Passing the Bridge of Sighs


Our {20th!} anniversary is coming up next month and we dream of marking it with a trip sometime this year. Part of our routine is to toss around lots of ideas of places we could go to celebrate.  I email G a listing for a great cottage in France.  He reports the lunchtime opinions of his colleagues' favorite destinations (one vote for St. John's and one vote for Aruba), etc.

It's like window shopping, a traveler's version of Breakfast at Tiffany's.  It's great because, when decision time comes, we feel like we've almost gone to lots of exciting places, even if we just end up sneaking away for a night in the Marriott a few towns over.

In one of those dreamland discussions, we notice that the TED global conference at Oxford still has openings.

"Ooo, that would be amazing, don't you think?"

(We both ignore the price at this phase of the game.)

And then, G sucks air in through his teeth and sighs.

"Oh, but it lists punting on the itinerary."

I glance up.  "Oh, dear."


. . .

Many years ago, when our marriage had that just-out-of-the-box shine, we visited England together.  In Cambridge we decided to try punting on the river Cam.  (Punting, as you probably know, involves steering a long skinny boat with a long skinny pole while standing balanced in the back, like the gondoliers in Venice.)  We were students living on love, air, and jacket potatoes so we opted to guide ourselves down the river rather than spend the extra money on a guide.

G had no way of knowing the vision that was playing out inside my head--or how long it had been looping through my rose-tinged dreams.  He had no idea that I had snatched him up from where he stood and cast him in a historical BBC drama (the ones he actively avoids) in which we drift peacefully down the river, trailing my fingers in the smooth water, choral music wafting from the King's College Chapel as we drift on toward the Bridge of Sighs. (And by "we" I meant me.)

Yeah, no unrealistic expectations there.

So it turns out that punting is much more difficult than it seems--in fact, quite challenging.  We launched out down the river shakily, ping-ponging wildly between the two banks of the boat-filled river.  Next the pole got stuck in the mushy riverbottom and we spun around and around, pivoting on the stubborn pole. Then, regaining control of the pole we lost control of the boat banging broadside into another boat and knocking that guide into the water. Yes, really. (And by "we" I meant G.) 

I wish I could say I laughed and made it a lighthearted, BBC romance kind of moment.  But, no--it also turns out that I am a terrible boat passenger. I threw all sorts of "helpful" advice-slash-commands in G's direction, irritated that my vision was getting all sullied with the reality of guiding a boat with a pole down a crowded river. This, of course, was highly unhelpful and only made G feel worse.  By the end of the ride we were terse and angry with each other. 

Poor G, saddled with the heavy weight of my unspoken expectations. Notice that all of the actual work of my vision was unfairly placed squarely on his shoulders?  Is it any wonder we have avoided anything involving a boat and high expectations ever since?

Given a chance for a do-over these many years later, I would just lie back and enjoy the view.  I would laugh + jump in with the guy we knocked off (like the dance scene in It's a Wonderful Life!) and offer to buy him lunch. I would offer to take a turn steering us rather than offering backoftheboat advice.  I would lower my expectations and raise my compassion.  Or at least I hope I would.

I think we might be ready for another trip down the river after all.

And by "we," I really mean we.