In response to a heated debate on our Facebook page over whether newlyweds should bring books on their honeymoon, we’ve asked two writers—one for honeymoon reading, one against it—to make their case. After you finish getting convinced to bring them along, check out the opposing view.
I have been in 13 weddings, not including my own or the one where I dressed up as a bride for a Martha Stewart Weddings photo shoot (another story). I have not been a reader in all of those ceremonies, but I’ve done my rounds. Generally, I find these readings sweet and stern reminders of what it takes to make a marriage, but there are a few readings that always gave me pause. Most of them have to do with cleaving and two bodies becoming one flesh. It’s the idea of losing individual identity that I just can’t get down with.
When it came time to pick my own wedding readings, I turned to Ranier Maria Rilke, who wrote, “a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude…. Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”
My husband preferred a Seamus Heaney poem instead, so I jettisoned the reading from Letters to a Young Poet, but it’s still the most pragmatic, authentic, and beautiful meditation on marriage I’ve ever read. The second is a greeting card I saw at a local gift shop, which read, “There is nobody else I’d rather lie in bed and look at my phone next to.” I sincerely thought about getting it for my husband on our first anniversary.
Maybe this thinking is all a little heavy for the simple question of whether or not to bring a book on your honeymoon. I get that books are just another form of distraction (that’s why they’re so freaking awesome!) and that the honeymoon is, traditionally, about squeezing as much undivided quality time into a week as humanly possible, so that when you come back home and discover (or remember) your spouse is actually a filthy, careless, chewing-with-their-mouth-open philistine who picked up WHOLE milk when you expressly asked for skim, you can dip into that well of romantic honeymoon memories and remember why you love them.
For so long, we’ve thought of the honeymoon as a time out of time. But here’s the thing: it’s not, and if you expect it to be, you very likely will be let down. There is excitement, passion, deep connection, and discovery on a honeymoon, of course, but there’s also the fact that you are still the two people you were before the honeymoon and the people you will be after. There will be irritations and spats and old patterns manifesting themselves. After a week or four days, maybe even an hour, you’ll need your own solitudes, and THAT WILL BE OKAY, especially if it’s in the form of a book.
In fact, it will be healthy, and it will confirm what you maybe suspected all along, as your travel agent tried to sell you on the couples’ therapeutic mud bath: the honeymoon is only magical in that it is a distilled version of your relationship. When you’re sipping rum punches on the beach in St. Barth’s or wandering the cobblestone alleys of a medieval Italian hill town, you may get to be your best selves—removed from all the stress of work and family and wedding planning—but you will still be yourselves. The selves that like to read mystery novels. Or surf. Or go for a jog. Or do whatever solitary activities it is that you enjoy. The selves that love each other and joined for the rest of your lives, not as one flesh but as partners walking side by side. If that means reading in bed beside each other instead of steamy sexual congress on a bed of rose petals, then so be it. More power to you. May you live long and prosper as a realistic, relaxed, self-secure, and well-read couple standing before that immense sky.