***UPDATE. Today is my 41st birthday which isn’t very monumental obviously, but you know what is? That fact that it’s ALSO the 20th anniversary of Brian and my first date. Technically it was a group of my friends, but we had met the night before, hit it off obviously and I invited him out the next night for my 21st birthday. Four years ago I wrote this post documenting our now 20-year relationship and the ups and downs of our marriage, which a lot of you related to. I’m happy to say that while we work through the same challenges as I wrote about in this post (isn’t it funny how your issues are your issues… forever?) we are in such a great place as a family and in a better place than we’ve ever been. So while technically it’s my birthday, today we celebrate 20 years with Brian Henderson – we are dangerously close to loving each other over HALF OF OUR LIVES. xx
Brian and I are celebrating our 10th anniversary today. TEN YEARS. It’s actually 16 years together in total. He’s truly my soulmate, best friend, and generally my most favorite person in the world. And folks, I’m happy to say that after some rockier years we are more solid than we have ever been because of some recent changes that we’ve made. You might be dying to know what those changes are, but first a quick bio of our relationship. No one loves a love story like I do, so while this may not be everyone’s version of a good post, if you are into shows that involve, say, Chris Harrison or Felicity and Ben then you, too, might be into this post. It only took me 14 hours to write/edit but it’s something I want our kids to eventually read, it’s something that many of you might relate to, and it’s a story that is so fun to relive. Here we go.
Brian and I met our senior year of college at the University of Oregon, in the year 2000. He was acting, shirtless, and in a play where I was in the audience, falling in love with his surprisingly ample chest hair. My friend was the stage manager and I begged him for an intro. It was all very immediate. That night we talked until 4 am about our mutual love of The Coen Brothers and Chuck Palahniuk novels, my love of Dido and his lack of Felicity knowledge, etc. He played with my hair until I fell asleep. No kiss. Nothing… The next day as he drove me home we listened to the radio and both started singing the chorus of the same cheesy pop song at the exact same time and I remember thinking, I am going to marry this man. He felt like home, instantly and I was immediately in love.
He didn’t call for 5 days. I didn’t have his number and it was before social media. I was so hurt and confused, but assertive, so I finally tracked it down and he gave me a “Shoot, can’t talk now, I have friends over” excuse. Of course I’m no idiot, I knew what had happened. There was somebody else. He called back and asked if he could come over and talk. I said, sure and the second he sat down I called him out on it. He said he had been trying to get out of the friend zone for a year with this girl and that they had just gotten together a week before we met. He was super confused and couldn’t stop thinking about me, but he felt like he had to give it a try with her. Blah, Blah. We went out that night and had so much fun. Too much fun. Nothing happened, except that I felt confirmed that we should be together because we were the same person. The way we communicated, our sense of humor, how much we had in common, how much we made each other laugh was absolutely unmistakable. He dropped me off. I went inside and cried. And two days later I called him and asked him to coffee.
I told him that we needed to be together. That it wasn’t up to us, that clearly the universe thought that we should be together. It wasn’t just our chemistry, it was like our personalities met and they melted into each other instantly. He looked at me with a smirk and said, “I know. I broke up with her last night.”
We were inseparable for months. We listened to David Gray and Coldplay, went to pretentious art house movies, and bought vintage t-shirts at thrift stores. As I fell deeper and deeper in love with him I realized that it wasn’t being reciprocated as much, WHICH SUCKED. He started disengaging so instead of me waiting until my heart was demolished, I broke up with him. He told me that he didn’t really know who he was and was unable to go there. I must have had the confidence to know that we would get back together because I wasn’t that heartbroken. Of course weeks later when I saw him on campus at 9 am with a girl, looking all disheveled, my heart felt like it was full of warm acid and my stomach felt like the outer lining was made of cement. Then I was heartbroken.
A month later he called and begged to get back together and while I tried to resist, I took him back. Gladly. I hadn’t stopped loving him and missed his everything. But we took it slow. Clearly this guy wasn’t ready for this.
Over the next couple of years we graduated, I went to Europe for 2 months with my best friend, then Brian and I moved to Sacramento and lived with his parents to save money for a move to New York.
