Amy and Randy

September 27th, 2010

I am watching them talk.

They’re across the table from me, in their cozy little backyard, having a conversation about coffee. I don’t really know what they’re saying, but I like the way they interact.

Randy has a soft tone to his voice, and speaks to Amy like she’s a friend. Like he cares about the way his words impact her.

Amy smiles all the time. She has a smile in her voice, even. Just sitting next to her makes you feel more cheery.

We’re sipping iced tea, and they’re telling me about the name of their unborn child. Jackson, they think. It was the name of one of the mountains Amy climbed in Montana.

I watch them together and I think they could probably talk to each other for hours and not get bored of each other’s company. Often, I watch couples interact in public, and no one seems to talk. It’s almost painful to watch. Sometimes, I’ve seen couples spend an entire meal without saying even one word to each other.

But Amy and Randy have a lot to say. That’s really important.

Communication in a relationship is key. So are shared interests and belief structures.

They are vegetarians – and were before they even knew each other, Amy makes sure to point out. It’s just one of the many things they share in common.

They’ve been together 10 years. Right before Amy turned 21. They’ve been married for six of those years.

It’s funny the way things turns out. How someone is placed in your life (like in your neighborhood AND your middle school), directly in front of your face, and you don’t ever really notice them. But then, years later, you happen to be walking across your college campus, and you see that person. And this time, you notice a little bit. And during the next few years, you start to notice a lot more. And they do, too. And the next thing you know, you’re staring at your future.

That’s exactly how it happened.

They both grew up in Gig Harbor, Washington. Their houses were less than a mile apart. They went to the same middle school and, though they knew each other, they were never friends.

Their siblings knew each other, but Amy’s and Randy’s paths never really crossed.

Then came college. Freshman year, Randy was rooming with a friend from high school who kept talking about these two girls, Amy and Adrian. Later in the quarter, as he was walking across campus, and his roommate pointed them out, Randy quickly realized that the Amy in this story was none other than his Gig Harbor classmate.

Turns out, the pair had similar friends and, soon, the circles in which they traveled would converge.

“We’d run into each other at potlucks,” Amy recalls, “but Randy was always quiet. His best friend had a huge ego and wanted to talk all the time, so I lumped Randy in the same category. During Junior year, Adrian and I took a Scottish country dancing class, and we started dancing at an outdoor concert. Randy was there.”

Randy was dating someone at the time (though it was coming to end), and noted that it took a lot of pressure off trying to impress anyone, so he could be as silly as he wanted to be.

“Sure, I’ll jump into this highland reel and make a fool of myself,” he laughs.

After that, the two started hanging out on a regular basis.

A unique twist, however: Amy was on a dating sabbatical.

“I always had boyfriends, all through high school,” she admits. “After I broke up with my last boyfriend, I decided not to date for at least a year. I want to know that all the things I think about myself — that I’m smart, funny and worth being around — are true because I know they are, not because some guy is telling me those things. After the first year, I wanted to do another year because it felt so awesome.”

So Amy and Randy became friends. They had potlucks together. They walked places together. They even became sailing buddies.

“When I couldn’t get into a sailing class I wanted, I asked Randy to promise to go sailing with me once a week,” Amy says. “He was already starting to like me by that point. It was such a funny time. We were sailing every week and took another class together, but it was very platonic on my side. I wasn’t at all open to a relationship.”

Then came the true test: stormy weather.

One particular day, the pair decided to have lunch before they went sailing. And then one of Amy’s male friends from Seattle decided to come for a visit. All this while Amy was already hosting another male friend from out of town. They were all there at once, and they invited themselves to lunch with Amy and Randy.

“I remember trying to cook,” Randy says. “I didn’t have enough food. Suddenly there are these guys all trying to add this special dash to the food to impress Amy. At one point I realize I’m making the meal and they’re chatting up Amy. I planned on sailing with her, but now I wasn’t sure. I said, ‘Well, Amy, do what you want to do. I’m still going sailing.’”

Amy had an a-ha moment while her two male visitors pulled her in different directions, and knew then and there she would be going sailing with Randy. And maybe he’d be the only person she wanted to keep sailing with – forever.

She remembers thinking, “That’s what it is. When you find someone who lets you do what you want to do and doesn’t pull on you or pressure you or make you feel guilty. That’s the feeling you should have.”

