I have heard people refer to the process of meeting someone as "the dating minefield." I can't think of a place as chaotic, dangerous and fraught with anxiety as a minefield, except possibly anywhere one might go on a trip with one's new girlfriend. Out of this chaos comes order. There are rules. Things go a certain way. A-B-C. My friend Marcus used to describe it as, "Getting your ducks all lined up in a row."
After you've been "a couple" for a while, it's time to hit the highway together. The inaugural weekend road trip is the first test of your emergency relationship system. You drive somewhere, maybe Palm Springs or Santa Barbara. As far as New Haven is from Broadway. Far enough that you're "out of town," but still close enough that you can bail out in two hours if things don't quite go as planned. A lot of nice new couples have blown up on their first trip together. Take two normal, healthy adults out of their normal, healthy environment, put them in a confined space for 48 hours, and there's a reasonable chance that at least one of them will go completely crazy. That's why you must have the escape hatch built in to your travel plans. Some people leave on the freeways of Los Angeles as lovers, but return in icy silence as mortal enemies. In the theater they call this "closing out of town."
Keeping one foot out the door gets harder to do as you go along. The second trip is going to require an airplane. The number and variety of vehicles involved is like a scorecard for where you are in your relationship. A travel agent is involved. Your girlfriend's name is now on file -- the same file where your travel agent keeps your credit card information. This may be the first time her name and your credit card number are officially linked. This is a "moment" you won't soon forget.
I've been dating someone for a little while -- let's call her Alison. Two months into the action we took our first trip, but we're seasoned veterans, so we bypassed all these half steps and went to London for a week. My friend, Steve, asked, "What if you have a fight?" Good question, Steve, and I want to thank you for putting that notion into my head. "I think we'll be okay," I said. "But, if it should come to pass, I will look back on this informative little chat and realize that's why carrying cash and ample available credit is so important. That, my friend, is a long drive home."
Alison and I had a wonderful time in London. I don't think you know another person until you get away. And the further you get from home and hearth, the more you're likely to meet their inner child -- especially where shopping is concerned. Alison developed a tic when we passed by the JP Tods store on Sloane Street, and I think I saw her head do a 360-degree turn when our taxi passed by Robert Clergerie. By the time we entered Harvey Nichols, she looked like Indiana Jones discovering the lost ark. "Eureka!" she said, disappearing into a sea of Burberry plaid, from which she did not return until tea time with the Queen Mum.
I didn't really see what all the fuss was about. I mean, I thought the Prada store on Rodeo Drive was perfectly fine. But no. Oh, no. No, no, no. Obviously, I am not familiar with their entire line of fashion accessories, or I would not give voice to such an uninformed opinion. The Prada store in London is totally different, you boob. Ditto Paris and anywhere else worth traveling to. For that matter, civilization can now be gauged by the presence of a Prada store. Aspen has one, but Omaha does not. I rest my case. The further you get from one of these temples of urbanity and their insanely expensive nylon Sportsacs, the worse things get. Look at Afghanistan, for example. The nearest Prada outlet is in Rome, nearly 3,000 miles away. The entire situation there could be solved by the construction of a Rem Koolhaas designed boutique on Main Street in Kandahar.
On the flight back, we looked at the map in the back of the airline magazine and mused about where we'd like to go next. Turkey? Sicily? Thailand? Alison tells me there's an outlet mall with a Prada store on the way to Palm Springs. Is it too soon to start taking separate vacations?