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A month prior, I had written a short history of America's love affair with heart-shaped furniture. Not long after the story ran, Kyle Kziema, the kindly PR manager of Cove Haven's Love Hotel, contacted me. He wanted to know if I'd like to visit for the weekend with a guest free of charge. Like all great stories, this one began with me crying at my desk over a tweet.
My first moment of fear came when Kyle asked for the name of my partner. He wanted it for the reservation. Would Cove Haven—Pennsylvania's romance capital of marital deflowering—want two debauched lesbians to be the cover girls of their family(-planning) friendly resort? Historically, they didn't. In the beginning, Cove Haven had a strict newlyweds-only policy. Eventually they opened up to anyone who could cough up a marriage certificate, and, inevitably, that turned into any ol' libidinous, consenting adult couple. But as recently as 1988, same-sex couples were still a no-no. I emailed back, "Her name is Sasha." When I got the notification that our reservation was booked, I breathed a sigh of relief. It looked like, for the time being, we were in.
Cove Haven introduces itself with a 12-foot, heart-shaped red sentinel on 194 Lakeview Drive. As far as introductions go, this one isn't subtle. The sign boasts to all who pass by, This Is Where Love Lives. This feels a little presumptuous to me. As we pass under, the obstinate only-child in me flares up. You won't tell me what to do, you're a fucking sign.
The air is laden with an oppressive expectation that you will boink.
Everything in Cove Haven—the gift shop's impressive wall of vibrators, the front desk offering a $32 red velvet cake, a fleet of muscled service boys that mill around mysteriously—conspires to make sex happen. The only way it could be more blatant is if there was a medieval prince brandishing his beloved's blood-stained linens outside a castle wall. The air is laden with an oppressive expectation that you will boink. I have to summon all my fortitude to not strap a chastity belt across my body and walk out.
Our true initiation comes at the check-in desk. Regrettably, I forget the name of my first friend at Cove Haven (My second friend is Sally, who delivered a burger and two bottles of champagne to my room at 2am), but I do remember the military-like precision with which she rolled out a map of the grounds and began to calmly explain to me the organized bacchanalia that was ahead. Already shell-shocked, I can barely handle the paradox of choice laid out before me. The nightclub is still open (Jenny McCarthy is playing next weekend; it's too bad you're missing it), the wedding chapel is next to the tanning beds, and couples' photos will be taken by the lake. The check-in associate assures me that, yes, the map is overwhelming, but I'll get used to it in no time.
Grouped into passels of homogenous buildings, the architecture of Cove Haven isn't a far cry from Levittown. And that's no mistake; Cove Haven's mimicry of midcentury tract housing is intentional. The history of romantic Pocono getaways begins with the 1950s-era "couples resort." These were vast, faux suburban villages that allowed just-married couples to "practice" domesticity within the safe, controlled confines of a weekend getaway. Cove Haven and other early-70s honeymoon hotels were the direct descendants of the post-WWII newlywed hotel. It's not surprising that most of Cove Haven's early patrons were soldiers, returning from Vietnam. Just like their forefathers, Cove Haven's tone-deaf architecture of permanent bliss sought to conjure a new, separate world—air-tight, devoid of heartbreak—in order to forget the trauma of the one before it.
For a moment, let me invoke the obligatory first scene of every early-aughts reality television show: A newly-minted batch of contestants are let loose to explore a brand new, tricked-out, hedonistic filth mansion and, in the process, almost shit themselves with joy. That is the closest I can come to describing how Sasha and I entered our Champagne Tower Suite. Complimentary truffles? Fuck yeah. A fireplace log? Holy fucking shit. Champagne flutes emblazoned with the resort's name? Being alive feels GOOD. Clean sheets? We expect nothing and cry over everything.
The first rule of Cove Haven is to not watch yourself.
The first rule of Cove Haven is to not watch yourself. Like a B-rated Versailles, everything is a reflective surface. Mirrors surround the pool, the champagne hot tub sits on a mirrored pedestal, our bed is flanked by a coterie of oppressive mirrors. Even the whirlpool, our inner sanctum of Sapphic safe space, is wallpapered in mirrors.
Once my Instagram account is gluttonously satiated and the charm of infinite selfies has ended, I'm left with a dystopic nightmare. I must watch my post-winter body dip itself in and out of difficult-to-maneuver bodies of water. Untrue as it might be, keep the mantra of second wave feminism close to your heart: Your body is beautiful. If that fails, just remember to keep your eyes firmly in front of you.
After about a few hours, my stomach begins to turn from eating a quarter-pounder too quickly in the pool, an admittedly novice move. On the red vinyl couch, I try to catch up on work emails. On the round bed, I adjust the LED panels on the ceiling and check my text messages. It annoys me that the wi-fi is so bad. Sasha and I discuss the correct ratio of bubble bath to water for a 9-foot-tall champagne hot tub. She decides to pour the whole bottle in. At one point, Sasha finds a few sacrificial scraps of beef floating at the bottom of our heart-shaped pool.
At one point, Sasha finds a few sacrificial scraps of beef floating at the bottom of our heart-shaped pool.
