Want to find love? Make a list!

By Caitlin Kelly

If you’re still hoping to find a partner, it can feel like an exhausting and overwhelming search.

I spent my 20s dating a lot of men, but not wanting a long-term commitment from anyone, certainly not marriage. I didn’t want children and I wanted, long-term, to get to New York, a difficult thing for most Canadians.

So after I moved to Montreal, I fell in love with an American medical student from New Jersey. I was able to obtain a “green card” allowing me to live and work permanently in the U.S.

We spent seven years together, but should never have married.

I liked this piece in The New York Times’ Modern Love column:

I experienced repeated collisions of misaligned values and discovered personality traits I wanted to avoid. Dates that caused me to be versions of myself I didn’t like and cost me time that I could have spent on my couch: just me, a Vicodin and a book about sadness.

To break this cycle, I decided to track it all. Make sense of the patterns and change them.

Cue the Trello board. As of today, the board has six stages and eight traits. It’s similar to the business development process of a salesperson, with each stage representing a step toward a successful deal and each trait representing a characteristic that is more likely to lead to success.

The stages are: To Vet, Vetting, Vetted, Scheduling, Scheduled and Dating. Each person is represented by a Trello card — a kind of digital sticky note.

Before I go on a date with anyone, his card progresses from left to right, passing through these stages until we’re dating. If we never get that far, I archive his card, in which case an archived card is all he will ever be.

I evaluate my potential dates based on eight traits. Five of those traits I try to learn about before the date. The remaining three I think about after the date.

Before the first date, I try to determine the following: Does he make me laugh via text? Does he live in L.A.? Does he like his job? Is he down to go backpacking? Will he get on the phone?

Years ago, after my miserable two-year marriage — he walked out barely two years to the date of our marriage, and remarried a colleague within the year — I found the acronym PEPSI, and used it think more seriously about compatibility with potential partners.

I stayed divorced and single for six years.

I had a few marriage proposals, one very serious.

But I didn’t want them, from those people, one from a man I had had a huge crush on in my 20s after I profiled him for a Toronto magazine. Oddly, later, we dated seriously for about six months, but there was a large age difference — that didn’t bother me at 24 but did at 39.

I did want to re-marry, even though my first husband was unfaithful, which broke my heart.

I have spent a lot of my life alone and, while I’m pretty independent, I much prefer having someone loyal and loving to share my life with.

I knew a few women like me who kept striking out and finally made a list of what they most wanted in a partner.

Everyone thinks: cute, smart, rich.

After a few decades in the trenches it’s a lot more like: funny, smart, kind, flexible, accomplished.

I wanted a unicorn — someone virtually impossible to find in New York City — a man who was both highly accomplished but also modest about it.

Someone able to be deeply serious and responsible about the matters of adult life (bills, savings, health issues) but able to laugh a lot.

Someone generous emotionally, able to easily express affection, something I struggle with.

I found Jose online while writing about online dating for a women’s magazine.

We would never have met otherwise — even though we had people who knew us both.

This was then part of my thinking if I met a man who seemed interesting.

So, how compatible, really, were we?

Hence PEPSI:

P for Professional

E for Emotional

P for Physical Attraction

S for Spiritual

I for Intellectual

There were some serious doubts on both parts.

P met the bill, both of them.

E…well, two very stubborn people!

He felt I wasn’t nearly spiritual enough for him, a devout Buddhist. I told him that seemed mighty judgmental.

I feared he wasn’t intellectual enough.

Yet here are, 21 years later!

Some of the qualities I think essential in a life partner include a phenomenal work ethic, a spirit of generosity for himself and others, awareness of the world and how it works (and doesn’t), a commitment to making others happier.

Resilience is huge. We’ve been through a lot of stuff — deep family conflicts, his turning full-time freelance, his diabetes diagnosis, my breast cancer. I wanted someone with a spine and a heart!

We each arrive to the quest with our own specific deficits and needs, our strengths and weaknesses.

But knowing who we are and what we value most is a good start.

Commitment is key.

21 years together. 21 reasons why

By Caitlin Kelly

Hard to believe it’s been this long!

When we met, I was then six years divorced from my first husband, a psychiatrist I’d met in Montreal when I was a newspaper reporter and he was finishing med school at McGill. Our two-year marriage was miserable and he’d simply walked out.

I was lonely and isolated in the suburbs of New York, where all people do is work and raise kids.

I’d had a few boyfriends, one who broke my heart (after making me laugh harder for our six months together than anyone ever had), one a ship’s engineer, one a tech whiz, one an architect. It had not been dull.

Then, thanks to writing a magazine story about online dating, (he saw and answered my profile, which read “Catch Me If You Can”) Jose and I met for dinner at Le Madeleine, a midtown Manhattan French bistro, in early March. We had emailed and spoken by phone. He looked great. I wore a turtleneck and a blazer, typical WASP wear.

He ended the evening with a flourish — taking off his red silk Buddhist prayer shawl, scented with 1881, (a gorgeous cologne), wrapping me in it and sending me home on the commuter train.

