19 years together — 19 reasons why

By Caitlin Kelly

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It was a chilly March evening when I first met my husband Jose at a long-gone French bistro, Le Madeleine, a midtown New York Times hangout — since he was then working there as a photo editor.

I’d been divorced since 1995, after a miserable two-year marriage, and seven years together, to an American physician I met when he was in his final year of med school at McGill in Montreal. We had no children and I didn’t want any.

I’d since been dating men I met through crewing on sailboats or online, with mixed success. One shattered my heart. One proposed at a Benihana. One wanted me to move with him to Houston.

I was writing an article about the then new world of online dating, one most people were too embarrassed to admit to needing. I did, and signed up to compare four services for Mademoiselle magazine.

Jose answered my ad — one of more than 200!




Here’s how we’ve made it through 19 years:


PEPSI. Not the soft drink, but a helpful acronym when dating to determine potential longterm compatibility: professional, emotional, physical, spiritual and intellectual. You don’t have to hit all five, but it’s a useful way to analyze an attraction.

— Shared professional ambitions. We’re both driven, successful, award-winning journalists.

Shared goals. We want to be as financially secure as possible, so save as much as we can. I’m more of a saver, but he’s the one who knows when it’s time to throw out 30-year-old kitchenware or to book a vacation.

— Shared work ethic. Huge. I see smart, hard-working women who put up with lazy men unable or unwilling to get shit done. Get a job! Keep the job! Clean the damn toilet!

It’s not a competition. Journalism is a brutally competitive business and it has been hard for me, at times, to earn barely a third of his Times salary. But now we’re both full-time freelance, hustling hard every month to find and keep clients, and whatever we win, we win and celebrate together.

— Lots of laughter. He doesn’t strike people as hilarious but he is. We laugh together every day.

— He cleans up well. Sue me. I really appreciate a man who smells great, (1881 cologne on our first date; swoon!), is well-groomed, whose trousers are the right length, who knows how to rock a vintage trenchcoat.

— He comes to church with me. I’m not a devout Christian by any stretch, but he’s the son of a Baptist minister, aka a PK (preacher’s kid.) He knows that having a spiritual life can be really helpful to life and to a strong marriage.

— I appreciate his Buddhism. I’ve met his lama, Surya Das, and members of his sangha, and we did a week-long silent Buddhist retreat the summer before we married.




— Mutual respect. We say please and thank you all the time, for the simplest things, like taking out the garbage or buying groceries, all the tedious admin. of life. When we’re both working at home, in a one-bedroom with no office, we know to ask: “Can I talk to you?” in case we’re interrupting.

— Yes, we’ve fought. We fought hard and mean for the first few years, so much so that various couples counselors warned us to chill out or we would surely destroy what good we had. It took us a long time to settle down and trust one another, after our own bad/brief marriages, and after years of professional stress and emotional betrayals.

Travel.  A major source of shared pleasure. We’ve been to Paris many times, to Ireland and Mexico and Ontario and Quebec and British Columbia and D.C. and to his hometown, Santa Fe, and much of New Mexico.

— Calm. On 9/11, Jose was supposed to move from Brooklyn into my apartment some 30 miles north. Not that day! Instead, he helped the Times win its Pulitzer for photo editing those images. He does not freak out.

— Resilience. We’re both strong people and resilient. We don’t whine. We don’t indulge one another in pity parties. Shit happens and we deal with it. He accompanied me to every cancer-related appointment, sitting in the room with me and the doctor. He does not crack or flee.

— Food. We do love to cook and eat and eat out and eat well. Sometimes it seems this is what we talk about most, (except news.)

— Asking for help. We’ve done couples counseling and it’s helped. No marriage is going to be 100% conflict-free. Individual therapy also helps sort out whose demons are whose.

— Forgiveness. A cliche, but a powerful element. We’ve done and said hurtful things and, no doubt, may do more, although much less often than we once did. When you (re)marry at mid-life, you can arrive with a fair bit of baggage.

— Accepting our very real differences. He craves security and routine, preferring the known and familiar. I long for novelty and new experiences. I’m a prog-rock girl and he grew up loving heavy metal. I’m more social, but we both love to entertain at home.

— Knowing our time together  is always limited. My breast cancer diagnosis and his 2018 new use of insulin were a wake-up call to our mortality and fragility. We try not to waste a minute.


He’s just great company! Also, the most loving and giving person I’ve ever met.


