On the last day of my honeymoon, I lay on a lounge chair at the edge of a giant swimming pool, on a submerged shelf built so that guests may sunbathe while keeping a cool undercarriage, watching a man and a woman almost have sex. They were pressed against the low rock wall separating one part of the pool from another. He had a tattoo of an eagle on one bicep, which made him interchangeable with at least twenty other men scattered around him. She was badly sunburned and wearing an orangey bikini nearly the color of her skin.
I was drinking a Banana Mama as I watched. A Banana Mama is a combination of banana, pineapple, and strawberry daiquiris, the favorite drink of all the guests. You could tell because there was a sort of film of it, pinkish and chunky, floating in some parts of the pool, like a delicious oil slick.
He groaned to her, “You’re the hottest chick in this whole fucking pool.” Which was saying a lot, because there were hundreds of people in the pool, bobbing and drinking, ashing cigars into plastic cups, getting aggro about water volleyball.
She said, “No, but you’re sweet.”
“The hottest chick,” he said.
He was groping her breast and, judging by the current around them, it seemed that she was struggling with the string of his board shorts. He was making thrusting motions underwater, like if he kept doing it eventually he’d be having sex, but then she reached a moment of clarity through a daiquiri haze. She said, “No, everyone’s watching, let’s sober up and wait.”
He said, “Please,” but she pushed him away.
He looked angry, then sad, then very overheated and confused.
“Okay,” he said. “I’m Steve. What’s your name again?”
The display made everyone else quite uncomfortable, but not for obvious reasons: the public desperation, the drunk, groping intimacy. After all, these two were no drunker than the rest of us, no grope-ier either. The day before, a middle-aged couple was spotted (by everyone) frantically fucking against a corner of the swim-up bar, the man’s floppy sailor’s hat shading his wife’s face. But there was something almost nice about that. I mean, look at them, we thought, old enough to wear Tevas in the pool and still putting in work.
“We should be so lucky down the road,” was the nervous half-joke floating between newlyweds that afternoon.
But these two near-lovers were different—they were single. The man was trying to prove himself worthy of getting laid, and the woman was doing the same, while also considering the practical concerns of unprotected sex with a stranger. They were both stragglers on group trips, with no logical place here. They only reminded us all of our own shameful, pre-married lives, and that fact, combined with the smells of chlorine and cigars, was almost too much to bear.
The idea of the all-inclusive resort, or at least this resort—one of eleven that rise along the otherwise barren, impoverished Punta Cana coastline on the Eastern tip of the Dominican Republic—is not to help strangers black out and hook up, but instead to help married couples black out and hook up as if they were strangers. You go there to indulge, but you must indulge as a unit. You watch each other drink and eat. Together, you forget to apologize for your drunkenness and lose all self-consciousness about getting thirds of the flan, and then you strip near naked and bake together on a Temperpedic mattress on a white sand beach. Then you return to your room to have complimentary champagne in a Jacuzzi tub refilled every day with a bubble bath and a new batch of rose petals.
My wife and I observed two categories of couple that dominated the resort: the honeymooners like us (rooms identified by a giant “Honeymoon Suite” sash) and the middle-aged anniversary revelers (rooms identified by a slightly less prominent “Anniversary Suite” sash). Sometimes couples came pre-packaged in a group, three or four or five pairs all near their anniversaries. They were exactly like the rest of us, except they were louder, commanded a larger swath of beach chairs, and brought iPod speakers to the pool so that everyone else had to watch grown ass people in matching “Drunk as Fuck” T-shirts dance to Lil John, while screaming, “Is this a twerk? Is this a twerk?”
We saw each other every day. We refilled each other’s mimosas at the breakfast buffet. We made the same bad jokes about offering to buy the next round of drinks for the whole bar because, guess what, it’s all inclusive! Sometimes we floated next to one another for hours, enjoying the same lolling experience separately but in extreme proximity. It’s what parents call parallel play, when their toddlers are placed side-by-side but refuse to acknowledge each other’s existence.
Incidentally, there were no children allowed at this particular resort, so nobody had the time-suck of placating their bored, itchy offspring, or even the responsibility of identifying as parents at all. This was a world where procreation and its consequences ceased to exist. A world where nobody (except for the two misfits in the pool) was trying to impress anyone else to get laid. A world where there was no currency, no work, no responsibility, no set division of time. Certainly no diversity—we guests were almost uniformly straight and white, with enough money to pay for a resort where money ceases to exist, willing to ignore the gross context around our privilege because, we deserve a break for once.
The only facets of our lives that remained were consumption and monogamy. So, while we ate and drank with staggering dedication, the rest of our free energy went toward celebrating ourselves as couples, reaffirming the forever choices we’d all made. That seemed to result in everyone doubling down on their chosen mate and all the qualities that made their connection unique, unbreakable.
