The story I am about to tell is absolutely true – every word. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up, folks.
When our kids were tiny, The Husband and I were pressured into attending a denominational marriage retreat weekend by several couples in our former church. The fact that every one of those couples is now divorced paves the way for the rest of the story…
It was a cheap weekend away, and we finally decided it would be good to have a weekend alone together. As soon as we arrived at the hotel, the reason for the very affordable fee was immediately clear. Think Bates Motel. Meals in the hotel restaurant were included in the package, and I really and truly found a bug in my salad on the first evening.
But the accommodations were nothing compared to the program itself. We were expected to attend hours and hours worth of large group sessions, which were led by a panel of four couples, veterans of the marriage retreat experience. Three of the four women were named – I kid you not – Cookie, Taffy, and Brownie. How sweet.
And then they announced that all attendees were strongly discouraged from leaving the group sessions for any reason, unless it was a scheduled break. The anarchist in me immediately began planning unscheduled bathroom breaks.
The leaders began the first group session by reading what was termed “love letters” to each other, out loud to the rest of the group. Think that’s TMI? Just wait.
The husband half of one couple spent his entire letter telling his wife (and the rest of us poor, unsuspecting fools) about how he felt when his wife “said no to him in sex.” AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHH! I didn’t even know that was a phrase, but he used it about 10 times in his little reading. I think at one point I squirmed right out of my chair and fell onto the floor.
At regular intervals we were released to go to our rooms to write and share our own “love letters.” And the hint was broadly dropped that we might all want to engage in our own extracurricular activities while we were at it. Thank you so much. A little bawdy, x-rated humor is a great way to set the mood.
At one point the leaders explained to us the special marriage retreat follow-up phone calls we would start receiving, after we graduated. They were called “one ringers.” The deal was that the leaders had our phone numbers, and would occasionally call us at home, but hang up after one ring. That was just meant to remind us of our special commitment to each other. Can you say stalking?
One of the large group sessions consisted of our being forced to listen to some love song titled “Dulcinea” from the musical “Man of La Mancha.” The four leader couples were all sappy about what a beautiful declaration of love it was, complete with mournful, puppy-dog eyed faces directed toward their significant others. Sickening.
Last thing on the second evening, we were all instructed to lie down on the floor with our spouse. Keep in mind we were surrounded by ten other couples we had never met before. Then the lights were turned out and”mood music” started to play. I don’t even remember what we were supposed to be doing, but I could not refrain from making obnoxious comments and giggling uncontrollably.
We were then released to our rooms for more “love letters” and private time. And that’s when The Husband and I hatched our escape plan. Basically, I lied my head off. I approached the Lead lead couple first thing the next morning and explained that my husband had a serious medical condition for which he needed medication, and which we had forgotten to pack. They tried to talk us out of leaving early, but I held firm. We barely made it out of there with our lives.
I’m certain the weekend did not do for our marriage what the leaders intended for it to do. But it gave us a memory to laugh at and a story to tell that we’ll never forget.