We landed with $3k and 22-year-old dreams of adulthood. That pic above is the day we road tripped from Sacramento to New York. We wanted to bring our west coast version of cool to the east coast which apparently meant flavor savers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle t-shirts. Dear God. We found a 350 square foot studio in the East Village for $1200 and proudly called it home. He went to grad school at NYU for theater while I walked dogs and bartended, and we slowly grew into our adult selves. But he still wasn’t ready (and neither was I to be honest). Trying to find yourself in New York while tied to someone from college felt strangely constricting and after realizing that we weren’t connecting, and that he simply wasn’t ready to really BE together, we broke up.
I cried every morning for hours for a month, then one day woke up feeling better. A therapist that was a regular at my bar told me to “exercise my sadness” which meant to wake up, face the sadness, and let yourself cry. Before that I was literally crying while taking drink orders – I was so incredibly heartbroken and not coping well. But it worked, you guys.
We took 6 months of space, and when you are 22 and a bartender in New York that meant a lot happened (for both of us). Hilariously we have never ever, ever spoken about that time – even now! It wouldn’t be that painful, it was 13 years ago!!! But still – he doesn’t know what I did or didn’t do, and likewise (P.S. He thinks it’s sooooooo much worse which I’m letting him believe). When he came back he begged and begged, saying that he had grown up, that he was ready, that I was his #1 priority, etc. I believed him. Sure, I made him work for it, but I believed him.
He moved in with me, we lived our 20’s lives in New York together. We were so happy. We worked on our careers, we went out a lot, we made amazing friends, and lived a ridiculously fun 20’s life. We adopted some cats and as soon as he graduated from grad school, he booked his first big off-broadway show and got an agent. He felt like he was ready. He proposed to me when we were 26. Which now of course sounds so insanely young. It was in central park, with candles and his friends playing our song on the acoustic guitar. It was shocking and amazing and romantic and impulsive and yet totally right. We were so young, but at the time we had already been together for basically 5 years and it felt like it was the right time.
We got married a year later. Our budget was $7k. I bought a $60 dress off eBay, a ring at an antique store, and we had a taco truck WAY BEFORE THEY WERE COOL to cater it. It was the best, laid back, low key, wonderful night of my life – before Pinterest, blogs, pressure, or options. It was perfect for us. He was, and is, the best man I’ve ever met and I knew how lucky I was to be locking him down so young.
On our honeymoon in Montreal, we made a list of promises to each other, one of which was that we would prioritize our own personal happiness over the happiness of each other or our kids. Oh, how naive (and yet so wise) that was. We were so happy at the time that we didn’t know the cause or result of personal or collective unhappiness. I had no idea how much his happiness (or lack thereof) would affect my own so much. We lived for another year in New York until he became restless and unhappy and, while I couldn’t have been happier in New York, I agreed that following his heart (and the Hollywood gold rush) was the right move.
The move to LA was the beginning of our more challenging years – but maybe it was also because we were in our late 20’s, which tends to be a pivotable time in many people’s lives. We moved to Santa Monica 6 days before the writer’s strike which shut down Hollywood for years and it has never recovered. We had no friends, no jobs, and were in this extremely alienating city that made you feel old every time you went out to dinner. After months of crying and drinking too much, we looked at each other and knew we had to change our situation. We left for Vietnam the following Monday and stayed there ’til the strike ended. It was what we needed and after we came back we moved to the east side and restarted our LA life. I auditioned for DesignStar, Brian got a new agent, booked a couple plays and it was looking on the up and up.
But then I won DesignStar, started shooting Secrets From A Stylist and while he was wildly supportive, LA wasn’t as friendly to him as it was to me. Without ripping Hollywood apart too much, it’s fair to say that talent is valued far below most things and my resentment towards this industry was only matched by Brian’s disillusionment towards it. Acting was his passion, and I don’t use that word lightly. He went to a 3-year conservatory in New York that is so intense and basically sets you up for success (or so they were told). He had really dedicated his life to it as an artist, not for fame but as a performer, as his sole creative outlet. To not succeed was devastating to him. As I was shooting 60 hours a week and getting so much attention, he was falling deeper and deeper into situational depression.
We grew apart. After a while, we realized we were in a really not so good place. We both knew that we were meant to be together, but we didn’t know how to get it back. We didn’t fight, and we were still being romantic (at times), but his depression and my absence deeply affected our relationship.