The baby-faced Christian couple said their grace loudly at the breakfast buffet each day. Their love was clumsy and adorable and, sure, a bit judgy, but hey, they believed in the same thing and they were the only ones without unseemly hangover puffs around the eyes. They looked adoringly at each other, in their near-identical Hollister gear, and if they noticed that they could have easily been teenaged siblings, they didn’t acknowledge it.
Some couples seemed less perfectly matched, but chose to revel in their wacky dissonance. One woman rolled up to the white party dinner in six-inch stilettos and a straight-up ball gown. Was her husband in coattails? No, she teetered and clung to the arm of a man who ignored the dinner dress code of long pants and button ups and instead wore a crisp Kevin Durant jersey, shirt, and shorts. Yet she seemed perfectly overjoyed, and not at all furious about the fact that, on a night that clearly had significance to her, he wore a fucking basketball jersey. Because at least he wore home whites. And damnit, she’s a former pageant girl who still pretends to have never taken a shit, but she has a sense of humor and she is blissfully married a guy doing really well in wind energy down in Tulsa, but who otherwise remains an eight-year-old. And isn’t that so them?
Some of the spousal tolerance was less benign. Like that guy who kept sauntering around in his CrackerWear T-shirt, a brand whose logo is a giant confederate flag with a smirking devil’s head rising from the top. Perhaps in their regular lives, his wife would have told him, “Not to dinner, honey, who knows what other people will think.” But that wasn’t even a possibility at the resort. They were a unit, a proud one, and she smiled as he ran his rib-greased fingers through her hair, from the black roots to the bleached tips. He was her bigot, and she was his, and they would demand mas cervezas without ever tipping together.
These particular people were horrible, to be sure, but there was something lulling, almost reassuring about being among couples who refused to be anything but enamored. However anyone looked, whatever anyone did, there was always someone by their side to claim them.
Muscle-bound couples didn’t seem show-offy as much as they did sweet:
Let’s spend our whole honeymoon running on the beach in Under Armor body suits, honey!
Oh my God, I was just going to suggest the SAME THING!
Obese couples wore next to nothing and floated together with a joyous, lusty, mutual body positivity the likes of which I have never seen.
I watched one man read Guns and Ammo while his wife rubbed sunscreen into his upper thigh hair. I have never seen a human being look happier.
I happened upon another young man standing above his new wife after she took a faceplant into a giant clay ashtray and lay, maybe unconscious, cocktail dress covered in ashes. He had a look on his face that was more pride than worry or anger. Hey, his look said. That’s my life partner and we love to party.
My wife and I were no better. We were, like all those we judged, in love with the idea of our own difference. We did more crossword puzzles in a week than we’d done in years. I started loudly crying at a Marilyn Robinson novel on a crowded beach and instead of telling me to shut up and stop embarrassing her (definitely an appropriate response), she kissed my tears. Every evening, we sat in our room, listened to Frank Ocean, drank gin and tonics, and discussed how many tons of waste the resort must produce in water bottles alone. Then we dressed in our hipster finest for dinner. I buttoned my shirts to their top button; she donned high-waisted skirts. We secretly hoped that people were talking shit about us.
I’m sure we looked as ridiculous as everyone else did. It’s impossible not to look ridiculous in a place where you wait on a beach for grown men dressed like Wimbledon ball boys to bring you neon drinks at eleven in the morning. The whole concept of a resort like this is ridiculous, pretty indefensible if you allow yourself to think about it on a macro level.
But we were happy to be with each other in this caloric fantasyland. We felt close every minute of the day. Every time I looked at her reading on the beach, I was reminded of how close I felt to her, and every time she cracked a dirty joke, and every time she worried about running of Lactaid because all the drinks were cream based. We made each other feel special, which is the whole point, I suppose, the reason why every incoming guest is greeted with a champagne cocktail and the bath towels are folded to look like two swans kissing. And though there were plenty examples around us of couples we didn’t want to be, there was one pair that made the whole enterprise that we’d just entered seem perfect.
They didn’t speak to anyone. They must have been in their mid sixties and they walked around without any discomfort, as though they were born into the all-inclusive experience. Their hair was completely white and their skin was dangerously tan. Every morning, they speed-walked side-by-side on the beach. They ate lobster for every meal because they could. At dinner, he wore crisp linens and shined white loafers. She wore a skin-tight silver sequined gown. They spent their days on the beach next to so many hundred of other people, totally oblivious. He rocked Speedos. She took her top off and went tits out for hours, the only one at the resort to do so. They rubbed tanning oil on each other slowly, savoring it. Every morning they were on that beach when we arrived and every evening they were on it when we left.
I will always remember watching those two with my wife. They were everything that I like to think successful monogamy is—oblivious, narcissistic, thoroughly confusing, but also decadent, sparkling, blissful. More than the fried food, maybe even more than the drunk sex, I will remember us watching them together, thinking the same thoughts about how bizarrely beautiful this all could be.