Many couples who meet at camp outlast the final campfire of the season. What is it about the collective experience and environment at summer camp that makes relationships formed there so successful? Likely, it is the values shared by all members of the community. Among Cape Cod Sea Camps' (CCSC) core values are friendship, honesty, open-mindedness, kindness, acceptance, compassion, and a sense of community. These values, coupled with a sense of tradition and the desire for an authentic experience are critical to the success of a camp and, not surprisingly, of a marriage.
There have been an astonishing number of couples who have met at CCSC in the past few decades and ultimately married, my husband and I among them. We chose to have our wedding at camp. Not only had most of our wedding party attended CCSC, but our close friend got a one-day commission from the governor to perform the ceremony. Celebrating our nuptials in the place where we grew up, met many of our lifelong friends, and started dating was the logical choice for us as camp is practically our religion. I have always joked that it's much easier to marry someone from your own camp because you understand each other that much better and because there's a lot less explaining to do. Those who never attended camp have a hard time understanding the passion that characterizes color wars, the kind of melancholy that can be brought about only by hearing "Taps," and the sheer joy of sailing a boat or simply spending time in your cabin with friends from all over the world.
Friendship is a critical element of both a marriage and a summer camp. Most families choose to send their children to camp not only to give them a chance to develop self-confidence, independence, and a unique set of skills, but also to provide the opportunity to make lasting friendships. When campers are asked what the best part of their summer was, they usually reference the friends they've made. Most adults would say that their spouse is their best friend. After all, a spouse, like a bunkmate, is the person you can wake up late at night if you can't sleep and the person with whom you share your successes, hopes, and fears. Honesty, too, is a cornerstone of both marriage and of friendships when living as part of a community. Bunkmates, like spouses, must understand the importance of honesty even when the truth may be difficult.
Critical to the success of camp and marriage is the notion of acceptance. Camp provides children and teens a safe environment devoid of the pressures of school in which they can simply be themselves and are appreciated and accepted for who they are and for the talents they have. For me, camp was a kind of utopia in which I had friends and was liked for who I was, as opposed to home where I felt that I was always being judged and somehow never quite measured up socially or academically. Experiencing this kind of unconditional acceptance is, perhaps, the greatest gift camps have to give.
My husband no longer works at camp as he has what we refer to as a "real job," whereas I entered the teaching profession so that I could work with children year-round, but more importantly, I could continue to work at camp in the summer. Our mutual experience at camp has saved us from many lengthy conversations in which certain camp traditions and events would have to be explained. For example, my husband understands completely that I have yet to drive out of camp without shedding tears on that final day of camp each August. He supports my need to pour over photographs and camp songs for days after the last camper has left the grounds, and he can empathize with the overwhelming sadness that I feel as I lament the end of another summer at camp. Had he not attended CCSC and developed the same attachment to it, he would not be able to be as supportive and understanding as he is.
Because of camp, my husband and I became the people we are today and made friends to last a lifetime. Because of camp, countless happy couples have found one another as the result of a set of shared values and experiences that cannot be found elsewhere. Because of camp, these couples will have children who will continue to understand and embrace the importance of spending a summer by the bay, in the mountains, on a lake, or in the woods with friends who share the same passion for bug juice, s'mores, mosquito bites, care packages, and camp traditions.
Photo courtesy of Camp Kupugani, Leaf River, Illinois.
Daniella Garran first attended sleep away camp in 1982 and has loved absolutely every minute of it. A social studies teacher during the year, she spends summers as an assistant director at Cape Cod Sea Camps. Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.