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Connections | Globe Magazine

If you want to stay married, keep away from kayaks

Paddle at your own peril, happy loving couples.

(Lisk Feng for the Boston Globe)

I love my wife. Let me just state that for the record. She’s my soul mate. She’s my best friend. She’s my confidante, my savior, my angel. She’s all of that, and more. But there is still no possible way that I can ever again get into a kayak with that woman — nor she with me, as the feeling is quite mutual.

Fortunately, living in Louisville, Kentucky, landlocked save the mucky Ohio River and a smattering of lakes and creeks of questionable water quality, the issue of tandem kayaking rarely arises. However, it did rear its murky head recently, when I was visiting with some old college friends while in Washington, D.C., for a conference. My wife had accompanied me, and with a free afternoon, I asked these locals for suggestions on how to spend my precious few hours outside.

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“What about kayaking?” they immediately suggested. “It’s a great way to see the sights.”

“No, no, not that,” my wife and I responded in unison, wishing for nothing more than to dispense with the subject and move on to more pleasant topics, any other topic. But our friends, oblivious to our dark past, pressed on.

“Really, it’s easy,” one of them assured us, followed by the other, “and safe if that’s what you’re worried about.”

It was not the worry. Although perhaps there was an element of water safety involved. Faced with the quizzical expressions on our friends’ faces, we had no choice but to admit that, well, despite being two intelligent, considerate, rational, law-abiding, God-fearing adults, we were simply incapable of kayaking together in any civilized manner.

And we had tried, during sojourns to the likes of Hawaii, the Carolinas, and the Keys, at resorts known for their restfulness and tranquillity — restful and tranquil, that is, until my wife and I were placed in the same kayak. Then it became every man and, er, woman for him- or herself.

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There was the I’m-doing-all-the-work feud of ’06, the watch-where-you’re-going debate of ’08, and who could forget the “Paddles Up!” directive of 2012, which I thought was a clever ploy to get my wife to stop paddling long enough for me to steer us clear of a fast-approaching cliff face. Instead, in that last instance, she turned around and became understandably insulted that she was the only one being directed not to paddle — while, she noted, I was successfully steering us into the cliff.

We feared the kayak conflict was a significant if not therapy-worthy shortcoming in our relationship, but it did not surprise our friends. They recounted how their kayak instructor neighbor referred to tandem kayaks as “divorce makers.” A wave of relief washed over me with the awakening that maybe my wife and I were not such shameful human beings after all. The next day during a break in the conference, I Googled “kayak divorce” and was astonished by the results.

There were innumerable posts and blogs and chats sharing cautionary tales of the phenomenon that occurred whenever two willing adults settled into a cramped and confined oblong plastic motorless watercraft with the intention to navigate some tepid body of water. In such circumstance, behavior promptly devolved to something between bickering children and a full-blown episode of The Honeymooners.

The discovery that we were not alone in the experience was consoling. I realized our marriage, our life for that matter, did not by any means depend on our ability to paddle in harmony. Indeed, there was an entire world of activities my wife and I were capable of performing paired up — we jogged, we danced, we laughed at silly movies, we cooked from recipes clipped from magazines.

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Who needed kayaking? Not us. We had even just joined our local cycling club and had begun taking long rides on the weekend, which was fine and nice and perfectly enjoyable — as long as we avoided the two-seaters.

Peter J. Stavros is a writer in Louisville, Kentucky. Send comments to connections@globe.com.


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