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She craved exotic adventures. He loved Disney theme parks. Was finding common ground even possible?

Doree Shafrir
November 27, 2017

Until my second date with Matt, the man who later became my husband, I hadn't been to a Disney theme park since I was 10. "Surprise me," I'd told him after he asked where I wanted to go. When he told me he'd chosen Disneyland, I felt flattered that he'd so thoughtfully planned ahead — most L.A. guys can't manage more than taking you to a new bar. It felt fun and romantic — if, to me at least, a tad ironic. We took selfies in front of Sleeping Beauty's castle, he let me steer the Dumbo ride, I had my first Dole Whip

I figured it was a one-time thing. But it turned out that Matt had a season pass. He loved Disneyland. Disney World in Orlando was his favorite place to go on vacation. He was also smart and funny and had a job in late-night television. For me, the combination did not compute.

As our relationship progressed, I struggled to comprehend Matt's love of theme parks. I had always seen them as ersatz, overly commercial environments of manufactured fun. To him, they are the happiest places on earth. What did it mean that the man I loved felt this way? And what did it say about me that I didn't? Was I a snob? After all, Disneyland is one of the most diverse places I've ever visited. There are people in wheelchairs, teenagers on dates, hot dads. Everyone always seems to be having a great time. What was my problem, exactly?

One day, I asked Matt point-blank why he loved theme parks so much. He shrugged. "It's the only time from growing up that I remember my whole family actually having fun and getting along." I have my own fond memories of going to Disney World with my family when I was young, but those trips were not a defining feature of my childhood. For Matt though, a Disney theme park is a place of refuge, where for a few hours the outside world doesn't exist and the most profound decision you need to make is whether to ride Space Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean. The Dole Whip will always taste the same, the barbershop quartet on Main Street will always make the same jokes, and there will always be a line at the Haunted Mansion. 

And that's the difference between us: He likes the familiar, I like the new. If it were up to me, every year we'd go somewhere we've never been before — Vietnam, Madagascar, Chile. We'd stay in Airbnbs, make every meal a discovery, and pack in as many experiences as we could. Matt prefers to go to places he's been before (hello, London!), stay in a hotel, and just wander the streets for hours.

Our first big vacation together was to Hawaii. I was looking forward to a place where I could be on a beach one day and at the top of Mauna Kea the next. But even after we'd bought the tickets, Matt kept saying that he didn't understand why we needed to fly five hours to sit on a beach, when we have perfectly fine beaches right here in southern California. We soon ran into another roadblock. I spent hours scouring Airbnb and HomeAway looking for the perfect vacation rental on the Big Island, but Matt found fault with all of them. Finally, I found The One: a spacious, beautiful house on the west side of the island, on a cliff overlooking the ocean, with a deck where you could sit and gaze out at the deep orange sunset every night. 

When I showed it to him, he recoiled. Then he finally told me what the real issue was.

"Look, I just don't like staying in other people's houses. It makes me…uncomfortable."

I didn't understand. In my mind, homestays allowed you to have a more authentic experience. And the house was rented all the time.

He sighed. "Why can't we just stay in a hotel?" I pleaded with him. He finally gave in. And our three days in the house turned out to be as not-fun as three days in a beautiful house on the Hawaiian coast can be. "This bed isn't comfortable," he declared. "And the shower — there's no pressure." I stewed. He wasn't wrong — the bed was a little soft, and the shower was kind of weak — but so what? Then we drove to Kona for dinner, and it took an hour. "We are so far from everything," he said. And the house was above a beach, but you had to drive down a steep, mile-long hill to get to it. "But look how amazing the sunset is from our deck," I said. 

He shrugged. "I told you I didn't want to stay in a house." By the time we got to Kauai, where we had booked a hotel, I was ready to declare our vacation ruined.

But the hotel in Kauai was gorgeous and right on the beach, and you could sit at the pool and order daiquiris, and people were always around to do things for you, and our room got cleaned every day, and at night they left chocolates on our pillows. It was, I had to admit, pretty nice. Maybe there was something to Matt's way after all.

Since then, we've both come around. I go to Las Vegas more than I ever thought I would — Matt loves it almost as much as he loves Disney theme parks — and even agreed to get married there. And you know what? It was an incredibly fun weekend. For our honeymoon, he suggested London, and I suggested stopping in Reykjavík on the way. We both had a blast.

We've gone back to Disneyland several times. It's not a place I dream of returning to time and time again, but I do enjoy it now. We'll go on a few rides, maybe eat a cream-cheese pretzel, and stay to watch the parade and fireworks. It's not a bad way to spend an evening. 

The other day, Matt surprised me. His best friend is in Paris for the year, so Matt suggested we go visit him — and stay in his apartment. "But I thought you hated staying in other people's homes," I reminded him. 

"He's my best friend," he said, as if that explained everything. 

"Sounds great," I said. "Let's spend a day at Disneyland Paris while we're there."

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