I’ve recently spent a week’s relaxation in Majorca celebrating 20 years of marriage. We stayed in a beautiful, tranquil spot in a small natural park a few minutes saunter from two perfect pink-white sand bays with crystalline water: a beach lover’s heaven.
What I hadn’t expected from this late summer treat – we’d already been away in July – was the realisation that hotels turn us into dependent babies. This disturbed and challenged my sense of self, creating psychic tensions never before considered.
For some years we have embraced life under canvas for summer escapes, travelling to various locations in France as well as in the UK. I’d camped with my family but the experience as an adult, although rekindling the fun I’d had as a child, also brought essential elements to my adult life: freedom, re-connection with the earth, and even Maslow-style primary needs like building a shelter. OK, so I didn’t catch my food but, cooking outside, watching the stars emerge and being IN nature met some unacknowledged need for simplicity, self-reliance and connection with the universe.
I enjoyed being a bit ‘feral’ – living in shorts and flip-flops or bare feet – and not worrying what I looked like, luxuriating in the sensory and sensuality of warm sun, cool earth and moving water (we stay near rivers or the sea).
There was also the sense of empowerment: going where and when we pleased, and doing what we wanted without watching the clock, living with nature’s rhythms.
Going ‘properly’ abroad for the first time in years (as in taking a plane and staying in an hotel) gave me sleepless nights. I’d forgotten how to plan a trip of this kind, feeling all kinds of tension surrounding booking a flight, seats, baggage allowance and finding the perfect accommodation. In my case, perfect meant inexpensive, small and personal, away from crowds and any packaged ‘entertainment’. After a couple of false starts and cancellations, I booked our home from home. Cue the beginning of a creeping, increasing anxiety and weight of responsibility. What if it was awful? Would my husband enjoy it (a very real fear after the summer trip went a little awry due to his work induced stress and inability to relax and be in the moment). I also have a mild fear of flying – a lovely euphemism that isn’t it?
We arrived at 1.00a.m. after a delay and a magical mystery tour, first to find the transport I’d booked and then along little dark roads leading to seemingly nowhere. Yet the hotel was welcoming, simply furnished but adequate, and extremely clean. Relief flooded me as I finally slept, dreaming of the sea.
So, what felt so wrong?
It took me several days to understand the source of my discomfort: I wasn’t in control.
I couldn’t just go to the kitchen and make a cup of coffee or a sandwich. I had to wait to be fed.
I couldn’t stay in my room all day if that’s what I wanted as the maid came to clean.
I couldn’t speak the language, having only basic phrases.
I felt bad and feared judgment if the room were left messy.
Then I had my epiphany: the hotel was our playpen and nursery. We were omnipotent infants with all our needs being met on demand by benevolent adults.
And I wasn’t sure I liked it. I felt really discomfited. Out of control. A guest checks out their personal power when they check in.
Perhaps world-weary executives in spa hotels are only indulging in infantile fantasy – in a more socially acceptable way than dressing up as babies and being bottle fed.
This sense of dependence was enhanced by being remote from all but a tiny shop and a couple of beach restaurants (in addition to the breast in our hotel).
I adored the serenity- watching bats fly around at dusk and snorkelling in warm clear water with fish dancing around, beneath and above me. Yet I felt impotent and irritated at a subliminal level, resenting reliance on what the hotel gave us to eat, feeling displaced when unable to enter our room, fearful of being stranded and abandoned.
Yet I also became territorial, wishing the day visitors would go away and leave ‘our’ coves in peace. I also didn’t want to go back to reality. The holiday ‘bubble’ had provided a secure base from which to explore being together again, without concerning ourselves with anything more onerous than whether to have another beer or go for a swim.
I suspect it’s no coincidence that I work with children with attachment disorders arising from neglectful parenting, mothers with mental health disorders, and dysfunctional families. Was all I felt really just a projection of their discomfort and need to control and impose order on their chaotic early life experiences.
I’m curious how these reflections will impact our holiday plans next year: will it be a self-catering apartment or back to the Wendy House tent?