DONE.

His move-in day to my apartment was….9/11. He arrived a week later, (and the Pulitzer prize the Times won for photo editing [that he worked on]) that day is a lovely part of our home.

We finally married in September 2011 in a historic church on Centre island in Toronto’s harbor.

Here are 21 reasons we’re still together, laughing, hoping for 21 more:

He’s funny as hell. You wouldn’t think so, from a former New York Times photographer and photo editor, working in a fairly stuffy stiff environment. We laugh almost daily.

He smells good. That cologne! I’ve since kept him in other classic fragrances like his favorite Grey Flannel, Dior’s Eau Sauvage and Hermes Rocabar.

I love his style. Classic. I did get him out of pleats. My father is a super-elegant guy who cleans up well. So does Jose.

He somehow tolerates my weird family. It’s just not a Hallmark card, that’s for sure. His patience with them far exceeds mine.

But he has also stood up for me against them, when necessary.

He’s seen me through five surgeries. Not fun! Always calm.

He’s seen me through (early stage) breast cancer. There was a lot of crying until we learned it was contained and gone.

He has good ideas about how better to do my writing work.

His photo! This was the first time we ever worked on a story together. So fun!

He has good ideas about his photography and photo editing work.

His work ethic is insane.

Jose in Bosnia, Christmas 1995, on assignment for the Times.

He hugs a lot.

He says I love you often.

I see the world differently through the eyes of an American who is Hispanic. This has taught me a lot.

He had a loving, calm childhood, which informs our marriage. Mine was not often that.

We were younger and I was a lot thinner! Yes, this is the Oval Office, where he often worked as a NYT White House Press Corps photographer.

We plan our next meal before we’re done with the current one. We do love great food!

He brings me breakfast in bed.

His Buddhism, and basic personality, keeps him calm and generally very un-flappable.

New Mexico — his roots!

He’s optimistic.

He still surprises me, in good ways.

We’ve both had to do plenty of apologizing and forgiving. That’s new for me, coming from a family that didn’t do much of it, at all.

We love to travel together, near and far — so far to Mexico, Paris, Canada, his native New Mexico, Ireland, Arizona, D.C.

What’s nice is that I could probably double the length of this list.

We did have a very tough few years at first — we were, when we met, two very stubborn, driven mid-career journalists; both long divorced; in some ways very very different personalities (he’s the detail guy. Me, not so much.)

We initially fought a lot and we both have tempers and a stock of harsh words.

So we had to calm the hell down.

And we have.

20 years together — how we do it

 

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Jose on assignment in Bosnia for The New York Times, December 1995

 

By Caitlin Kelly

He was a staff photo editor at The New York Times, living in Brooklyn, long divorced, with no kids.

I was a freelance writer living in a New York suburb, divorced with no kids.

Online dating was still new and weird and no one was really admitting they needed it, but I did. Even after years living in New York, I had a small social circle and wanted to find a new partner — so it was really my only way to do so.

I pitched a story about this to Mademoiselle, a women’s magazine, and they agreed. My online profile headline, truthfully, read Catch Me If You Can.

Even though Jose and I actually knew a Times sports editor in common, we would never otherwise have met, between his grueling work schedule and physical distance from my home.

 

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Jose shooting the judging of the Pulitzer Prizes at Columbia University  — his idea!

 

Our first date was in March 2000 at Le Madeleine, a midtown French bistro in the west 40s. He arrived wearing a bright red silk Buddhist prayer shawl as a muffler. Of course!

And that was it…

He moved north into my apartment in 2001 — his original moving day (no joke) was 9/11, for which the Times would win a Pulitzer for team photo editing.

 

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My final day of radiation, November 2015.

 

In the 20 years since, we’ve been through quite a bit, including:

2 knee surgeries, a shoulder surgery and left hip replacement for me in 2012; his Times buyout in 2015, propelling him into a wholly new world of freelance work; the death of several friends and colleagues; my mother’s recent, sudden death; the work and publishing of my two books and his diabetes diagnosis and mine for early stage breast cancer — both in June 2018.

 

5th-anniversary

Toronto, September 2011

What works?

 

Laughter, lots of it!

Mutual respect

Shared goals and values

History — what we’ve already successfully survived

Optimism, always much more his than mine

A shared passion for producing great journalism

A shared skill of taking terrific photos, mine more art-y, his more news-y

A sense of perspective — if we’re vertical and breathing, that’s a good day

A home we’ve worked hard to make beautiful and welcoming, safe and tidy

We each bring a serious work ethic

A love of luxury — a great bottle of wine, a visit to Paris

Understanding (finally) that two bossy, determined, competitive career journalists will have some conflicts

Knowing that some conflict, unless chronic, is normal

Endless curiosity about the world and how it works

A wide global network of people who value us, personally and professionally

Staying as calm as possible through scary times

 

As we all muddle our way through the current global crisis of COVID-19, I’m grateful as hell to have his comfort and companionship.