34 thoughts on “19 years together — 19 reasons why

  1. Congratulations to you and Jose on your 19 years together, Caitlin. My wife and I have been together 19 years as well this coming July. It’s obvious from this post and others of yours that I’ve read, that the attraction and respect you and Jose have for each other is mutual. I especially loved your last point on knowing that your time together is limited … that’s one of the values that my wife and I definitely bring to our relationship as well, especially since her very personal fight with breast cancer 6 years ago now. Your post is a fitting tribute to your relationship. Congratulations to the two of you, and here’s to 19 more years together … for you and for us …

  2. all so good and i love your ‘pepsi’ guideline. and i especially love the last line of your post. happy valentine’s day to both of you and here’s to many more –

      1. I liked Genesis back when Peter Gabriel was in the group, but not as much as Rush. Still I am glad we are both around to give our support. as it would be a poorer world without them.

  3. Jan Jasper

    Caitlin, What a fantastic essay! I had not realized that you and Jose used to fight so much. I’m so glad, for both of you, that you had couples counseling – which I’m inferring was effective. Some couples counselors are incompetent. I’m saying it here to warn others that if a couple needs help and seeks counseling, they have to find out if the counselor was properly trained. It requires specific training to do couples work – it’s quite different than individual therapy. Legally, any licensed therapist can call themselves a couples/marriage counselor. Yes, it’s legal – but it’s unethical. The end of my last relationship was triggered, I believe, by an incompetent “couples” counselor. Anyhow, I’m so happy that you and Jose found each other, and that you’re willing to share what you’ve learned with your readers!

  4. Jan Jasper

    Caitlin, What a fantastic essay! I had not realized that you and Jose used to fight so much. I’m so glad that you had couples counseling – which I’m inferring was effective? Some couples counselors are incompetent. It requires specific training to do couples work – it’s quite different than individual therapy. Legally, any licensed therapist can call themselves a couples/marriage counselor. It’s legal, but unethical. The end of my last relationship was triggered by an incompetent “couples” counselor. Anyhow, I’m so happy that you and Jose found each other, and that you’re willing to share what you’ve learned with your readers.

    1. We went to a few. The toughest one started by saying “you each own 50% of the problem.” It was a useful place to try and wrestle some demons. I think it took a while for me to feel I could trust him — my first husband walked out after 2 years of marriage. I also grew up in a family with a lot of conflict and he did not, so it’s been an adjustment for both of us.

      Thanks for the kind words.

  5. Congratulations! 🙂

    Your J sounds a lot like my M. M and I have a wonderful relationship of almost 8 years and have been married for six. We love each other and each others’ company, but have also had fights and disagreements. We have worked through them. My family background and previous divorce weren’t helpful either.

    A great piece, Caitlin. A good relationship depends on many working parts that sometimes need some work.

  6. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Thursday links | A Bit More Detail

  7. Hi there!

    My name is Erin, and I had the pleasure to work/meet Jose at the US Open this year.

    He told me a lot of the stories mentioned here…how you met, 9/11, your nuptials….

    Not only is your husband an award-winning photo editor, but he’s a damn good story teller as well.

    It was an absolute pleasure to read your sides of the story, and an honest perspective.

    Happy Valentine’s to you both!



    (a fellow red-headed journalist)

  8. First off, thank God you didn’t marry the bloke who proposed in Benihana! Sheesh. I love this list. “Cleans up well” is huge. A man that smells good makes me swoon. And the mutual respect gives you both the safety I think many couples lack over time. And I’ll say it yet again, I love the photo from your wedding. Such joy.

    1. Yeah, Benihana guy wasn’t a good fit. I keep buying Jose lovely cologne, which helps.

      That wedding day was a lot of fun. A very small wooden church on an island in the harbor of Toronto, 25 close friends.

  9. This was a lovely read! Yours and Jose’s partnership sounds perfect – despite difficulties, love is strong enough to overcome them. I read something recently, in the abundance of Valentine’s Day articles, which pointed out that true love takes work. Once the initial honeymoon stage endorphins wear off, it isn’t all sunshine and roses! Sounds like you and Jose have both put in the work to make it work! 🙂

    Also, a little update on a related theme… Around this time last year I mentioned in a comment here that I was wondering about online dating. Well, I signed up and recently met a lovely guy. It’s still early stages but I’m very happy right now! 😊

      1. Thank you! Yes, I know so many people – digitally (such as yourself) and IRL – who have met their partners/spouses/significant others online. It’s encouraging! 🙂 One of my good friends spurred me on to try it out and I’m glad I did.

        “but who wants a clone?” – exactly! I think there’s some truth in the saying that opposites attract.

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