18 years together — 18 lessons learned

By Caitlin Kelly


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.


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.



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.




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.




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.



It’s V-Day! 14 Years in, 14 reasons my marriage (whew!) still thrives

By Caitlin Kelly


The image is our wedding, in September, 2011, late afternoon, in a small wooden church on an island in Toronto’s harbor.

We met in March 2000, online, and after our first date at a lovely French bistro in midtown Manhattan, that was it.

We couldn’t really be more different. Jose — an American, the cherished only son of a small-town Baptist minister, loves routine, security and familiarity. I — Canadian, the oldest child of a film-maker father and journalist mother, globe-trotters both — live for adventure, new experiences and spontaneity.

But we’re still delighted to have found one another.

Here are 14 reasons why:

We laugh our asses off

People look at us on the commuter train, where everyone else is quietly reading the paper, or snoozing, or texting. What’s so funny? Anything, really.

We talk to one another, every day, a lot

His workday — as a photo editor for The New York Times — is crazy-hectic, with six scheduled meetings every single day. He juggles assignments for photographers, staff and freelance, literally across the world, and speaks to dozens of editors and reporters. Sometimes he’s even emailing at 3 a.m. to a guy in China or India. But we chat, even for a minute or two, several times every day. I want to hear his voice, share a triumph and connect. When we’re home, our computers are (mostly) off and we eat our dinner by candle-light and catch up. Studies have found that the average couple speaks very little during most days. I find that really sad.

We have very different interests

I’m a culture vulture, forever seeing museum and gallery shows, theater and dance, coming home from the library with a pile of books. He’s a devout Buddhist who meditates every morning and reads his texts. But we have enough overlap and mutual curiosity about one another’s interests.

We share a ferocious work ethic

God, that man works hard! So do I. As I write this, it’s another major blizzard here in New York and he’s working from home. We attach to our computers and phones and go. He’s seen my freelance workday up close, and knows how intense and focused it is. We are both career journalists who started selling our work to national outlets while we were college undergrads. We enjoy our work and know why it still matters, to us and to the larger world.

We have one another’s backs

He has verbally taken both of my parents to the woodshed when needed, hotly defending my needs and concerns when I just couldn’t seem to do it myself. I’ve done the same for him with neighbors or anyone, anywhere, who disrespects him. He is Hispanic and has been mistaken for a manual laborer, when wearing his casual clothes. The man has a Pulitzer prize. I tell people that. He tells them about my accomplishments. We are absolutely one another’s best advocates.

We both have spiritual lives, individual and shared

He is a devout Buddhist, who had an altar and prayer flags hanging in his Brooklyn apartment when we met. I’ve been attending a local Episcopal church since 1998. We’ve attended one another’s services and appreciate and respect our individual traditions and choices. I’ve seen, and been touched by, how connected he is to his guru, Lama Surya Das, now a friend of ours, and we’ve invited our church ministers home for dinner.

We treasure our friendships

I love his loyalty to friends. We keep our friends close, even when they live many miles distant.

We take care of one another

After my left hip replacement, in February 2012, Jose took three weeks’ vacation time to stay home and nurse me. He made an enormous list of all my pills and exercise schedule and stuck it on the wall. He cleaned my wound, all 12 staples of it. I make our home as clean and attractive as possible: candles, fresh flowers, pretty linens, a beautiful table for mealtimes. I make us delicious meals, when I can muster the energy. I even brush and polish his shoes, much to his embarrassment. It’s just care. It’s what a good marriage is about.

We’re not scared to have a (loud, scary) argument

This was a big step for us. We fought like crazy for years when we met: stubborn, mid-life, long divorced, battling for recognition and respect in a dying and difficult industry. It’s not easy to allow someone new into your life after you’ve already had a few decades of one. He also grew up in a family that never (visibly) argued. It’s almost all mine did. That was an adjustment.

When we do, we know it doesn’t mean the end

That was another big step. For a variety of reasons, I’m a little (OK, a lot) freaked out by possible abandonment. He never once stomped away in silence or shut me out for days or weeks, as some men might. While we were dating, we both left one another’s homes in fury but we also made up the next day, after we’d cooled down. Just because we fight sometimes doesn’t mean we don’t love one another deeply.

We save a lot of money for our (we hope!) shared future

I save 15 percent, which I hate. He saves 10 percent. I want a comfortable retirement. The only way toward that is saving a shitload of money.

We play together

We love to play games — golf, Scrabble, Bananagrams, gin rummy.

We both survived lousy first marriages and want this to be our last

Once you’ve tasted the bitter fruits of a nasty marriage and even nastier divorce, marriage can terrify you. It scars you and scares you. It’s expensive and miserable and confidence-shaking. Why even bother doing it again? My maternal grand-mother married six times — maybe eight — we lose track. My parents’ marriage busted up when I was seven and my mother never re-married or even lived with another man. You have to really want to be married and do the work it takes to stick around.

