Our Honeymoon Search Happy Ever After
Like proposed to me across the barriers at Gatwick Airport in the UK. He’d been doing this insane marathon, running 250 kilometres across the Sahara Desert when he’d had an epiphany that I was the one, and he had to propose. We’d been together for three years, but I had no idea it was coming. Of course I said yes, so we set a date for 8 November and got busy making preparations for the big day.
We always talked about taking a big trip together, but it wasn’t until we started planning our wedding gift list that it hit us; why were we asking our loved ones to spend a fortune on stuff that would one day be broken? Wouldn’t it be better for them to be able to contribute to our lives in a more meaningful way? As we dreamed of travelling together, and the memories would last longer than pots, pans and pillow cases, we decided to create a unique wedding list where we asked guests to contribute arbitrary sums of money to our honeymoon that would double up as the trip of a lifetime. Each sum would be related to a different part of our honeymoon expenses, like a night’s stay at a bed and breakfast or a pair of backpacks.
It was while we were planning our trip that we heard the statistic that 50 per cent of all marriages turn into divorce. Nobody ever discusses divorce when they get married, all you think about is being together for ever. But, being realists, we wanted to test our relationship to see what half we would belong to. We knew this was make or break stuff, but we loved each other so we made a commitment to go the distance. The distance in this case turned out to be a 10 month, 40,235-kilometre motorbike trip from Alaska in the snowy north of America right down to Argentina in South America.
The idea was to meet and interview happy, successful couples all across the US, to try and find out the secret to a happy marriage.
On the road
We set off for Anchorage, Alaska in June 2009 and started our way down the pan American highway, looking for couples to give us advice on how to stay together. Sometimes we would Google a town before we got there, looking for clues on any couples we could interview. Other times, we just had to go to the local bar and start a conversation, asking people if they could recommend any couples who were really in love.
It was in a bar in Anchorage that we met our first couple. They were really sweet, and at 30 and 30 respectively, they were the exact same age as Mike and me, and were intensely in love. During the dark, Alaskan winter months, they would hibernate together, without seeing another soul. Needing our own space, Mike and I would go mad if we had to do that, so at the time it made us doubt how much we loved each other. We felt we didn’t measure up to that kind of love.
As we travelled and met new couples, we started to realise that people love in very different ways; you can’t possibly compare one relationship with another.
In Columbia, we were inspired by a couple who had endured the most difficult circumstances. The husband had been kidnapped by a gang of revolutionaries and held in the jungle for seven years. While he was gone, his wife never gave up hope or stopped loving him. During that time, she’d had only three messages from his kidnappers, telling her he was still alive, but not once did she falter. When he was eventually released, she discovered that among all the captives, he was the sole survivor. It was an incredible tale of love tested to its limits, of a relationship enduring the harshest adversity, and it showed us that these are the people who are the greatest authority on how to make a marriage work.
In America, we met some really religious folk with very different ideas of love. Polygamist Mormons in Utah have a strong set of beliefs that involve multiple marriages. I remember one guy who was the same age as Mike, but he had 10 children between two wives. While we were there we discovered that it was the first wife who had proposed to the second. Coming from England, the whole scene seemed very surreal to us, but they appeared to make it work for them. At the other end of the scale, we met two adult film stars who were committed Christians and in a loving marriage with well-adjusted happy children. They had overcome so many challenges in their life, such as cancer as well as a long-distance relationship, and yet nothing had come between them in 11 years. When I asked the husband what his secret to a happy marriage was, he told me, ‘Every day, you have to ask yourself, what have I done today that makes my wife know how much I love her?’
Everyone has a strong opinion about what makes their relationship work, there’s no central set of rules to a happy marriage. We went to a village in Ecuador famous for having the highest population of inhabitants over the age of 100 in Latin America. There we interviewed an elderly couple who’d met as teenagers and were still crazy about one another. Their relationship was based on building a family together, and this was the foundation that bound them. This was true of most of the older, indigenous Americans from poorer economic backgrounds. Marrying for love is a modern concept that seems ridiculous when you have to worry about getting food on the table. What you want from your partner is someone who can provide for the family – the very idea of love is secondary.
Inspired as we were by all the tales of love, romance and everyday people successfully negotiating their lives hand in hand with their partners, the journey for us wasn’t all hearts and flowers. Adding to the stress of taking a long distance road trip was the fact that we were documenting the whole thing; filming, doing interviews, taking pictures. It became like a job. On the last leg of the trip, we became stranded in Boliva. The bike broke down and we were stuck waiting for parts. Suffering with altitude sickness, we started to lose it with each other – something we’d never done before. When you find yourself in an insane situation, stuck in the desert with hardly any water, romance is the last thing on your mind. It showed us that love is not always about life being as perfect as a Hollywood movie. Things don’t always go to plan and love is about being committed and working hard to keep to keep things together, whatever the obstacles.
The standout piece of wisdom for us, though, wasn’t the most sexy, cute or most romantic advice, it was practical. To quote Sheryl Crowe, ‘It’s not about getting what you want, but wanting what you’ve got.’ Celebrate and enjoy the other person, don’t focus on the negatives, and work hard to understand each other. After all, you are in it for the long run. There are no quick fixes, no miracle cures for an unhappy marriage, but if you need some advice, look to the obvious: never go to bed on an argument, know each others dreams and goals before you get married, agree on your priorities whether that’s having a family or a career and never forget to keep it interesting!
We returned from our trip in March 2010 after meeting and interviewing more than 150 couples. We then proceeded to set out on another trip all around the UK, with the same objective. We finally made it home in February this year and we’re now expecting our first child, which will open a whole new world of love. It has been quite a journey.”
To find out more about Mike and Alanna’s trip, visit goingthedistance.org.uk.