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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

I went to a dying honeymoon hotel to mourn the end of my marriage

Nursing heartbreak from a champagne coupe hot tub in the Poconos

(Bárbara Malagoli/for The Washington Post)

If the commercials were to be believed, in 1988, the epicenter of American romance was nestled within the heaving peaks of the Pocono Mountains in northeast Pennsylvania. At 8 years old, I had a limited understanding of sex and relationships, but it seemed as if the cathode rays from my TV emitted an undercurrent of lust every time an ad for one of the area’s honeymoon resorts lit up the screen.

I would have given anything to be a sophisticated adult taking my pick of all-inclusive pleasures: romantic candlelit dinners, glamorous disco dancing, sensuous miniature golf.

“At beautiful Mount Airy Lodge, all you have to bring … is your love of everything …”

One day, I would love everything so hard. I’d love someone so hard. We’d paint the Poconos velvet red while drunk on strawberries and cream. Our love would be titanic. It would feast on prime rib and all-you-can-eat salad bars. It would be worthy of the most colossal feat of erotic engineering the world has seen: a seven-foot-tall champagne coupe hot tub.

“For lovers only … You’re never lonely … You’re so close …”

When you’re 8, you believe everything you see on TV. You internalize visions of those happy couples, smiling as they water ski, holding hands as they horseback ride. You’ve been told that love is patient, love is kind; it endures all things and never fails.

But love can also be fickle. Love can be cruel. It endures what it can, but sometimes it burns out, too. That’s the part they don’t tell you on TV.

I grew up and got married, but by the time I made it to the Poconos this fall, my husband and I had split. My best friend had just dissolved her marriage, too, and we needed to run away. Away from the homes we held together while we were falling apart. Away from the jobs that demanded focus while our brains could do nothing but dissect our tragedies. Away from our kids. Away from ourselves.

The property we found was so far past its prime, full of reminders that, without proper maintenance, love is destined to spoil. A mirror-covered bedroom was a kaleidoscope, forcing you to face yourself from every unflattering angle. The garbage-filled gazebo was a shed of emotional neglect.

When you come to a dying honeymoon resort to celebrate the end of a marriage, you can’t help but to think everything is a metaphor.

It was the perfect place for our divorcemoon.

I didn’t think about the Poconos much during my marriage. I knew that most of the resorts had closed down, their shag carpets left to be reclaimed by nature. I wanted the image of the sexy, swinging honeymoon hotel to be preserved in my memory.

But when I got divorced, imagining a champagne glass hot tub infested by raccoons was a beautiful thought. I, too, was a feral animal mired in trash. Maybe there was still a place to stay amid the decay, where my brethren would welcome me with open paws.

I scrolled through the photos of abandoned buildings while crying under the covers. Penn Hills Resort, Mount Airy Lodge, Pocono Gardens, Strickland’s Mountain Inn: All were left to rot in indignity while vandals and drunk teenagers had their way with the ruins. Ghostly shells of swimming pools, slick with mold and stagnant water. Round mattresses ripped to shreds, surrounded by crumbling columns of plaster and paint.

I was certain that love was dead in the Poconos, but I was wrong. By some miracle, Cove Haven — the couples-only resort where both the heart-shaped hot tub and the champagne glass hot tub were invented — clings to life by its chipped press-on fingernails.

Everything about Cove Haven was exactly what I expected. It was glorious and tragic, a forsaken oasis of dilapidated magic.

The garbage-filled gazebo was a shed of emotional neglect.

The food was abysmal, the water pressure lousy. The lobby was devoid of bustle and hum. The tennis courts were empty, the arcade silent, and the miniature golf pavilion dark and desolate.

In another time, the heart-shaped outdoor pool would have been the place to be for the young and in love, overflowing with couples sipping frozen daiquiris. In our time, the bar was closed, and the only thing floating in the pool was a dead rat.

I spent the night in an empty airport. It was a dream come true.

In place of the lovebirds who once strolled goo-goo-eyed around the property, there are now hundreds of deer who never take their goo-goo eyes off you; they lurk in the shadows, they circle your car, they greet you at your door like sylvan sentries looking for crackers.