After that, everything changed.

“It was like this veil had been pulled away, and I was seeing him for who he was and what that could mean to me,” Amy says. “It really scared me. I didn’t see any end with him. It was really hard for me to meet the person I was going to marry when I was 20. I was always the last in my group of friends who wanted to get married. I really didn’t think it was possible to meet that person so young. It was a big leap of faith.”

Not for Randy.

“I had girlfriends, but it always tended to be more long-term,” he admits. “Dating is not a casual thing to me. Maybe I didn’t have marriage in mind that early, but I knew that we were right for each other.”

Amy felt the same.

“My parents are still married, and my mom’s siblings are all still married to their original partners,” she says. “I also had a very protective brother who was always honest with me about how guys viewed girls, and why it was better to be the girlfriend. I didn’t have any interest in being ‘that girl’ to someone.”

What Amy and Randy Have Learned About Love

Amy: Randy and I had rich, fulfilling personal relationships, so we weren’t seeking out someone to fulfill that part of us. Someone else was just an enhancement of who we already were.

Love is so much more selfless than I ever knew. It really is about choosing what’s best for that other person. Not putting your needs aside, but really honing in on your partner and discovering what they need. We do these camping trips. When we first got together, I wanted us to carry equal weight. But look at our size difference. Randy would nonchalantly start setting up camp and make dinner while I just sat there. He knew how to take care of me and still make me feel like it was a partnership.

It’s so much more fun than I ever thought it would be. Every single day I have fun with Randy. And I laugh. I have so much respect for him and who he is as a person. He comes to life with such integrity and honesty, and it really encourages me to bring those same qualities to my life.

Randy: I get fulfillment out of having that person in my life to care for. It’s not anything I wouldn’t want to be doing. It’s my chance to give something back, and give more to the relationship.

Amy: We can be honest with one another, and talk through situations. We’ve always had an easy relationship. In ten years, I can honestly say we’ve never yelled at each other. Neither of us like drama. We don’t feel like to have a passion-filled relationship we need to be fighting. But we’ve had a lot of different challenges and had to figure out how to navigate them together. Parents who were ill, changes in jobs, all those life situations.

We try to cultivate a spirit of gratitude for what we have. I feel more fortunate today than I did yesterday, or a year before, to have the gift of each other in our lives. It helps me not to take it for granted. When you start to do that, then you lose. Relationships are work, but they can be so much fun if you put the right amount of work into it.

Randy: It doesn’t feel like work. I’m happy being a part of this with Amy.

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April and Dave

September 20th, 2010

She was the perfect girl for him. The one by which all other girls would be measured.

He didn’t know this at the time. Not consciously, at least. Though he was always drawn to her for being the cutest, nicest, most generous girl he’d ever met, he didn’t know, at 16, that he was already beginning to uncover the basic principles of love.

He didn’t know that all the cartoon characters he would draw of her (including one of her as an angel) meant he was thinking of her enough to memorize her smile. He also didn’t know that when he drew those pictures to cheer her up when she was sad, it meant he’d want to spend the rest of his life keeping her happy.

That’s just not the sort of thing you know when you’re a kid.

You know it later, though, when after years of staying in touch you still can’t shake the memory of her smile. You know it when you all you do is compare her to every girl you meet.

Eleven years and a lot of life experiences between you, and, still, April is on your mind.

That’s how Dave knew.

He was preparing to move from New York to San Francisco when he finally put the pieces together. April, who lived in D.C., had come to visit him for a few days, and the two had a surprisingly wonderful time together. Though they had remained casual friends since high school, and even attended the same college, they never dated or took any steps beyond friendship. They’d see each other during summer vacation or holiday visits back home. Sometimes they’d share hot chocolate. Other times, they would share stories about their lives. They never expected to fall in love.

But something happened on this particular weekend that would change the course of their lives.

April was totally bummed that Dave was moving to the other side of the country. She, too, had felt an undeniable pull toward him, and was hoping Dave would say out loud what she was thinking.

But Dave isn’t that kind of guy. He’s shy and contemplative. When he wants to express his feelings, he writes a song or draws a picture. This time, though, he wrote a letter. A LONG letter. Longer than he expected. Eleven years’ worth of thoughts about the evolution of his feelings for April long. That’s a lot of words.

