Last month my husband Mike Brady* and I returned to the yoga center in the Berkshire mountains for a few days of rest and relaxation. There were a number of workshops offered that weekend: a health-oriented workshop led by a physician, an advanced yoga workshop, a writing workshop, and a couples’ workshop called Getting the Love You Want. I was intrigued by the couples’ workshop, not because I’m unhappy in my marriage but because Couples Retreat starring Vince Vaughn is one of those movies I stop and watch every time I come across it channel surfing. Vaughn heads up a group of four couples, all in various states of marital distress, at a couples retreat in the Caribbean. As you would imagine, hijinks abound, including a yoga class with an overly enthusiastic instructor. I enjoyed the movie and thought the critics were unnecessarily harsh. This despite the fact that at the end of the picture, Vaughn declares that all he truly desires in this world is to eat at Applebee’s once a week with his wife and kids, making me feel like a shrew for complaining whenever Mike Brady takes me and the kids there.
I didn’t ask Mike Brady if he’d be willing to sign up for the Love workshop because he wouldn’t want to and I know it. We’re the kind of couple that prefers to keep our declarations of affection private, preferably at night, under the covers with eyes closed, so that in the event it should ever become necessary, either one of us could legitimately claim they had been talking in their sleep.
I signed us up for the health workshop. The program promised to educate us on healthy eating and stress management. Our workshop room was filled with 25 participants. We went around the circle and introduced ourselves and told the group what our intention was for the weekend, which is just a fancy word for goal. I said I was looking for healthful ways to treat PMS irritability and to get a definitive answer on whether soy was good or bad for me. When it came to Mike Brady’s turn, he said that he was there to listen and to help out any way he could. “Who are you?” I mouthed at him. It’s not hard to see why the kids in his elementary school class disliked him.
In the workshop we discussed phytonutrients, metabolic syndrome, and the seven chakras of the body, among other things. During our break, I noticed a huge gathering of people in the main assembly hall next door. Two hundred people were seated while two workshop leaders with microphones weaved their way through the audience. Audience members held a thick workbook and above them all, a giant projection screen read:
I bring my unmet need of ___________ from childhood into this relationship.
The workshop leader handed a woman his microphone and she started speaking. I lingered at the door trying to listen until Mike Brady pulled me away.
At our next break, I saw a couple seated in the lounge area immediately outside the workshop rooms. The man sat with one hand resting on the woman’s shoulder. With his other hand, he held her hand, their fingers intertwined. They faced each other looking as if they were having an intense conversation, except neither one was talking. I watched them from a place where I could pretend to read a notice on the wall, waiting to see if someone spoke. They were oblivious to the activity around them, which I believed made it acceptable for me to keep spying. I watched and waited but they did nothing but stare into each other’s eyes. I eventually returned to my own workshop. That afternoon Mike Brady and I learned to mindfully eat a raisin.
In the evening we walked around the grounds enjoying our last cup of Inka, a grain beverage coffee alternative popular at the center. Mike Brady remarked how beautiful the sky looked, light still lingering at 9 p.m. and how peaceful the world seemed at that moment. Something about that couple that afternoon made me prickly. “It’s quiet because everyone is in their rooms looking at each other,” I said.
The next morning in the communal dinning room, we ate our silent breakfast. Mike Brady was engrossed reading the laminated cards at each table describing the center’s cooking philosophy. My attention drifted around the room. Many people had their workbooks with them. They were reading and taking notes. I watched an older woman get up from her table and walk toward the buffet when the man across from her, who looked to be in his sixties, reached out and brought the woman’s face down to his and kissed her on the lips. I witnessed another woman run her hand down the back of a man’s head and kiss him on the neck. Was ecstasy on the buffet and I missed it? These were ordinary middle-aged people, the kind of people you’d expect to find on the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey, America’s greatest family resort. They were diligently jotting down notes in their workbooks in between bites of food as if studying for the bar exam. That is, when they were able to keep their hands and mouths off each other.
Walking to our workshop I began to pout.
“Maybe we should have signed up for the couples workshop,” I said.
“Why?” asked Mike.
“Don’t you see what’s happening? It’s a love orgy in there.”
“I’ll tell you what’s happening, a new wing for the center. Cha-ching.”
“Make jokes but 200 people are getting the love they want while we’re learning about leaky gut.”
Watching the Love attendees raised the question, “Why can’t we be like that?” I thought. Mike Brady’s heart chakra needed some tweaking. Or maybe my throat chakra needed help so I could better communicate how I felt. Though it wouldn’t hurt for Mike Brady to consider the state of his sacral chakra, his ability to accept new experiences. However, if I’m being honest, I know my solar plexus chakra, which affects self-esteem, is not where it needs to be. I’m constantly comparing myself to others. Still, it wouldn’t kill my husband to maul me once in awhile in between bites of tofu scramble.
On our final morning, the last exercise was for each of us to write goals for ourselves. That’s fairly standard workshop protocol. I wondered what kinds of goals the people next door were writing. Once when I had peaked into their room, I saw on the giant projection screen:
Heal Your Relationship
Heal Your Children
Heal the World
That seemed like a lot of pressure. Now I had to face the possibility that my moodiness and obsessive tendencies were not only irritating to my husband but also irritating to the world at large. I considered this for a moment. In the end, I wrote my goal: make kale chips.
Perhaps Mike Brady and I could have improved our relationship had we taken the Love workshop. But wasn’t simply time away without the kids improving our relationship? The weekend was still valuable. We were both feeling energized about making healthful changes to our diets. As we packed up our car, Mike Brady said how happy he was that we did this and hugged me, looking to anyone who might have been watching, as two people who had spent the weekend getting the love they want.
*Not his real name but one he reluctantly agreed I could use for the blog.