We’ve all traveled somewhere that changed us, yet we don’t always think to go back. In this series, “The Second Trip Around,” made possible by the Flights.com “Don’t Skip the Trip” campaign, our writers do just that.
After a dramatic and gossip-ridden breakup, Soomin and I knew when we got back together that in order for our fresh start to work, we’d have to get far away from the Manhattan bar where I worked and he was a regular. We decided to rise from the rubble of our messy beginnings and fly away from prying eyes – away from snowy New York, to a tropical paradise where nobody knew who we were and the drinks were served in coconuts.
Just a few weeks after our impulsive plane-ticket and hotel-room purchases, we arrived in Tulum, an idyllic Mexican beach town. We ran around, giddy, eating tacos and watching iguanas scuttle by, holding hands and enjoying being a couple without anyone giving us a second look or unsolicited advice.
On our first night there, we walked the few yards from our hotel room to the empty beach and curled up together on one reclining beach chair, staring up at the stars, which are invisible at home in our brightly-lit city. We didn’t say a word, and I don’t know how long we laid there. It could have been ten minutes or two hours. All of our past problems, and the people who may well have been gossiping about them at that very moment, felt so much further away than the stars; I could hardly believe they had ever mattered to me. It was the first time we got to really see what it felt like for the two of us to be a unit, separate from the rest of the world – to navigate travel challenges and vacation joys together and imagine how we’d handle bigger hurdles later.
As our cab sped up the highway to the Cancun airport, we joked about throwing our passports out the window so we’d have no choice but to stay there, living the beach bum life, maybe opening a little restaurant. We settled instead for agreeing that we’d come back for another visit the next winter.
In the year that followed, we got engaged. The drama that started our relationship was long gone, but it turned out to have been nothing compared to the drama of planning a wedding. We were having huge fights on a regular basis over how much to concede to his parents’ demands about what kind of wedding we should have. We’d discussed inviting twenty or so people each, but his father wanted three hundred of his closest friends to be included. They wanted it to be a traditional Jewish ceremony. I’m an atheist, and didn’t want to start my marriage off with a lie. Soomin felt caught in the middle. The whole thing was so explosive and stressful that mentioning the options I’d found for a venue felt like jumping right onto a landmine.
Plus there was my mother, who insisted that she could tailor my dress for me, and then gave me regular updates about how she wasn’t sure she could do it – all the while brushing me off as I asked with increasing dread if I should just bring the dress to someone else. And there were my closest friends, who all happily agreed to be bridesmaids but then couldn’t spend any money on the most affordable dresses I could find, or the simple bachelorette party that I had planned for myself.
I’d of course heard that planning a wedding was stressful, but after a few months of the potentially family-shattering controversy, I had never in my life been more in need of a beach vacation. Soomin and I were excited to get away, to spend some time away from the loved ones who were driving us insane, to have a chance to pause and reflect on what was really important about the wedding.
Since this trip was in the works for a year, not the spur-of-the-moment escape the last one had been, we were able to stay for a longer period, and split our time between Tulum and the more-populated Playa Del Carmen, about half an hour up the coast. We spent New Year’s Eve in Playa. We dressed to the nines – I wore a sparkly lace dark blue dress, he wore a white tuxedo jacket – and walked through the crowded streets before escaping to the beach. Groups of locals sat in circles around bonfires, releasing paper lanterns glowing with tea-light candles into the sky. Soomin rolled up his suit pants and we walked along the surf, reveling in the warm weather that we never get for New Year’s in New York. Eventually we stopped at a pier, sitting on the weathered wood planks and dangling our toes in the water, and had a long conversation about everything that was making the wedding stressful – not fighting about it as we had in the past, but sharing our mutual frustration that a celebration of our commitment to each other had turned into a gauntlet we weren’t sure we’d survive intact.
Sitting on that pier, we remembered the importance of the two of us, operating as a unit, separate from everyone else. We remembered the relief we’d felt when we first stepped away from all the stress that was entering our relationship from the outside, and realized it was happening again. We decided not to let our families or our financial anxiety ruin the official start of our lives together, but instead to get married on the beach in Tulum, where our stresses were further away than the stars.
I bought a white silk dress from one of the chic tourist shops full of beach-appropriate wrap-dresses and big hats. We got two simple sterling silver rings. We rented the same room at the same hotel where we’d stayed on that first trip, leaving most of our things at the yoga retreat/hotel we’d set up as home base in Playa.
We walked along the side of Tulum’s main road, collecting wild flowers for a bouquet. A light tropical rain started to fall as we ran back and forth across the street, picking daisies and giggling like little kids. We waited until the sun started to go down and the beach emptied out a bit, and then we climbed onto a big rock sticking out over the water. We stood under the almost-full moon and promised each other that we’d stick together no matter how difficult times got, that we’d always appreciate each other, and that we’d remember to laugh. We put our silver rings onto each other’s fingers, and decided that, officiant and witnesses or not, we were married.
On the way to the open-air bar across the road for celebratory margaritas, we approached a woman lounging on the beach and asked her to take our picture. While we did still have our big, expensive, stress-filled New York wedding, that’s not the anniversary we celebrate. The wedding that counts is the unofficial, makeshift one we had on that perfect beach in Mexico. The picture we framed and hung on our living room wall is a grainy cell phone shot of the two of us, alone, on the beach in Tulum.
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