For better or for worse. For richer or for poorer. For college basketball and for sappy, romantic getaways.
Which of these did I NOT sign up for? Sure, the essence of marriage is riding out the ups and downs together, but inflicting a weekend of candlelight dinners and shopping upon your husband? This must be more than a wife can ask.
Actually, no. My wife, Teri, wants to get away to Galena, a cute-as-a-button river town of 3,500 in northwestern Illinois. This onetime lead-mining town seems perpetually posed for an old Saturday Evening Post cover, and I don't mean the cool ones with kids playing baseball. The place is adorable, but not exactly a guy's dream destination.
Teri can't wait to lose herself in this storybook town of brick shops, Victorian homes and 40 bed and breakfasts. As mom of two little girls, she's eager to let someone pamper her for a change and for us to focus on each other like the newlyweds we were a decade ago.
I'm less giddy. I love spending time with Teri and love that she gets her kind of vacation. But I'm tent and campfire, not bed and breakfast. Fortunately,
as I page through Galena's glossy brochure, I spot guy-friendly diversions: kayaking, bike trails, high-end golf courses and the manly cred of producing
nine Civil War generals, including U.S. Grant.
Somewhere in this mix, Teri and I hope to find mutually agreeable outings. Plus, we'll seek solo jaunts where she goes all girly while I find the corners
of Galena where no one describes things as "cute."
I catch an early break with Teri's first choice for us both: a culinary class at the Goldmoor Inn south of town. Haute cuisine isn't my turf, but the day's topic is grilling, and the Goldmoor's new kitchen is full of gleaming hardware.
Chefs Dion Block and Sean Fogarty usher our six-member class into the art of threading peppers and meat onto metal skewers. Todd Birkholz of Galena zealously dives into his kabob, and Goldmoor owner Patricia Goldthorpe asks, "Did you come to learn to cook or to eat?" Todd lowers the kabob and replies, "I think eating is the celebration of the cooking."
I have found brotherhood in the kitchen.
Goldmoor Inn 
After a seven-course meal under the gaze of Chef Dion, Teri steps into the night as I hold open a heavy front door the Goldmoor apparently bought when Camelot shut down. Jim and Patricia Goldthorpe engineered the Goldmoor's main building (left) for romance, complete with a turret suite that brides love.
But Teri agreed to try one of the cabins, which offer wooded surroundings and servers who roll up in golf carts with breakfast. When the lamp clicks off, we hear only cricket songs and distant thunderstorms. It's just like camping -- only with a king-size bed and hot tub.
Goldmoor Inn 
In the morning, I hit the shops of Main Street wary of what becomes of men in such places. But Galena's long row of shops keeps Teri and me side-by-side for what is, to me, a marathon browsing session of 90 minutes.
Just when my interest wanes, I find an oasis indicating I'm not the first man to need a boost at this point. Teri zeroes in on At Home in Galena's giant striped candles as I follow signs to the second-floor "Men's Time Out."
A back room hides a refuge of stadium seats, satellite TV and a fridge stocked with free beverages. If someone made all shopping like this, I might actually know what malls look like on days other than December 24.
At Home in Galena ; (815) 776-0811
That afternoon, Teri and I wave goodbye before parting ways for a couple of hours. She heads to Galena Beads, where she picks tiny pieces from hundreds of boxes holding millions of beads, then threads them into a bracelet. "I love it because it's instant gratification," she says later. "In an hour, I have jewelry."
In the same time, I tour Grant's house, then pull my mountain bike from the car rack and burn off seven miles of energy on a forest trail along the Galena River.
Galena Beads 
U.S. Grant Home 
Teri's other solo stint takes her to Stonedrift Spa (left) at Eagle Ridge Resort outside Galena. Stonedrift includes a couple's room, but my guy DNA hasn't relaxed to the point of letting strangers caress me while ethereal music plays -- especially when there are four golf courses on the property.
When I return from a golf lesson, I find Teri in the spa's lobby. Her toenails sparkle metallic red, and she's melted into the chair with muscles freed from the kinks of motherhood, thanks to a masseuse armed with heated river rocks. "It was wonderful," Teri sighs. "I could've fallen asleep right there... but I had to get my pedicure."
Eagle Ridge Resort 
By sunset, Galena's romantic grip is closing around me. A dozen of us (mostly couples) peer down at a shrinking Eagle Ridge as Andy Williams' hot-air balloon lifts us into the evening sky. We drift eastward on the wind, over golf courses and vacation homes gilded by sunset. Soon, the balloon angles downward into a pasture's shin-high grass. The sun melds with the horizon as Andy raises a glass and recites the balloonist's toast: "God has joined you in your laughter and set you gently back again into the loving arms of Earth."
A scene like this could suck a guy into this romantic thing. Just to be safe, I quickly ask Andy a few questions about how many BTUs his burners crank out.
Galena On The Fly 
On our last morning, Teri's making her biggest concession to my tastes. We're kayaking through the Mississippi's backwaters, plowing long Vs toward a blue heron rising on unhurried wing beats.
Teri's chatting with a Fever River Outfitters guide about kids and bird-watching. She looks calm enough, swinging her paddle in graceful dips. But I know she's cruising the far edge of her comfort zone. When I ask if she's afraid of giant mutant snapping turtles, she says, "No!" and pauses. "I'm just worried about rolling over. And I don't know what's under that water."
Still, she's out here. And trading her little black dress for a life jacket sparks my emotions more than a week of candlelight. Good relationships, after all, are about finding middle ground. And Galena turns out to be a meeting place we can agree on.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® March/April 2008.)