It’s our anniversary! Here are 18 things that got us there…

My gift to Jose

It’s been one year since Jose and I got married, on an island in the harbor of Toronto, in a church from 1888, by a minister with a ponytail and Birkenstocks. It was a lovely day, a small affair of only 25 close friends and family.

Unlike my first marriage, which I knew was pretty much doomed from the start, I was relaxed and happy on my second wedding day. I was marrying someone I knew well, who had nursed me through three surgeries (soon to be four.) We had already weathered the loss of jobs, the illness and deaths of loved ones, professional disappointments, (and triumphs), two recessions…

We were each marrying someone who’d already stayed the course.

Jose and I met, on-line, in March 2000, so we’ve been together almost 13 years.

I was working on a magazine piece for Mademoiselle, to compare and contrast a variety of dating sites. Back then, no one admitted to using them; as a single, lonely gal in the suburbs, with no kids, meeting men was proving sadly difficult.

Jose saw my photo and profile, with the truthful headline Catch Me If You Can, wrote me, and that was the start. Our first date was at a gorgeous, now-gone midtown French bistro, Le Madeleine. He wore a gray wool vintage coat and a bright red silk Buddhist prayer shawl as his muffler.

Oh my.

At the end of the evening, he took off the shawl, warm and fragrant with 1881, his cologne, and wrapped me in it.


Are you sure?

A few things we’ve since learned along the way:

— Don’t be afraid to be yourself, even on your first few dates. I think some people are scared to get it wrong, and so they play it too safe, or try too hard to be…something. The right person will love you as you are. Before we met, during one of our phone conversations, he made me laugh so hard I snorted. Sexy! I thought for sure he’d cancel our first date. He loved it. Still does.

Make an effort. I see a lot of guys these days dressed and groomed like they’re going to the gym when they’re heading out on a date. Seriously? The way we present ourselves sends powerful messages to people who don’t yet know much about us.

— As you get to know one another, see how s/he handles a disaster or two: the car breaks down, you get caught in a snowstorm, the kid and/or dog gets sick. How they handle stress and crisis will tell you a lot about whether you want them around long-term. When my mother was found to have a very large brain tumor (she’s fine), he didn’t hesitate to fly across the country with me to help sort out her house/dog/diagnosis. And because I was broke, he paid for it.

Fights won’t necessarily kill a new/growing relationship. They might even save it. It took many years before Jose finally understood that just because we had a loud disagreement didn’t mean I hated him. It just meant I was really pissed off. We’re both stubborn as hell, so we were bound to disagree. I learned that he’s blessedly quick to forgive and won’t bail when things get heated.

— When you fight, look beneath the words. Every fight has an underlying driver, often unspoken, often not even well understood, like surtitles at the opera. There’s always a meta-fight behind what’s actually being said. Sometimes your emotional ghosts are really the target, not one another.

Your relationships needs protection. It took many years before my father and Jose got along. Both are proud, prickly high achievers. Until my mother and I just gave up on one another last year, her neediness often drained us emotionally and financially. Sometimes distancing yourself from family is the wiser choice to nurture one another instead.

Laugh long, loud and often. We speak a few times a day, even with his six daily meetings and our laughter heals a lot of stress. Knowing your partner is going to lighten your day means you’ll keep turning to them first.

Hold hands often. Same for kissing. Jose and I smooch (discreetly) when I drop him off at the train station to head to work. The local cabbies waiting there, most of them fellow Hispanics, get a kick out of it.

— Say thank you often. Say please. Tidy up after yourself. Buy her flowers and him a gorgeous new shirt, or vice versa, for no apparent reason. Delight your sweetie whenever possible.

Listen to them attentively. Turn off the TV, tech and other distractions. Look your sweetie in the eye. Give them the precious gift of your full and undivided attention. It’s so rare these days.

Take good care of them. Bring an umbrella. Pick up their dry-cleaning. Drive them to the doctor’s office even if they say it’s OK not to. Make them lovely meals.

Share values, not preferences. My first husband and I liked the same sorts of music, food, books. We loved to travel. On the surface, we looked like a good match. We weren’t. If you don’t share basic moral, spiritual and ethical values, (spending versus saving, a strong work ethic, loyalty to friends, whatever), your odds of long-term success aren’t great.