I hope you, too, have someone as loving and reliable to help you through this terrible moment.

 

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!

 

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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.

 

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— 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.

Bonus:

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

 

18 years together — 18 lessons learned

By Caitlin Kelly

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My husband, Jose

 

We met — how better for two career journalists? — thanks to a magazine assignment.

I was writing for a women’s magazine about what was then an exotic, little-discussed way to meet someone, called Internet dating. Long before Tinder or Bumble, it was  considered sad and declassé, something you might do if desperately lonely but definitely not cool.

I got 200 replies to my on-line profile from around the world — with the truthful headline “Catch Me If You Can.”

I stopped reading after 50.

Luckily for both of us, my husband Jose was in the top 50.

I had hoped to find, for my second husband, someone modest but accomplished, a world traveler, someone with a strong spiritual life, if not religious. Someone funny, smart, goodhearted.

And handsome would be nice.

Bingo!

He is, like me, an accomplished career journalist — a photographer and photo editor for The New York Times for 31 years, who covered three Presidents, two Olympics, multiple Superbowls and the end of the Bosnian war, sleeping for six weeks in an unheated shipping container in December.

 

5th-anniversary

Sept. 17, 2011, Toronto

 

We met for our first dinner in midtown Manhattan on a cold March evening, and he wore a red silk Buddhist prayer shawl (his practice) as a muffler.

At the end of a long and lovely evening, he wrapped me up in it, warm and scented with his fragrance, a classic scent called 1881.

That was it, kids.

Eighteen years later (!), here we are.

 

18 things I’ve learned:

 

1. Everyone carries some emotional baggage. If you’re lucky, maybe a duffel and a carry-on, so to speak, and not 20 enormous unpacked trunks. But we all bring it with us.

2. Which is why humility is essential to sustaining an intimate relationship. No one, anywhere, is “perfect.” If you think they are, you’re deluded. If you think you are, get a grip on your inflated ego.

3. Affordable access to a good therapist can be the best investment you’ll ever make, for yourself and your partner/spouse. Until you can safely unpack, name and number your personal demons, they can destroy your life and that of anyone trying to love you. This includes addictions.

4. If you find yourself — as we both did on separate occasions — shouting at your sweetie in a blind rage, allow for the possibility you’re shouting at a ghost, at someone from your past who’s still living inside your head. Yes, of course, we can get angry at the people we love, but this is different. Sometimes it’s not about you at all.

5. It can take a long, long, long time to trust another person, and that might have nothing to do with you or how much they love you. I’m forever moved by this verse of this song by John Mayer…

I know a girl
She puts the color inside of my world
But, she’s just like a maze
Where all of the walls all continually change
And I’ve done all I can
To stand on her steps with my heart in my hand
Now I’m starting to see
Maybe It’s got nothing to do with me

6. So don’t ever try to force or rush physical or emotional intimacy with someone you love. Let them feel safe with you and relax. Some of us had scarring childhoods and need a lot more time than you think we should or you expect or makes you feel comfortable. True love is not all about you.

7. If your sweetie never laughs, why not? If you never laugh with them, what’s up? Laughter is a daily constant with us, and deeply healing. Depression is also real.

 

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8. Bad shit is going to happen to you both, no matter how thin/pretty/hard-working/wealthy you are. Parents will get sick and die. Friends will get sick and die. We will suffer illness and injury, surgeries and recovery. We’ll lose jobs and face periods of unemployment. Your partner must have strength of character for your relationship to endure without resentment. You, and they, will have to step up and be a damn adult, many times, no matter how painful or expensive.

9. Which is why, if you’re choosing a life partner, pay very careful attention to their values, ethics and principles — in action. Words are meaningless without consistent follow-through. Choose someone with a strong work ethic or you’ll forever be broke and anxious, pulling their weight and pissed at their entitled laziness.

10. Go for long walks, whatever the weather. Alone, to think. With them, for company.

11. Put down your damn phone.

12. Talk to your sweetie every day for 30 to 60 minutes, (even in 10-minute bits!), uninterrupted by children or work or outside forces. Make them your entire focus when you do, because undivided attention is the greatest gift we can offer someone we love.

 

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13. Take time every day to nurture yourself, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and physically. Don’t rely on someone to be your “everything.”

14. Have deep, sustaining friendships beyond your dyad, (but protect it fiercely.) If you fear someone’s about to poach, (hence my second marriage), pay attention.

15. Make sure you both have wills, beneficiary statements, advance directives and health care proxy paperwork signed. You never know when you might suddenly need to use them.

16. Create a document, updated every 6 months and printed out, with your every PIN and password and emergency contacts. Include your medical record and the medications you take so your sweetie can easily take charge, should you be incapacitated or die.

17. Celebrate the hell out of your partner’s every success, no matter how small it may feel or seem. Few of us will win an Oscar or ever make the big bucks. Small wins matter too.

18. Savor every minute you’re given with a loving spouse or partner. Too many will leave us far too soon.

 

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