He made a shift and decided to assistant direct an indie film in Nicaragua for 6 weeks. He left and due to the lack of cell service and the time difference we only spoke twice in six weeks. It was almost like a trial separation that we didn’t label. Neither of us missed each other. After 10 years of an extremely strong loving, border-line perfect relationship, 10 years of being emotionally and physically so connected to each other, neither of us missed each other for six weeks. Once I realized that fact, I was devastated. The night he got back we cried about how much we didn’t miss each other and decided to enact Extreme Marriage Makeover, 2012. We would go on new dates, together, without our friends (crutches). We would avoid our easy local date joints and instead push ourselves into having real experiences and adventures again together.
Things got better. Then he decided to quit auditioning. Not necessarily quit “acting, ” but he no longer wanted to do the “soul-stealing, driving-to-santa-monica-to-audition-to-be-a-dead-person-in-NCIS-but-then-not-get-it-and-be-super-depressed” auditioning. Unless you’ve been an actor, or have closely known one, you can’t understand how soul-destroying that career can be.
Things got even better. So much better. He felt liberated and free, and I stopped shooting the show and had more time for him and us. He was still performing and doing improv and during the day was doing real estate. We moved, got pregnant, miscarried, got pregnant again, bought our house, and had a baby. We were happy. Pretty happy.
The year after Charlie was born we were really happy. He was, and still is, the best dad that I’ve ever known. He is caring, patient, attentive, responsible, hardworking, sacrificing, full of compromise, and intelligent conversation with both me and our kids. We’re on the same page and we created this extremely loving, happy family and home. The first year of Charlie’s life I was so smitten by him. Being a good dad is endlessly attractive and I spent hours staring at him thinking thank God I married this guy.
But then … the stress of parenthood brings its own challenges as many of you know.
When Charlie was about a year old, Brian realized how unfulfilled he was with his career and he missed being creative. He started definitely not liking the real estate gig (I should have guessed when he said “ugh, I hate going inside strangers’ houses”) and he slipped back into situational depression.
But then, he found a therapist that has changed his life, and ours. SO MUCH. It’s a particular style called Narrative Therapy and it’s amazing and something that he would like you all to know about, so we felt compelled to share.
Narrative Therapy is less about psychoanalysis or analyzing the past/parents/childhood and instead, helping people realize that they are in charge of their own story and how they tell it to themselves and others. I’ve only sat in on a couple sessions, but it’s really about listening and helping understand how they can open up the perception of their life and what steps they need to do to change it. Brian, like many people I know, felt totally paralyzed. He was so devastated from not acting, something he thought he would do forever. He was full of “cannot’s, ” and “no’s, ” and reasons why he couldn’t move forward or succeed despite being one of the best, smartest, most capable, intelligent, funny, and wonderful people in the world.
It helped so much. He felt better after a couple of months and the changes I saw in him were insane. He was happier, lighter, and full of optimism, motivation, and humor. It wasn’t instant, but it was noticeable.
Then we had another baby, our little Ellie-Bird.
The last year has been full of so much love and stress, and we did the dance that only two parents with two kids under three do. Some days were great, and ultimately we have been in a really good place, but there was this underlying exhaustion and stress with trying to keep up with life. To cope with how hard we both felt that we were working, we started secretly competing, parenting-wise. Not competing for their love, but tallying our individual sacrifice and work. We just felt so overworked individually that we were unable to see how much the other person was doing. He invited me to his therapy session to talk about it and I said, weeping, how I just didn’t feel acknowledged. I didn’t need a parade every day, but I really felt that he wasn’t seeing how hard I was working to support us, and how good of a mom I was being all the while. He felt so bad, so terrible, and yet, he felt the same way. He was trying so hard to start his now successful video production company and was still so attentive and exhaustingly loving towards our now two kids, but I didn’t really give him the recognition he felt he deserved either.