— Aretha Franklin sang it, baby. R-E-S-P-E-C-T! The day you stop seeing your spouse as someone worthy of respect, yours and others’, is the day your marriage is in trouble. Define what matters most to you and stick to it. Diana Vreeland, in her wonderful autobiography “DV”,  said she always stood up a little straighter when her husband entered the room, even after decades together.

Brag about them. We don’t have kids, so whatever family pride we share is in one another’s achievements and talents. Jose and I tend to be pretty modest, so I have to be the one (brag alert!) to tell people he has a Pulitzer and has photographed three Presidents. I’m flattered when he tells people nice things about me.

Help them grow. Whenever I get wobbly and lose confidence and am scared to take a risk, Jose says, “Now is not the time to be Canadian!” His grandfather, who fled Mexico and started a chile powder company (still going) in Topeka, Kansas, was a tough old dude. “Pedro up, man!” I tell him.

We’re always still three or five or fifteen, sometimes all on the same day. No matter your chronological age, our inner child still needs a hug, reassurance or the freedom to just play. Being a responsible adult all the time is exhausting!

You will face sexual dry spells, sometimes for a lot longer than any magazine or media vision of marriage dares suggest. It’s normal for many people, but if you look at how sex is publicly portrayed/ discussed, you’d think we were all-rabbits-all-the-time. Nope! Injury, illness, surgery and recovery, depression, job loss, death of a loved one (let alone small kids!) and the Big M of menopause will all likely conspire to remove sexual intimacy from your life. Which is why affection, respect and paying attention in every other way will, ideally, steer you through those shoals.

— Reading wise self-help books, like this one, and a great, tough marriage therapist can really help. There were a few times we were really ready to give up. Marc, our marriage therapist, told us at our first meeting: “You each own 50 percent of any problem. If not, we’re not going to work well together.”  He was really expensive, but paying so much for someone we liked and trusted sure focused our attention on getting on with it.

A gorgeous fall day on Centre Island, Toronto. Newlywed!

What’s keeping your love relationship or marriage in terrific shape?

51 thoughts on “It’s our anniversary! Here are 18 things that got us there…

  1. Nemesis

    I am so going to ‘sport’ you two a holiday in Canada’s very own VineyardThemePark – better known as the HillBillyRiviera [you may quote me].

    You ha me at, …”Unlike my first marriage, which I knew was pretty much doomed from the start…”…

    WellDone! The partnership, of course – we’re not talking BBQ here.

    1. Nemesis

      PS – I eschew “discreet smooching”. I prefer flagrant PDA… albeit, normally only when easily embarrassed adolescents are within view.

      Otherwise I strive for decorum. Well… Mostly. TeeHee!

  2. WOWOWOW! Congrats or, since it is new year’s, mazel tov! I met my Bill online in 1999, at a time, too, when no one would admit to meeting someone online. But I was 50 and had taken every astronomy class, joined every hiking club, etc. Meshing our messy lives hasn’t been easy. But he’s part of my DNA now and I not only can’t imagine life without him, but I’m so grateful to have found a real partner who shares my deepest values and whose goals and life purposes are aligned with mine. Now if I could just get him to pick his socks off the floor. . . 🙂

  3. Congratulations! My brother and his wife met online in ’99. I still plod along, hopping on and off online dating, now and then. Another success story helps to bolster my hope. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I was single from 1994 to 2000 after my divorce. It was wearying dating, that’s for sure. I think the older we get, the less BS we’re willing to put up with, and there’s a lot of it out there. Hang in there! 🙂

      1. This post keeps surfacing in my mind. I really enjoyed reading it– it’s a serious topic, really, but you made it fun, lighthearted and uplifting; it gives me hope plus a lot of good ideas! Just imho, but I think it could make a wonderful book. You could expand each point and add more of your stories… ~ Lily

  4. Andrea Perez

    Hello Caitlin. First of all, have a wonderful anniversary.
    This is your cousin (second, third – whatever) Andrea, daughter of Pam. She was over for dinner tonight and we started talking about family, which led to an interesting discussion and the inevitable Googling. I loved the blog post about Louis Stumer and have been trying to find more information about the Stumer men.
    I ordered your new book from Amazon, which I’m sure my daughter and I will enjoy, as we both did retail stints (mine during college and hers, right after).
    I look forward to reading your blog in the future.

    1. Welcome! Please email me as well…would love to catch up in much more detail! My email is on the welcome or about page…or findable at my website,

      I was in Chicago in November last year and went to visit the North American Building.