Cove Haven was once able to keep the woods at bay, the wilderness limited to shirtless men from New Jersey pounding buckets of Bud. But the deer are reclaiming the land, and Cove Haven accepts this. The gift shop sells bags of deer food alongside campy T-shirts, pocket vibrators and gift boxes of lube.

Despite the deer outnumbering humans 18 to 1, we were still advised to make reservations for dinner in the Colosseum Dining Room.

At dinner, we finally saw other people, most of whom looked old enough to remember a time when the dining room buzzed with coos and sweet nothings. In our time, though, there was silence. There comes a point in some relationships where you run out of things to say to each other. Every couple in the room seemed to have passed that benchmark at least 15 years ago.

We hit the salad bar and loaded our plates with tiny cubes of cheese. I wondered how many guests were silent because the spark was gone, and how many couldn’t speak because their mouths were busy working through the steak teriyaki.

In stark contrast to the bachelorette parties that ushered in our marriages, the divorcemoon was uneventful — and beautiful. We have aged past the point where we need to impress each other. We communicate in glassy eyes and exasperated sighs.

We are newly single moms to teenage boys. We don’t need to sit around and talk about our feelings. We needed to unpack the six different types of cookies we brought with us and soak in a hot tub until our fingers turned pruney.

Who cares about activities, amenities or edible beef when you’ve got your very own $450-a-night playground? We splurged on the Champagne Tower suite, a four-story, 1,200-square-foot colossus of a hotel room with a wood-burning fireplace, a sauna, a private in-room pool (heart-shaped, of course), and the thing that makes Cove Haven worth the price of admission: the giant coupe hot tub.

The appeal of the gimmick is timeless, but the plumbing is period-appropriate for a retro resort, and, as such, takes about an hour to fill. While my companion curled up on our circular bed with a self-help book, I chose to spend some time in our in-room pool with a chocolate cream pie I’d packed in my luggage.

I let the water come up over my ears and floated in near silence, my knotted body unclenching for the first time since I told him it was over. I thought about how many couples started their happily ever after in this room, wondering whether they made it. Wondering whether, when their worlds burned down to ash, they felt worthless and alone, too.

I scooped gobs of pie and shoved them into my mouth with my bare hands, every painful realization streaming down my cheeks. I washed some salty pudding off my face in the water, and I wondered what sort of substances those previous guests left behind before it all went wrong. I immediately got out of the pool.

Ready to rebaptize ourselves as single women, we dimmed the lights, arranged our baked goods around the edge of the tub and slipped into the water.

I would not allow the ghosts of Poconos past to ruin my hot-tub time, and I filled the tub with an excessive amount of Kool-Aid-scented bubble bath available in the gift shop. Ready to rebaptize ourselves as single women, we dimmed the lights, arranged our baked goods around the edge of the tub and slipped into the water.

I mean that literally, because whatever sort of traction the skinny, steep-sided tub once had was long gone. We clung to the rim of glass while the whirlpool jets shot our bodies to the surface, blinded by bubble bath and unable to locate our pie.

Cove Haven does a terrible job of covering up the cracks, but what choice does it have? It’s not like it planned on one day being this run-down and understaffed.

Back in the day, when big names such as Jon Lovitz were gracing the nightclub stage and legitimate lobster was being served in the dining room, how could it have ever imagined that the good times would end?

It wasn’t the Poconos’ fault people would rather backpack through Europe than canoodle in a heart-shaped hot tub in Pennsylvania. Cove Haven never stopped being exactly what it was. It never grew. It never changed. That never bodes well for true love.

I don’t know how long Cove Haven will hang on, but I hope it beats the odds. Love may no longer be in the crisp Pennsylvania air, but sometimes you need to wallow in the stench of decay.

It has the potential to be a Disneyland for divorcées, a cathartic country club where you can scald your demons in a hot tub. You can lie on a circle-shaped bed, stare at your broken self in the mirrored ceiling and remember when you were 8 years old and still believed in As-Seen-On-TV love. You can grieve like you mean it.

Allison Robicelli is a food writer and humorist based in Baltimore. Follow her on Twitter @robicellis and Instagram @allisonrobicelli.