I hate the cottage—what now?

A grumpy man standing outdoors with arms crossed By

“Help! I love my wife, but I hate the cottage (which she loves). I find it too rustic, and I always feel bored there. I don’t enjoy watersports, swimming, or hiking. But I do want to spend time with her. What should I do? Can I train myself to enjoy the cottage more? Or is there another solution?”

Without resorting to advanced-level re-education techniques perfected in China during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, I can’t really think of any way that you can “train” yourself to enjoy a cottage more. You could certainly try to embrace activities such as swimming or fishing with a gruelling daily regimen of front-crawl sessions to the swim raft, multiple reps of cannonball sets, and endless hours bouncing crank-baits off the neighbour’s dock. But I think this approach would just make you hate cottaging even more. Imagine trying to make yourself enjoy s’mores by eating 10 of them a day for a month. First you would barf. Then you would never eat another s’more again. Ever.

I used to harbour deep suspicions about cottage-phobic people. I mean honestly, what major malfunction could make a person dislike the cottage experience? What’s not to like about rocks and trees? Or cheerful wild creatures? How could anyone not like the blessed silence or swimming in a lake or listening to the wind? What the hell is wrong with these people? I thought. But today, after decades of half-hearted self-improvement, I’ve learned to walk a kilometre in another person’s Birkenstocks before passing judgement. For example, just to turn things around, I don’t care for urban, city environments. Way too many people in a city and that means lining up for stuff which, outside of airport security, I refuse to do. Cities are also dirty and really loud. And people walk around staring at their phones like cross-eyed zombies. Nothing new here, I know. But it’s not for me, and I can’t train myself to like it. So if you don’t feel the love for life at the lake, who am I to judge?

While I don’t think you can make yourself love the cottage thing, you might be able to find ways to make it bearable, if only to spend time with your wife. (More on this later.) It sounds like you might be happier if you had more things to do that did not include relaxing, reading, playing board games, swimming, etc. Maybe you could line up fix-it jobs to occupy your time. Or, plan trips to town for activities that would break up the dreary monotony of being held hostage at a beautiful retreat on a pristine lake. This is exactly why small cottage-country towns exist: so bored cottage people can get a break from lakeside living.

The following routine will take up half a day, and you can do it three times a week, if you have the stamina. First, head to town and try to find parking within a 10 kilometre radius of the “downtown core.” Next, walk around while deciding which ice cream or frozen yogurt stand you like best. Eat your delicious treat at a crowded public space—don’t feed the gulls—then perform another lap around town, visiting each and every gift shop, outfitter’s store, soap outlet, and artisanal wind-chime pop-up without actually buying anything. Finish with one more circuit for some selfies with whatever strikes your fancy. Before heading back to the cottage, break down and buy that hideous animal-themed track pant and hoodie combo you coveted earlier. Wear this outfit the next time you come to town for ice cream and browsing. It will let others know this is not your first rodeo.

Ironically, when you compile a list of things one might do to avoid participating in traditional cottage routines, it actually sounds a lot like the normal operating procedure for a great many cottagers today, who simply export their regular life routines to a different chunk of real estate, like high-income hermit crabs. The old rustic cottage is a thing of the past. Now we build year-round homes on the lake and bring our home lives with us. Golf memberships, gym memberships, yoga classes, local theatre, movie nights, and dining out are fun and engaging ways to avoid actually being at the cottage. Some cottagers even send their kids to canoe camp while they are already at the lake. It’s genius, if you really think about it. 

So hold your head up. Instead of being a cottage-phobic misfit, it might just turn out that you are actually in a majority position, one more person underwhelmed by the lake lifestyle. Great news for you! Except, unfortunately, it really doesn’t help solve your problem.

You are motivated to change your ways because you want to spend time with your wife, which is certainly admirable. But have you asked her what she thinks about the situation? I ask because my wife and I are pretty much inseparable. We live together, we work together, we travel together, and we enjoy our cottage together. I think it’s a beautiful arrangement. But whenever I have to go away for work or a fun trip with the guys, I have barely announced my plans before my shaving kit and clothes have been packed and loaded in the truck, which is already running. At our time of parting, she will usually stuff $500 in my shirt pocket for walk-around money and say something sweet like “Have fun. But don’t bother calling. See you next week.” Is it possible that by not visiting the cottage you might actually be doing your wife a favour? Have you considered that catering to your cottage-phobic ways might cut into her enjoyment of the place she loves best? It can’t hurt to ask. You might not like the answer, but it might save you from a further lifetime of dreary cottage life.

This article was originally published in the October 2021 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

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