April thought it was about time! She told Dave she felt the same, and the two officially started their lives together as a couple.

The cool part about their relationship is that they had a long time to cultivate a friendship and really get to know each other. Everyone says couples should be friends first, but that rarely happens. Though it wasn’t exactly intentional, I wanted to know whether or not Dave and April would have started out with a slow friendship, had they known all those years ago they would take the romantic route together.

“I don’t think I’ve ever dated anyone I wasn’t friends with first,” April admits. “You know so much about the person’s core, what their morals are and you get all the major questions answered. I had crushes on people I wasn’t friends with, but I wouldn’t let it turn into more because there wasn’t a base. Having a friendship under your belt gives you a great level of trust. Whether the sparks fly, you have to wait and see.”

Dave agrees. “I got to see April from all different angles, in every stage of life, and that was really helpful,” he adds. “Having already had a relationship for 13 years, it’s not hard to think about the next 13 years and the 13 after that.”

Future tripping is so easy for Dave, in fact, that he wanted to start those next 13 years right away. So he and April got married July 4, 2010.

How do two people decide they want to stay together forever? How, in this day of drive-through divorces and relationships that start and end in the time it takes you to say cheeseburger, do people form their thoughts about commitment?

Having healthy relationships modeled to you is one way – an option most of us aren’t fortunate enough to have had, but something from which Dave and April both benefited.

Shared goals is another. Dave and April both want children, and it was something they discussed up front, so they could be sure they were on the same page. Teamwork is also another big one.

“Having someone you can rely on and always trust as a part of your team is key,” April says. “You need to be able to open up to them about anything and if you get really bogged down with work or have a bad day, they will support you.”

Beyond the basics, though, April thinks a good partner should also inspire you and work to keep things fresh.

That’s why they play piano together. And go on secret trips. Whenever it’s someone’s turn to plan the trip, they send photos and clues to the other person throughout the week. They cook dinner while listening to music, and April has gotten Dave addicted to “So You Think You Can Dance.”

“Dave and I have core commonalities like our beliefs and morals, but on the outside – the way we look at things, our reactions and problem solving skills – we’re different,” April admits. “We wouldn’t pick the same movie on any given night, but I never feel like he’s dragging me to something I don’t want. The part that doesn’t overlap helps us grow and be exposed to something new. A lot of people think your perfect match will be like you in every way and agree with you, but I wouldn’t want it that way. Dave is so exciting, inventive and imaginative.

“If I said one weekend, ‘Let’s go to a park and just draw for the day,’ he’d be up for it. I’m so glad I get to have him for the rest of my life.”

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Susie and Capice

September 13th, 2010

They’re inside a brandy snifter. That’s the first thing you probably notice. It was the 80s. Everyone has one of those photos, tucked away in some drawer – probably right next to their parachute pants.

Let’s move on to the real issue at hand: the people in that glass. How many of those love-tipsy couples in aperitif glasses do you think are actually together today? Probably not many.

But Susie and Capice are.

They just celebrated their 23rd wedding anniversary. And that doesn’t even account for the fact that they’ve been together 31 years in total. That’s a lot of photos – and a lot of memories.

A lot of ups and downs, too. A lot of youthful indecision and differing viewpoints. But that just leaves room for the part after that – the part where they get to coast on the tail feathers of the very sturdy life they spent all those years quietly building.

But let’s get back to the glass. Those romantically intoxicated people in the picture. That was taken three years after they first met.

They both worked at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. She worked in the kitchen and he worked in radiology. When his sister introduced them one day, she developed a crush immediately. So she and her friend would spend their breaks trolling every floor to see if they might spot him. And when they did, they’d duck behind the wall so he wouldn’t notice.

But he noticed.

Soon, he would come down to the kitchen on his lunch breaks to visit Susie. Eventually, he got her number and, as she puts it, they started dating and never stopped.

They dated a year in high school, then broke up for a few months. They got back together, went to prom, and stuck it out through graduation. They moved in together when Susie was 19 (Capice was 8 months older), and at first it was fun to play house. Then reality set in, and they started having problems.

After about a year, they each moved back to their family homes. That’s when Susie found out she was pregnant.

“We broke up, and I was heartbroken,” Susie recalls. “I wanted to get back together, but he didn’t. When I gave up, he changed his mind.”

