Our first date was exactly 15 years ago tonight…despite the fact that Brian had frosted tips (although those didn’t show up until 3 months after our first date, and it was 2000…).
We talked that night about how much we both loved the Coen brothers and debated whether or not Fight Club had homoerotic undertones. I’m sure Death Cab For Cutie and Dido were involved. Ugh, and David Gray and Coldplay. He was so funny, smart, and nice and the conversation just flowed so easily and comfortably. I knew that night that I would be with him long term. He felt like family, like home, almost instantly. I know it’s not always like that, but it was for us.
That’s a photo from the actual night (the first photo is from 3 months later). Please disregard my hair and face. I think I went tanning that day (yes in a booth – did you know that people still do that?) which gave me apparently raccoon eyes. Not my best look.
I’ve written about our relationship before so I won’t bore you too much with it. Here’s the quick abridged version: We got together almost immediately, broke up amicably a few months later, got back together, graduated, I travelled, we moved to New York together, broke up again for a year, got back together, got married at 27, moved here to LA, had the cutest baby in the world, got pregnant again (currently) and will surely live happily ever after 🙂
To put it plainly, I am just so lucky to have found him 15 years ago. After starting a family you realize what you have, how good you have it, and we are just really, really solid and happy. I don’t want to go on and blab about how much we love each other or how we are such a good match, because I think its pretty evident. Besides sometimes it’s even simpler – while there might be many others that I could have been happy with, I found the right person.
The last 15 years with him have been so good, but not without our problems. Some years were amazing (last year, for instance), and some years weren’t so good (the year after I won Design Star, 5 years ago). It’s almost like the health of a long-term relationship is similar in a lot of ways to your own physical health. Nobody has perfect health their entire life. Everybody has some problems. It’s just figuring them out, diagnosing them, knowing how serious are they are and learning how to treat them that determines whether you survive or not.
I’m clearly not a relationship expert, but I have lasted through a 15 year monogamous relationship starting at age 21, and more importantly, I am someone thoroughly obsessed with talking about relationships, watching relationships, and (lord knows) talking through other people’s relationships – thus my unhealthy obsession with anything that starts with the word ‘Bachelor…’ or any and all romantic comedies, teen or romances, etc. So during long mental babbles about how people get through problems, I came up with a bit of an analogy that I’ve found helpful to get through our problems.
This may come off super self-help-y certainly, and it’s not really meant to be, but it’s kinda helped us figure out how to deal with each problem that happens when it happens. Plus my brain just thinks in long-winded metaphors, as you probably know.
If long-term relationship problems are like health problems, then you/we have three different types to watch for and deal with.
1. The occasional flare-up. This is the cold, flu, pneumonia etc. In relationship terms it’s the bouts of career uncertainty, the working-too-much, not prioritizing each other, not getting pregnant… all the situational problems that are brought on by outside stresses that cause inside stress. These can generally be easily survived with proper care. You go on a date, talk through it, work through a new plan of action, wait it out, hopefully have sex and then monitor it to make sure that it’s getting better. If not, these little bugs can turn into deadly staff infections without you even noticing. Brian and I have had a ton of these, some we haven’t taken care of fast enough and they have led to things that are a bit more scary, but all of them were curable. In fact, I think that most of our problems can be blamed on outside stresses, but I don’t want to get too specific with y’all.
2. The chronic condition. When I talk to all my friends and family about their marriages (well, those who are open to gab like I do) I have found that everybody has those 1 – 2 things that are just kinda their problems, that they’ve had forever, but they aren’t deadly. When you don’t take care of them they flare up and cause actual problems, and some years you hardly remember that you even have them. But if you totally ignore them and don’t treat them at all they can kill you. These are larger and more inisidious than the occasional colds – more like, say, diabetes. They are manageable but still a little bit threatening. Maybe he’s prone to occasional depression, maybe it’s how you spend money, maybe he’s kinda mean when you fight, maybe you disagree on politics/religion or worse, or haven’t done it in 4 months. It could even be that one of you does all the housekeeping for the family and it is a lingering argument with seemingly no end. Brian and I, like most of us have a few chronic issues – sometimes I feel like we’ve had the same discussion for 15 years and it just feels so redundant. But we know what those issues are and we watch them, because if we don’t a good year turns into a bad year pretty fast. It’s just kinda who you are and you do the best you can to deal with them and not let them upset your general happiness.
3. The terminal disease. As I was thinking about this I kept thinking is there anything that you really can’t work through as a couple? And while I think that of course there are exceptions and miracles and people/couples being brought back from the brink of death, there are a few problems that I think will inevitably destroy you if they are part of your relationship. Maybe it’s the repeated deceit leading to total lack of trust. Maybe it’s abuse – emotional or physical. Or less dramatic, but still emotionally devastating – the never feeling comfortable, safe or like you can be yourself or even worse – maybe complete lack of respect, love, communication and trust. Luckily, Brian and I have no terminal problems, thank God. In that sense we are healthy as a horse. And if you do have these and want to survive, you should go see someone and get that treated or probably just pull that plug. I’m a big fan of trying to work things out, especially after kids are involved but then you see some relationships that should just end for the sake of the whole family – especially the children. There is nothing wrong with a healthy divorce if you have a really unhealthy marriage (in my opinion).
Now that I’m writing this I’m wondering if this is feeling very preachy, and hopefully it doesn’t. Relationships are full of happiness and inevitably some problems, but not all of them have to kill you.
I guess the point is that after 15 years (9 years of marriage) we have been through a lot – no near death experiences, but certainly some scarier moments. I guess what has kept us together, besides the basics – our genuine like for each other, open communication, respect, kindness, unconditional love, sacrifice, trust, honesty, endless fun, shared love and obsession of our child, etc – is that we talk about our problems pretty openly and consistently. At 35 years old we are starting to hear the rumblings of divorce amongst some couples that we know and it’s kinda terrifying, especially because you can’t predict who they are going to be. Couples where you just think how did they go wrong? And that makes you want to hone in on your relationship, and analyze your problems to make sure that you are doing the best you can to make sure that something small and seemingly insignificant doesn’t grow into something terrifying and destructive.
We’ve practically raised each other, seen each other through all our 20’s and now more than half of our 30’s. The fact that in 2 months we’ll have our family completed seriously fills me with such peace – and you know it’s hard for me to write in such generic terms, but ‘peace’ is truly how it feels, even though kids bring on their own challenges. As easy as it is to focus on your kids and spend time as a family, I truly think the best thing you can ever do for your kids, if possible, is to have a good relationship (married, not married, or even divorced) that shows them how to act in this world – how to love, forgive, have fun, show affection, compromise, respect each other, share and just generally be happy together so they feel safe and comfortable at all times possible.
So, that’s the goal – to have the happiest relationship we can so that our kids can have healthiest emotional upbringing possible. No big deal 🙂
Happy Anniversary, Mr. Henderson. May I continue to be as in love with you the next 15 years as I am now. xx
*Last photo taken by Stephanie Todaro. The first three by my disposable camera in the year 2000.