?” Despite my explaining, “She ordered it because I told her to—I ordered just as much—so we can taste it. Blame me,” he couldn’t seem to control his reaction. I could tell she was getting embarrassed, even though it was my fault, essentially. For the rest of the trip, I started our meals by suggesting, “Whatever you do, can you please order 8 of them, so I can hear Justin remark loudly and frequently about how much food you ordered?” Justin was a good sport about the whole thing, to his credit.
Another couple can amplify the adventure.
Something about having another couple along seems to increase risk-taking behavior (read: male bravado). At one point, our rented auto was positioned at the entrance to the old Jewish quarter in Girona. The quarter is hidden in a medieval labyrinth of ridiculously narrow cobblestone roads, tapering into obscure dead-ends and pedestrian collectives, winding into pathways of creepiness, but ending in adventure. With Justin at the wheel asking whether he should risk the path in a motorized vehicle, my husband goaded him forward with the equivalent of a triple-dog-dare, “Do it!” Jessica and I exchanged glances, recognizing that the only other vehicles on the maze-like structure seemed to be somehow official. We guessed that the high police presence was related to the Catalonian independence vote taking place in the square below. Had we been alone, I don’t think we would have experienced the neighborhood in quite the same, “everyone pray that we don’t scrape the sides of the car in this alley,” way. Also, we would have missed the adrenaline-inducing feeling of finding the car maliciously dented after we took leave of said rental chariot to explore on foot. At least it enlivened our conversation, as we conjectured about which group of police officers likely damaged the car either as a warning or protest of tourist invasion.
There are people to side up with you.
At the airport for departure, Jessica and I worried about whether we properly labeled our luggage. We wanted our husbands to ask for clarification (being that they both speak Spanish fluently and we don’t), but they were allied in their mutual protest that they didn’t need to ask. Finally, they asked someone and the airport employee answered in Spanish and followed up with a heavily-accented “Don’t worry,” for our benefit. For the remainder of the trip, that became our husbands’ gloating mantras. At least we each had a partner with which to collude.
Just before take-off in Amsterdam, we realized that Justin had been detained by security, preventing him from boarding the plane. The minutes seemed to drag on while every other detained passenger entered except him. I could feel my friend’s stress, and I tried to get my husband to check on the situation. Of course, my husband’s response was what her husband’s response would have been, which was, “It’ll be fine. They’re not going to take off without him,” followed with a heavily accented “Don’t worry!” Neither of us was comforted by his dismissal. As flight attendants closed all overheads and made announcements about departure, my husband finally hauled himself up to ask about our friend, but only after clarifying that it was for us, because he knew it would be fine. Eventually, Justin was returned to us and explained that because a screw was missing from his laptop, they were suspicious that he had tampered with it and were uncertain about letting him on the flight. “You were probably racially profiled,” I said, in reference to his dark skin and hair. Traveling with a trio of Mayflower and French Huguenot descendants would be the perfect cover. I turned to my husband, “See, honey, that’s one thing you can thank your pasty white skin for–there are benefits to looking like the love child of Thor and Queen Elizabeth.” He wasn’t amused, but I was.
Not only did I have a friend who thought like I did, but it was a relief to know that my husband’s “play it cool,” attitude was non-discriminating and he wasn’t personally resistant to me, but to generally risking looking like a dork in a crowd. When he didn’t move any faster for her than he would for me, I took comfort in the fact that it’s more about him than his resistance to my worry.
Since Justin took to calling us “twins,” I’m assuming he and Jessica had similar mirroring experiences. I’m happy to participate in the confirmation that his wife is much more normal than he was giving her credit for (being that paragon of normality that I am). “See—don’t you feel like you have a great marriage now? You’re welcome!” I gushed, “Now I just need to get busy on those revelatory blog posts.”
When I returned home and explained to people that we spent 2 ½ weeks with another couple, a common response I got back was, “Who did you find to spend 2 ½ weeks with, without hating them at the end?” I explained that while I understood that proximity with many couples for that length of time might be a trial, we looked at each other after the trip and both agreed, “Wow—and we still really like them!” We also have a healthy collection of inside jokes to hold us over until our next joint getaway. Yes, even after all that time, we could imagine planning another trip with this couple.
As couples, we are both committed to our marriages. Hanging out with another couple helped us accept our own flaws a little easier and celebrate our small successes more readily. Overall, it helps us be more compassionate about our human foibles, inside and outside the marriage, while having more fun in the process.