At a post-wedding brunch I recently attended, reception talk quickly turned to honeymoon talk. The bride and groom weren’t going on theirs right away, and the other couples at my table were trading stories of what they did for their honeymoons—the good, the bad, the stress-inducing. That left me, only a plus-one, half-listening when my boyfriend asked, “Would you want that? Get married and then jump on a plane the next day?” I stopped chewing my bagel and thought, eventually saying, “no,” definitively.
I’m always the date, never the bride or even the bridesmaid, so I know very little about honeymoons on a personal level. I’m familiar with a few buzzwords: the minimoon, the buddymoon, and most recently, the solomoon, The New York Times’ attempt to put on its most fetch Gretchen Wieners hat and will a non-thing to be a thing. Beyond that, I’m aware that honeymoons are often luxe, expensive, and, by extension, Instagramable. (WeddingWire’s 2019 Newlywed Report of 18,000 couples estimates the average honeymoon costs $4,500.) And, per rom-coms and sitcoms, I know you’re supposed to return home from one looking sun-kissed and acting smarmy after having spent two weeks boning tropically offscreen. But, really, that’s all I know. So I went way back to the beginning to educate myself.
Contrary to popular belief, the term “honeymoon” doesn’t reference the honey mead allegedly gifted to medieval-era brides and grooms—a custom that historian and author of Marriage, a History Stephanie Coontz has never been able to verify. Rather, the word became popular in the 16th through 18th centuries as a way to describe, well, a honeymoon phase. One early printed reference from English writer Samuel Johnson in 1818 referred to the honeymoon as “the first month after marriage, when there is nothing but tenderness and pleasure.” Here, the sweetness makes up the “honey,” the “moon” makes up how the sweetness wanes over time. So initially, the honeymoon wasn’t so much about the travel as it was about the quality time spent together. But, of course, that changed.
Initially, the honeymoon wasn’t so much about the travel as it was about the quality time spent together.
“From the 1820s up to the 1860s, in both England and America, it was common for the couple not to go off by themselves, but to take a ‘bridal tour,’ to visit family members or friends who hadn’t been able to come to the wedding,” Coontz says. “Sometimes a couple took a relative or a friend of the bride along as well, possibly as a way of easing the woman into the marriage.”
Do I sense an early iteration of the buddymoon? Because it sure seems like Victorians were basically paving the way for Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux…if the two of them were hardcore observers of problematically traditional gender roles, I suppose. “The 19th century was the height of the idea that men and women occupied different spheres and were wholly unlike each other,” Coontz explains. “Historians have found that many women were quite anxious about uniting themselves with what some women actually called a member of ‘the grosser sex.’ By the 1870s, though, it was fashionable for the couple to go off by themselves for the honeymoon.”
And as the ultra-crowded bridal tour faded out, it seemed women tended to get over their fear of, um, uniting. First, after years of being a go-to spot for well-to-do Americans and Brits alike, Niagara Falls adopted the slogan of “Honeymoon Capital of the World” in the early 1900s. And by midcentury, the Poconos co-opted that title with the rise of the honeymoon resort. Think: heart-shaped bathtubs, mirrored ceilings, and any other number of horned-up Valentine-themed decor.
Gross, but the emphasis on sex makes sense in a broader cultural context. After World War II, everyone who missed their long, lost sweetheart from overseas was super DTF, hence that whole baby boomer generation. As the decades progressed, thoughts about sex became freer, and so came the desire to lean on that romance-heavy honeymoon ideal. To wit, the post-war mentality was an explosive, “we’re finally married, let’s just bang a lot” vibe.
Spending private time together is hardly a novelty in modern relationships. You know what is novel, though? Finding the time for a vacation.
Millennials have, in every sense of the word, a more casual approach to sex. Since an estimated 15 percent of young adults ages 25 to 34 live with an unmarried partner, spending private time together is hardly a novelty—and neither is a retreat to a pornographically tricked-out boink palace. You know what is novel, though? Finding the time for a vacation. And since they’re increasingly hard to take in today’s work-work-work world, it makes sense that both minimoons and delayed honeymoons are on the rise, says Tom Marchant, co-founder of Black Tomato, a travel company specializing in honeymoons.
Minimoons, he says, allow people to take a bit of time to decompress after often-stressful wedding events, but without needing to be away from work and real life long enough to heighten stress levels even more. Then, after six months, a year, or longer, many take a bigger, longer, farther-flung honeymoon, once they’ve accumulated more time to spend planning it, money to spend on taking it, and PTO.
Turns out, the bride from the post-wedding brunch where I declared my stance on a hypothetical honeymoon echoes some of Marchant’s intel. She felt the need to decompress and dedicate special attention to the trip, and that urge played a big role in delaying her honeymoon for a month after she got married. “Taking a little break and being able to plan this the way that we wanted to and look into things more was just beneficial,” she says. “Otherwise, we would never be able to look up restaurants or book excursions, because there’s way too much to do for the wedding itself.”
Because modern newlyweds tend to have limited time to spare given their work schedules, they’re dedicated to making each second of their honeymoon count—no matter where it is or how much money they’re spending on it—by filling it with things that are, well, uniquely them.
And together, they’ve booked a lot for their dual-location honeymoon in Hawaii and Las Vegas: They’re planning on a West Coast fast-food tour, visiting the Lanai Cat Sanctuary, getting married (again!) by an Elvis impersonator, and seeing comedian and band they both love. The emphasis here is on the mutual planning and bespoke itinerary. Because modern newlyweds tend to have limited time to spare given their work schedules, they’re dedicated to making each second of their honeymoon count—no matter where it is or how much money they’re spending on it—by filling it with things that are, well, uniquely them.
Honeymoons aren’t just a collection of of-the-minute trends so much as a reflection of the times. The Victorians had their stiff-collar, businesslike approach to marriage, complete with chaperones and familial obligations. Almost as a response to the previous century’s repression, mid-to-late 20th century couples focused on romantic unions in the form of sometimes-seedy-yet-passionate hotel-room rendezvous. And in 2019? Partners work collaboratively to create experiences that are personal and respectful to each other’s time.
Really, it’s bold commentary on how relationships themselves have evolved: as mergers, as romance-first unions, as best friends who also happen to be in love. I think we’re finally on to something, folks.
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