I went to Rancho La Puerta hoping to reinvent my life, and ended up reinventing my marriage.
To understand how startling and unexpected this was, I have to introduce you to my husband, Dick, the night before we left for the spa.
“Don’t have too many expectations,” he growled. “All I want to do is read in front of the fire or sit by the pool.”
No problem: this spa visit was about me, not us. I’d recently dropped 25 pounds, thanks to a painful break up with Ben & Jerry. After three decades of nonstop parenting, our youngest kid was finally settled in college. My week at Rancho La Puerta was to be devoted to salt-scrubbing my life, and my Diet Coke-swilling, football-watching, web-surfing husband was just along for the ride.
The first thing you learn at Rancho La Puerta, however, is that you have to leave all of your expectations behind. The lush, hilly, 3,000-acre enclave, secreted behind a gate near the California-Mexico border in Tecate, feels like another world, one in which only good things are possible.
Within the first few days at Rancho La Puerta, I came to see my husband of 31 years in a completely new way. A few of my key revelations:
Everybody likes him
I mean, I like him too, but seeing this wide range of strangers respond positively to my husband made me like him a lot better. I cringed at dinner the first night when he trotted out his favorite subject, the Green Bay Packers — I mean, couldn’t the guy even talk about yoga? — and was astonished when he was able to turn that into common ground with everyone from the 70-something childhood sweethearts from Detroit, to the young arts powerhouse from Brooklyn. For a place so luxurious you might expect it to be snooty, Rancho La Puerta seems to attract only warm, down-to-earth, open people, and my husband made friends with every one of them.
“Seeing this wide range of strangers respond positively
to my husband made me like him a lot better”
He’s capable of change
That guy who warned me he wasn’t going to do anything more adventurous than reading by the fire? The first morning he bounded out of bed before dawn to hike up Mount Kuchumaa, and by Day 2 he was rocking out in the pool to the Elvis theme of our water aerobics class. He made flatbread at the Ranch’s fabulous cooking school, and he got his first ever massage. At least I think that was him, because…
His name isn’t Dick
By Day 3, people were coming up to me in the dining hall saying, “You’re Richard’s wife?” Uh, I’d reply, I think so. I knew my husband hated the nickname that had become synonymous with cruelty, jerkiness, and Old School manhood. At the Ranch, apparently, he’d decided to leave it behind in favor of his more classic proper name. Rather than my cranky middle-aged husband, I felt like I was now married to a cool, popular football player — or at least a football watcher — named Richard.
Not only did I get a new husband at Rancho La Puerta; I became a new wife. A few things that changed about me.
I had more fun with him than alone
I’d been looking forward to a vacation that afforded me plenty of time to myself — you know, where I’d be with him, but not really. While I certainly relished the Hot Latin Dance class and hot stone massages that I indulged in on my own, I enjoyed our joint morning tennis classes and afternoons in the hot tub together more. My husband’s gregariousness pointed up my own shyness and self-consciousness, and being with him brought me out of myself and made everything more enjoyable.
I had more fun with him than with my girlfriends
My friends could not believe I was going to the spa with my husband instead of with them, and sometimes I couldn’t believe it either. But once we were there, I realized I was having a better time with him than I’d have with a friend — more animated conversations, as well as more companionable silences, livelier shared activities, as well as more comfortable separations.
I remembered why we were married
Being in the paradise of Rancho La Puerta allowed me to see my husband again the way I’d seen him more than 30 years before, when we fell in love at the beach house we rented together, when we went on our honeymoon to Jamaica. No stress, no pressure, no boredom, no work: Of course those factors helped. But on a deeper level, our spa week also brought out my husband’s playfulness and sense of adventure, qualities I rarely glimpsed in our everyday world. And that helped me remember why I decided, so long ago, that life together was better than life alone.
My husband told me, near the end of our stay at Rancho La Puerta, that it had been the best week of his life. I felt the same way. The big questions: Could we take that bliss home with us?
I have to confess, our redeye flight back to the east coast had us squabbling again before we even reached home. But we sailed through the holidays with not a single outburst, definitely a record for us. We’re planning to take tennis lessons together in the near future. And even if I feel in my normal life like I’m married to the same old Dick, I’m looking forward to another trip to Rancho La Puerta with my new spa husband, Richard.
Pamela Redmond Satran
Pamela Redmond Satran is a novelist and an entrepreneur who lives in Los Angeles.