Acknowledgment of hard work is highly underused in our society. Appreciation of it is even more rare. Sure, we say thank you for the big stuff – thanks for letting me go out with my girlfriends, or letting me sleep in on Saturday morning, but the daily hard work goes often unnoticed. And after years of feeling unnoticed, unacknowledged, and unappreciated, even the strongest of marriages can breed resentment. Despite how honest, communicative, respectful, faithful, and fun you are with your partner, resentment is a small but powerful poison that without its antidote can kill or weaken even the healthiest of marriages – something I talked about in my anniversary post last year. Our problems weren’t that we didn’t get along, or that we were fundamentally different people, or even bigger, unfaithful, disrespectful, unsupportive. No, our problem was that we were both too busy and exhausted to look at what the other person was sacrificing and compromising on a daily basis and say, thank you so much.
This one thing has made us so much happier and has made us fall so much deeper in love. When I go on business trips he now knows how appreciative I am that he is the kind of dad that can handle two kids all night for three nights on his own. And I feel, finally, that he knows that those business trips aren’t a vacation for me and that they are indeed work, work that will never replace the happiness I feel when I’m with my family. It’s gotten infectious and reciprocal – where I know that we both genuinely really, really see and appreciate how much and how hard we are both working as people and parents.
I know that we aren’t the only ones that had this problem, which is why I’m writing about it. I know this because every single person in my life feels this way – both man and woman. NO ONE feels as appreciated as they feel they deserve to be, which begs the question – WHY DON’T WE ALL TRY TO APPRECIATE EACH OTHER MORE?????
Additionally, we now give each other a night off GUILT-FREE. Doing bedtime by yourself with 2 kids under 3 isn’t easy, but it’s doable. So now we each know that we can take one night to go out with friends, get a massage, go shopping, or watch a movie without the other saying anything but, “have so much fun.” It’s been amazing. Some weeks I don’t even take mine, but knowing that I have it feels so good. You guys, DO THIS.
Meanwhile, now that we are learning how to handle two kids he is going to get back into acting – doing theater, more improv, taking some creative classes so that he feels like he is using that muscle that he spent years developing – something that I get nervous about, but super supportive because I know he needs it.
To be able to say that 16 years in we are happier than ever is something I don’t take for granted. The longer you are married, the more lessons you learn, right? One big one that we have learned is while you should put family first, you can’t neglect your own happiness or it can destroy the family you are working so hard to protect. Individual happiness is one of the true keys to a good marriage, and with us both being happy, we are in such a good place with each other. But we have many more lessons to learn, I’m sure.
If I had to give one piece of advice to someone before getting married it would be to truly like the person you are marrying. It’s so easy to love someone, but it’s harder to really like them. Marry your best friend. Marry the person you have the most fun with and who you want to hang out with. I think you can get through any marital problem if you are best friends and I’m so happy to say that this man is truly my best friend, forever, and I love him more than I ever thought I could.
So that’s our love story. 16 years. Meeting your person when you are 21 is tricky, but we helped raise each other, we’ve been there for each other through everything, and we’ve gotten stronger, happier, and fallen even more in love every day. I know we are very, very lucky.
Brian, ours is a love story – not grand or fancy, but still epic. If I didn’t know you and you were in the middle of a room of strangers, I would choose you immediately, I know it. I would be drawn to your face, shoulders, the kindness in your hazel eyes, and your loving, protective soul. And your sense of humor. And your still-ample chest hair. No one is as good as you are, and no one loves anybody as much as I love you. Happy Anniversary, my love.
To quote the end of our marriage vows 10 years ago, Grow old with me … the best is yet to be.
Here’s to 50 more years. I love you.
Thanks for reading – and thanks, Brian for being all I’ve ever wanted in a partner, co-parent and friend. xx
**Pushing publish on this gives me anxiety even though Brian, Brady, Sara, and Becca all read through it and helped me edit so the tone was neither “we have problems” nor “we are perfect” nor “I know everything about everything”. Someone, somewhere will find something negative to say, but ultimately my goal is that by telling our love story and how we handle average marital issues, readers can relate and feel inspired or confidant in their own relationship. We are just two human beings in love, working through life, careers, marriage, depression, and parenthood in the best most positive way possible, like everyone else. Thanks for reading (and commenting).
2020 update: So that was 4 years and many of you might have also caught how he surprised me that year by flying up our best friends that weren’t at our very young wedding to Sacramento, bringing my dress, and recreated the whole thing including a newly edited video that made us all BAWL. If you want to see that post – head here.