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November 18, 2009

My Marriage Fell Apart...on Our Honeymoon!

We'd heard the first year of marriage was the hardest, but would we even make it that far?

guy and girl with cardboard boxes over their heads with painted smiley faces

Photo Credit: Kutay Tanir/iStock

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My husband and I split up during our honeymoon. I explained the situation to friends and family by saying that we were separating "geographically." But as I barreled through the night on a 16-hour bus ride from Mendoza, Argentina, to Buenos Aires, quietly sobbing at the small screen playing 50 First Dates dubbed in Spanish, I knew there was more than geography between us. Three months into our honeymoon, our marriage was falling apart.

A year earlier when David had proposed, we'd already decided to take a four-month backpacking trip through South America. Combining our wedding, the trip, and a ski-bum season in Colorado allowed us to knock off three postgrad goals in one shot. Of course, I'd heard that the first year of marriage was the hardest, but hiking in the Andes and sipping Pisco sours on the rugged coast would make it easier, I figured. What I failed to consider were the challenges of spending 24 hours together, sticking to a tight budget, trying to stay cute in a steady rotation of three outfits, and sleeping in eight-bed hostel rooms with drunken Irish boys whose idea of entertainment meant dumping potted plants onto sleeping fellow guests.

A week after our wedding, we left for Ecuador. We traveled by bus and train and in the back of pickup trucks. One day we'd go into the jungle, and the next night we'd sleep in a cave. On the coast, we volunteered on an organic farm, waking up at 5 a.m. to help shovel manure. When it was dark, David would guard me at the outhouse, which was overrun with spiders the size of salad plates. Still, night after night in our tree-house bunk, one of us would alternately convince the other to stay and shovel pig shit for just one more day.

We made a few friends, but for the most part, we were decidedly uncool with the hostel crowd. Our fellow backpackers liked to ask, "You're married? Why?" After too many forced dinner conversations and overly competitive pool games, I wondered if they were on to something. If, in a tense moment, David were asked to describe our travel styles, he might have said that he's high-energy, active, and adventurous, while I'm slothlike and gluttonous. Posed the same question, I would say that I'm relaxed and easygoing and like to learn about a town by sitting in its cafés, while David races around from place to place, fulfilling his puritanical need to be productive.

With no break from each other's company, petty annoyances built, as when David, a teacher, would condescendingly commend my vocabulary. For example:

Me: "The door is ajar."

Him: "Good word."

After a day spent lazing at a luxury hotel, I made a comment about some ostentatious guests. "Are you sure that's the word you're looking for?" David asked. I wondered how I'd landed in the infuriating situation of defending my intellect to my dense pedant of a husband.

Standing at the base of Machu Picchu, I introduced the idea of spending some time apart. We started by splitting in the morning and meeting back up in the evening. Alone, I would have coffee and check out dinner spots, during which time David probably jogged the Inca trail and organized an ESL class. When he suggested going south after visiting Argentina's wine country, I said I would head north instead. Climbing onto the bus to Buenos Aires and leaving him behind was sad and surreal.

NEXT PAGE: Will traveling apart bring them closer together?

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