We know we have a lovely thing going, and tell one another this often

We both say thank-you a lot, and mean it. I never take him for granted. Life is too short to waste it being horrible to the person you have taken vows with.

How about you?

How’s your love life these days?

How To Win My Heart

Early 20th century Valentine's Day card, showi...
Image via Wikipedia

And, so to Valentine’s Day…

Having loved and lost and loved again — now in the 11th year with my sweetie — here’s how he won my heart, and continues to.

I suspect many of these are on your wish list as well:

Be loyal. If someone disses me, especially in front of others, remind them, however gently, that their concerns are best addressed directly to me.

Be fair. If you know I’ve been doing all the housework and you’ve been doing none, man up and grab that toilet bowl brush!

Listen carefully. Do not blow me off with “I hear you.” Focus your undivided attention on me for at least 30 minutes every day and you will learn who I am and where I’m going and whether I still want you with me on that journey.

Make me laugh. I can handle a  ton o’ stress as long as I can laugh long and hard in the middle of it. A man who makes me laugh wins me every time.

Action, not words. As someone who uses words for a living, as a journalist and author, I am totally unimpressed by fair phrases and fancy promises. Heard ’em all! I’m watching and waiting for you to put those words into action. Until you do, I tend to tune out.

Take good care of yourself. Dress with care and style, smell good, trim your hair and nails. Go to the gym or court or field and sweat off your stress and frustrations. Or meditate, or pray or go fishing to savor life and slow down into pleasure and come home again happy. Watch what you eat and remember that a trim, healthy man who respects himself enough to keep strong and flexible is attractive at any age.

Be fun. What do you do for pure fun? That does not involve some tech-toy or screen or sitting still? Think of fun, spontaneous things to do or places to go or a new meal to try. Delight me, please.

Have a spiritual life. You must be very clear that we all are much more than the sum of our possessions, good looks and/or fancy job title. What are you giving back to this world of value to others?

Astonish me. My sweetie scrubbed my mother’s soiled mattress after she had been trapped in bed for days before she was rescued with a brain tumor (She is fine.) Who does that? He did. Sold!

Don’t confuse charm or personality with character. It’s a very old-fashioned word, character, but it’s what lasts long after superficial charm or a cute smile or a cool job. After the age of 40, life starts getting much tougher for most of us, as our parents sicken and die, as friends die too young and we face our our work and health challenges. A man, or woman, with character will be steadfast through it all.

Be kind. To me, yourself, to others. Pat dogs and cats in passing (unless you’re allergic or phobic.) Hug babies and kids  — everyone! Kiss people when you see them. Hold their hands, literally or figuratively, when they are scared or lonely. Compassion is one of the sexiest qualities a man can have!

And, yes, of course — we need to bring these qualities as well!

What qualities in your sweetie won your heart?

What would?

V-Day Love Tips: The NYT 'Modern Love' Editor Offers His

Happy Valentine's Day
Image by elbfoto via Flickr

What does it take to find and keep true love?

For Valentine’s Day, the editor of The New York Times‘ ‘Modern Love’ column, which runs each week in the Styles section, Daniel Jones weighs in:

You’d think by now we would have an iHeart app that takes our quivering insecurities and converts them into kilowatts that can be sold back to the power company. We don’t. I’ve been sitting in this editor’s chair for five years. Tens of thousands of strangers have told me their love stories in letters, essays, phone calls and dinner conversations. It’s not a pretty picture….

If I were Spock from “Star Trek,” I would explain that human love is a combination of three emotions or impulses: desire, vulnerability and bravery. Desire makes one feel vulnerable, which then requires one to be brave.

It’s been ten years next month since I met my sweetie. He found me on-line, after I posted a profile (Catch Me If You Can, I titled it, honestly) and a photo that had been taken professionally for a story I wrote for Family Circle in which I wore silk, pearl earrings, a blazer — not exactly my normal attire. I was writing about on-line dating for Mademoiselle, a now-defunct Conde Nast women’s magazine.

He referred to himself, in one of his initial emails, as a “Mexican/Navajo/Buddhist/Republican/golfer.”

Republican?” said my Dad.

We had our first fight before our first date when he told me he planned to wear jewelry (pinky ring? bling? gold chains?) to that date and I freaked out. Luckily, he stayed the course, encouraged that he made me laugh so hard on the phone that I (so sexy) snorted.

He was, and remains, a very different sort of person than I — super-organized to my spontaneous free-spiritedness; a hovering, nurturing Jewish mom to my frostier, hyper-independent WASP tendences; a devout Buddhist who still comes to church with me, happily walking beside me up the aisle when we are asked to bring the wine and wafers to the altar for Communion. He’s seen me through two orthopedic surgeries (so far), a brain scan (there is something in there, we have proof), family dramas that included my mom’s enormous (now safely gone) brain tumor.