They moved back in together, and had their first daughter, Brittani. When she was three, they got married. They had their second daughter five-and-a-half years later. They’ve been together ever since, save for a two-week split just eight years ago.

“I didn’t want my kids growing up without their father,” says Susie. “We went to counseling and I tried to do everything I could to make our marriage work. So did he. We spent a lot of time with the kids. We’d go to movies and for bowling. We learned to appreciate one another. Right now, our relationship is better than it’s ever been. We’ve gone through trials and tribulations, and managed to conquer every downfall that came our way. It was really just a matter of how we chose to handle it.”

Together.

That’s what they chose.

It’s a choice to stay together and weather the storm. It’s also a choice to kiss the same person every day of your life, even when you’re too upset to want to. Susie says she prefers kisses above anger.

“We’ve always done this – for 31 years of our lives,” she giggles. “If a person is leaving, we kiss one another goodbye. When we wake up in the morning. When we go to the store, whenever. Even when he visits me at work, he gives me a kiss.”

It’s also about making sure you don’t give up on things, even when everything is going great. Relationships need lots of watering.

Capice knows about watering. Susie says he’s always surprising her. He buys her gifts. If she’s tired and doesn’t feel like cooking or cleaning, he’ll do it. He even makes her breakfast.

“That’s what love is,” he tells me. “If you care about someone, you do things for them. Not just buying gifts, but doing what you need to do to help them enjoy life.”

Even when things are rough? When you don’t really want to kiss them goodbye?

“Love is developed through trials and tribulations,” he adds. “If everything was rosy, you’d never grow. You have to grow with the love. You have to cultivate it and make it work – take some things sometimes you may not want to take. The reality is, nobody knows how to be in love. That’s something everyone has to work on in their own way. Real love is not about being selfish. It’s about not looking at yourself, but looking at the other person. And if the other person is doing the same thing, that’s when things grow.

“I didn’t know that when I was 16. No way in the world. It’s something I came to understand over the years. I made a lot of mistakes and I had to learn from them. I came to understand that if I do for her, it can come back to me, and that’s what has happened.”

Capice says Susie is very caring. He also thinks she’s thoughtful and funny.

“The longer we’ve been together, the more humorous she’s become,” he says. “She can keep you laughing all the time.”

Would he have ever imagined that the shy 16-year-old peeking from behind a wall would one day be his wife?

Of course not.

But that’s just what happened. Susie certainly didn’t know she was peeking into her future the day she met Capice, but she’s very glad she did.

And she’s glad neither one of them chose to give up when the view got a little obscured from time to time.

“I caught her a few times, peeking at me,” he laughs. “At the time, being young, it made me feel cool. After that, we started talking. That’s when everything started.”

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Thomas and Dustin

September 6th, 2010

I met Thomas and Dustin at a trendy restaurant inside the Seattle Art Museum, which Thomas carefully selected. He told me he had a vision for the setting of our interview. He wanted a place with clean design and lots of white. Later, he would reveal that everything was exactly as he imagined, and he was so happy.

Thomas and Dustin Love Story

And though I, too, was happy, I had no idea what to imagine when sitting down with the gregarious, yet surprisingly grounded, couple. We all share a mutual friend, but never spent any real time with each other. From a distance, I took note of how handsome the pair was, and how stylishly they dressed. They went to wine bars and brunch on top of mountains. They lived in a loft. I don’t know what kind of relationships I think cosmopolitan couples have, but I guess I inferred that there is a certain level of superficiality that matches the outer life they enjoy together. I blame Millionaire Matchmaker for that false assumption. Thomas and Dustin are solid gold, for sure, but not the kind you find in a bank. The kind you find under your feet. The foundation.

An illustration of the strength of their foundation comes from the fact that, when they speak, they give each other space to use their own words but manage to stay on the same page, proving they’re actually hearing the other person. Thomas would say something, Dustin would add to the story, and then pass it back to Thomas to complete the thought. It was entirely spontaneous, but almost artfully choreographed. They are clearly individuals, with their own opinions and identities, yet when they come together, they engage in this lovely dance with one another that makes them appear to be a unified whole. And they are. But they’ve got something figured out that most people never come to understand: the importance of balance. They do not lose themselves in each other. Instead, they dance on the same stage, far enough apart to be two dancers, but close enough to feel the same vibration beneath their feet. The vibration that can only come from two people dancing the same dance.

