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.