I doubt he signed up for any of this –who does? It’s all romance and roses and hopes and fantasies. Then reality hits. Then, in my mind, love becomes a deliberate decision, an active verb.

It is rarely dull. I can’t stand dull. Yet, for all our unchanging volatility and tedious workaholism, we’re still addicted to French bistros, the weekend FT and one another. We still make one another laugh, usually daily, so hard I think my head will explode.

I’ve never spent a decade with anyone. Never thought it possible.

Here’s to the next one.

Roses, Chocolate, Zzzzzzzz — Some Valentine's Day Suggestions

A model displays an outfit by the lingerie bra...
Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

images If you’re thinking of celebrating Valentine’s Day — which for many, is a bah-humbug faux celebration — don’t buy red roses. (Unless   it’s your sweetie’s absolutely favorite flower and color.) The only thing worse than not getting a present, if your heart is somehow set on it, is getting the same old tired trio: roses, chocolate, lingerie.

Roses will be marked up hugely on Feb. 14, because florists know they can. Chocolate is pleasant, but fattening and lacks imagination. Lingerie is tricky — most women are wearing the wrong bra size anyway, so buying her more of the wrong thing isn’t helpful. If you can sneak a peek and be sure you’re getting the right size, look at her tastes and treat her to more of the same.

Much as it’s a lovely fantasy that she really wants hot pink Victoria’s Secret because it looks soooooo good on all those models, it may not look so hot on her or be the least bit comfortable. Even if it only stays on a few minutes, a bra also needs to feel lovely, not just some lace/wire/cantilevered torture device that makes the girls look great.

This catalog, filled with an impressive array of almost every possible iteration of lingerie, from balconettes to sports bras, landed at my door this week and there are some gorgeous things on offer; check out this one, at $50.

I chose the flower above because it’s a less predictable choice, a gerbera. A bouquet of flowers in one color, mixing textures and sizes, is a lovely option; any good florist  — get there long before V-Day — can help you steer clear of the usual picks toward more intriguing, and appealing, options like delphinium or parrot tulips or stock.

1) Think of a fun, shared experience: Tickets to an upcoming concert or show. Visit a museum together. Plan a weekend getaway. Season’s tickets to the ballet, opera or her favorite sports team.

2) If you’ve got kids and don’t have household help, how about a month’s maid service? Do it yourself or hire someone to give your partner a break.

3) Take stock of the kitchen and dining area. A gorgeous new stockpot? A pretty set of stemware? A set of new linen napkins? An espresso maker? One of my favorite gifts, dirt-cheap, is a narrow glass beaker with a metal device that froths milk and makes any coffee into cappucino, available at most kitchen stores. I also love my two little chicken-shaped kitchen timers. (Check out this site, Ballard Designs, and this one, Wisteria, for all sorts of pretty, useful homegoods. I’ve bought from both and find their items stylish and well-priced.)

4) Jewelry is a default choice and, when chosen well, a treat. But how many men really understand what their partner or wife truly loves? Take a good look at the sizes, colors, styles and scale of her usual choices: silver? costume? Deco? Does she prefer necklaces or earrings? Check out EBay or local antique shops for vintage, antique or estate jewelry, a nice change from the usual mall offerings. For a woman who likes bold, strong designs, look for items from the 1930s or 1940s; more delicate styles from the Edwardian or Victorian eras. Try etsy.com for fun and quirky handmade options.

5) If you live in a cold, wintry part of the world, a pair of cashmere gloves or extra-long luscious leather or suede gloves (silk or cashmere or wool-lined) makes a practical but luxurious gift mid-February. If you don’t know her exact size, go with wool or cashmere.

6) A spa day rarely goes unappreciated. Whether she prefers a manicure, pedicure, massage, facial — or all of the above — it’s a treat to disappear and get pampered.

7) Make something with your own hands — a meal, a card, a framed photo. A slow, attentive massage.

8) If your sweetie is athletic, a yoga fanatic or a dancer, there’s a whole range of cool possibilities: some pretty, fresh workout clothes, (try Title Nine or Athleta or Lululemon), new sneakers, a set of training sessions or dance classes, new cleats or a glove or skiwear.

9) If your sweetie has everything, make a donation on her behalf to a cause or charity she values, like donorschoose.org.

10) Perfume is probably the most personal, and difficult, to buy for someone else. If you know her scent(s), go for it. If not, a safer bet might be a scented candle, triple-milled soap, like these babies from Fresh, (that smell so good they’ll perfume the bathroom and last for a month of daily use), or sachets for her drawers or suitcase.

Knowing, (not just guessing wildly) what your loved one really craves — not just some withered supermarket bunch of carnations — is the ticket.