I think we talked about politics; the Caitlyn Jenner interview came up. We decided that the mural of a bunch of dudes in turbans felt mildly colonialist. We wondered what the weather would be like the next day. The conversation lagged. It's hard to do normal things at Cove Haven—talk, fuck, eat, argue—without wondering if you're doing it right. Were we spending our precious time wisely? The burden of the Once In a Lifetime Experience felt daunting.
With the sincere and uninspired devotion of tourists completing tasks from within a draconian guidebook, we had done everything we were supposed to do. And there was evidence, too. An empty jar of bubble bath, a receipt for $92 worth of takeout, and a bottle of Babeland lube by the whirlpool were testaments to our commitment.
This space—mythic and bigger—was supposed to engender power unto us, deify us, and for one night, transfer unto us the libido of a mustached ‘70s swinger. By the end of the night, the whirlpool, sauna, and complimentary log had become our enemy. They had left our bodies insufferably damp, heavy, and squeaky against the vinyl and formica.
We finally let ourselves shower, brush our teeth, put on the hotel's dubious lotion, and don a fresh pair of underpants. We slipped back into casual bickering with a conspiratorial pleasure. The five pillows were ritualistically divvied up, gas receipts were fetched, Venmo accounts opened, inches of the duvet redistributed to the wronged party. Here, our low level squabbles became an outright defiance.
All I could think was that, if I were to die, my last moments on earth would be spent watching a slideshow of romance tips on a big screen television in a circular bed below mirrored ceilings.
Eventually, we stumbled upon Cove Haven's "Romance Tip" television station. Cove Haven's romance tip television station is exactly what it sounds like: a station playing romance tips. We were instructed, nay ordered, to fill a mug full of Hershey kisses and hide it the cupboard. Send an e-card everyday. Hide a sexy note and a piece of fruit under our partner's pillow. Buy two goldfishes, name them after each other.
In that moment, all I could think was that, if I were to die, my last moments on earth would be spent watching a slideshow of romance tips on a big screen television in a circular bed below mirrored ceilings. As someone plagued by a perpetual what-if-i-die-right-now inner monologue, this seemed solidly not bad. My girlfriend next to me was warm, there was still half a bottle of champagne left, and the radio had stopped playing Jayson Derulo. "We Found Love in a Hopeless Place" came on, a detail too perfect to fabricate. Cove Haven was okay.
In the week since we left, I've unintentionally amassed a king's ransom in screenshots. Under the guise of "research," I've wasted hours on Youtube, mesmerized by couples with shaky camcorders recording what is ostensibly just a sex den. Some go so far as to film the opening of the door, the walk to the parking lot, the drive in. By now, I know each room intimately—the dusty rose hues of the Fantasy Suite, the faux adobe walls of the Garden of Eden Suite, the roman pillars of the Juliette Suite. Instagram is a black hole where I quickly jump from #CoveHaven to the account of a guest's seventeen year old child. I want to know how things are going for them, I want to know if things are working out.
Like a sexually charged Disneyworld, Cove Haven's rise to fame perfectly coincided with the renaissance of cheap film.
The resort boasts an on-call photographer, who will schedule an in-room photo with you and, if that doesn't work, will visit you at the lake or stop by your table at dinner. Cove Haven—weighted down by lustful and obvious symbolism—isn't just a resort. Like a sexually charged Disneyworld, Cove Haven's rise to fame perfectly coincided with the renaissance of cheap film. I soon realized that no one is paying for the experience. Everyone is paying for the complimentary photograph that comes with the experience, Sasha and me included.
Over the course of three decades, the women of Cove Haven have shared an obsessive need to record their time at Cove Haven. Outfits and hairdos fluctuate, but the poses stay the same. Despite myself, I feel a kinship with these women I have never met. We have shared the intimacy of physical space.
As a couple, Sasha and I have amassed an impressive resume of joke events. Our first date was at an Applebees, she met my parents at a Hooters, we celebrated our sixth month anniversary at a sex resort. Even I have to admit the whole thing isn't quite right. Even to me, these choices reek of a certain superiority and privilege that has been carefully couched in jokes. I shouldn't be the type of person who falls so easily into kitsch tourism. I had approached our room at Cove Haven like a drill sergeant, ready to efficiently regurgitate the experience onto my Instagram. Had I, in my haste, forgotten the true meaning of love?
I can only say one thing about Cove Haven confidently: It sincerely wished us to be in love.
Parts of Cove Haven feel mired in a delayed adolescence, brandishing the overt sexuality of a starry-eyed 13-year-old boy, while others are fully grown. The sports bar is one of the latter, the employees smoking outside of the vacant Garden of Eden Suites belong to the former. In 1988, the resort was booked solid for five months. That's unequivocally no longer true.
Yet, it hasn't been abandoned either. In the gift shop a young man slyly brags to me that he is, in fact, a forever lover. In short, he's been graced with Cove Haven's loyalty card, awarded to those who make four or more visits. Cove Haven—ostensibly a relic of the sexual revolution, war, suburbia, and the banana hammock—can no more justify itself as a functional hotel for the iPhone era than it can be delegated to ruin porn.
I can only say one thing about Cove Haven confidently: It sincerely wished us to be in love. I can't begrudge them an onsite wedding chapel just because it overlooks the indoor pool. I have no ire for their off-brand bubble bath or wall of vibrators. Yes, Cove Haven is a pushy matchmaker, but a hapless and tender one.