  5. heysheila

    Happy Anniversary! My husband and I just celebrated our one year anniversary as well. We met while he was on vacation. After he went home {2,000 miles} we talked on the phone/texted or emailed everyday. The time we spent apart made us appreciate the time we get to spend together now even more.
    I love all of your advice. We do some of the things you mentioned, and I’ll be adding a few from your list. Thanks!

  6. Happy anniversary! Love all the advice (especially the inner child bit, as mine frequently lurks near the surface). I think the best romantic relationships are ones where you make an effort to stay friends. Layer the romance on top by all means, but make sure you keep your friendship solid.

  7. Miss Molly

    Happy Anniversary! So true, all of your 18 “things”… now that I have a second chance at love, these are some of the very things we also practice, regularly. I LOVE being able to show my affection for my guy publicly. He is wonderful and I love so much of who he is, inside and out. Finally feel like I’ve done it right this time…

    Congratulations and many more!!!

    1. A second chance makes it all the more precious. I wondered if or when I’d ever find someone again to marry. I didn’t enjoy dating at all and the best marriage, for me, is one that also allows me a lot of independence, as this one does.

  8. Happy Anniversary! Here’s to many more years together of health, happiness, and hilarity!

    I like to buy flowers for my man – sometimes in recognition of all his superhero badassery, sometimes because he is a beautiful man who makes my knees quiver, and sometimes just because! And hey, when I really get a good laugh on, I am snort machine. Embrace the snort!

    Lovely post!

    1. Very kind of you…And so true.

      No one wants a whiner/negative/nag to come home to, even if we all have lousy days, weeks or even months. One of the qualities I most admire in Jose is his optimism and good nature. We both have tempers, but life is short and so much easier when you can count on someone to see the glass as half-full.

      Me, I’m a “glass? what glass?” person on my bad days…

      1. That’s so true – we all have different situations that we deal with on a daily basis that create stress, the last thing we need is to come home to more of it. I really love that advice and I think it is a wonderful thing for couples to strive towards.

      2. You know you sometimes meet a person who says something REALLY wise that stays with you…

        A woman I knew very briefly years ago said…you’ll have X years together with this man. They can be good years or they can be bad years. It’s up to to choose. Life is way too short to waste it in misery and arguing. If you’re really that unhappy, fix it or leave. If you’re happy, celebrate it!

  9. Happy anniversary! I was curious when I read this lovely post, and you may have shared it before or perhaps you choose not to say, but what made you decide to marry after being together for so long?

    I love your last wedding photo. You look gorgeous and very happy.

    My husband John and I met online in January 2008 and our 4th wedding anniversary will be in February.

    Friendship and compassion are key for me in keeping my love relationship in shape. In addition to loving John like I do, I really like him too. Plus, he still makes my heart beat fast when I see him walking across the village green or looking at me from the other side of room. I smile inside when he’s nearby and I feel respected and well-loved everyday.

  10. The answer is sadly practical in some ways…Jose had kidney stones that summer and until we got the diagnosis we were terrified it was something much worse. And I faced my hip replacement this Feb….many friends suggested, for insurance, pension and other reasons, we should really tie the knot. So he jokes that kidney stones propelled me down the aisle.

    I love that you, too, found a great hubby later in life. So many women our age just give up or think they have to. John looks/sounds like a real catch! 🙂

    Jose still breaks into a smile when he sees me…as I do as well. I think that marrying later in life (when you have lost friends and family and loved ones to premature death; we lost 12 people in two years) makes it so much clearer that we’re lucky as hell to have someone we like/love and who likes/loves us. I never ever take this for granted.

    I am really fortunate that Jose and I still feel, and share, a deep passion for our profession. That helps as welll.

  11. 🙂 This made me happy. My Husband and I have been close friends for 15 years. Between the two of us, we’ve suffered through heartache, breakups, and divorce. He was my rock whenever my current relationships were falling apart and I was his whenever his ex-wife was back and forth with what she wanted from their relationship. Finally, one day, he called me while I was at work and told me that he was tired of letting this chance pass him by, and that all he ever wanted was me. Plain and simple. BEST decision of my life!
    When so many friends are going through breakups and divorce around us, it makes me so thankful to know that I found something rare, that many other people take for granted. Congrats to the both of you! ❤

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s