And so, to honor their dance, I’m going to let them tell their own story.

Curtain, stage left…

D: Right before I met Thomas, I created a rule for myself that I was not going to date anyone under 25 because everyone that age was either crazy or needed a parental figure of some sort. He just turned 26 when we met. I didn’t like him at first.

T: I thought he was trouble. I was dating someone at the time, but our friend Dana got us together. He was having an art party.

D: No, that’s not right. I was taking my dog to the dog beach and Dana said Thomas has a dog and would love to go to the beach with me because he didn’t like to get his car dirty. I told her to tell Thomas to meet me at my house and we’d go together. I think he thought I was mentally off when we first met. I was a little socially awkward at the time.

T: He was a different person than the usual people in Tampa. He doesn’t have this very sunshine view of everything. Has a little bit of dark and twisted in him, which interested me. What interested me the most, though, was that he was an artist. I found that fascinating. A lot of his views come from the ideas he fabricates when he does his artwork. He has a different view of everything, and I found that really refreshing.

D: You thought all that when I first opened the door? I started to like Thomas that day at the beach. He came prepared with sandwiches and snacks for both the dog and himself. He also brought extra food and water for me and my dog, Suzy.

T: I also had towels and umbrellas.

D: I thought, “This guy is a real catch.” That’s when Suzy fell in love with you, too. She thought, “Usually, dad makes me drink out of the hose before we leave.” Well, that, and I thought he had nice legs.

T: At that time, things weren’t working well with my ex.

D: I had just turned 30.

T: A month and a half later, when he found out from a mutual friend I had broken up with my ex, I got a call from him.

D: The first thing I told him on our date was, “Let’s just get one thing out of the way. I am not a real estate agent.”

T: I never understood what he meant by that.

D: It was crazy for me to think someone who dated a real estate agent would date a crazy artist like me. His ex was like superman to me. I was going to drum and bass shows. I was successful, but in a different way.

T: That’s just what I needed, though.

D: I didn’t have to live up to being a real estate agent.

T: We were honest from the get go. We put everything out there and said, “This is who I am.”

D: We didn’t have the same circles. We would have these amazing dinners and afterwards, we’d go our separate ways. We took it really slow. Didn’t move in together until 2 years later.

T: We were individuals. We collaborated on a lot of things, but still had our own sets of interests. He did his art, I did my dancing, and we came together in the middle. We didn’t feel obligated to always hang out with each other. You can never lose yourself in a relationship. You always have to have that individuality.

D: Put us into a party and we don’t sit next to each other. We like to travel the room separately, then meet back up.

T: In this relationship we are individuals, but people still know us as a couple. When you go from relationship to relationship and think about what failed or what you wish could’ve been different, you start using that for the next one and don’t repeat the same mistakes.

D: You have to learn to love yourself so you can love others.

T: When we first started dating, he liked the fact that I had opinions. We don’t always have to agree on the same things.

D: Which makes it great. Sometimes.

T: I didn’t fall in love with him because he agrees with me all the time.

D: You like my OCD.

T: I like that if I need a different idea, I can always go to him for a different perspective. I like that it’s not always rosy. I always felt that if you don’t have a little disagreement in the relationship, then there was no more spark. We fight all the time. There are some times I want to throw something at his head.

D: Sometimes I look at him and think, “I’m done with you.” I think I have a mental breakup once a week. But we always have to give each other a kiss every night before we go sleep. You can’t stay mad after that.

T: That’s a rule of mine. Never go to sleep mad. He’ll sometimes give up on the conversation, but I won’t. It’s better to get it out of the way, so in the morning, all the pressure and stress is lifted.

D: I have certain triggers for moods. So if I’m unhappy, I really have to look at what’s making me unhappy and usually it’s something I have to change within myself. The relationship is solid, so if something needs to change, it’s me. I need to be alone and have time to create. Sometimes I’ll get mad at Thomas for stupid things, and usually it’s because I haven’t created in awhile and I’m projecting on him rather than changing my actions.

T: I’ve definitely learned to have more patience. Not everyone is as open as I am. I tell people how I’m feeling at any given moment, and some people need to analyze first. I expect Dustin to tell me everything, but sometimes he doesn’t want to release any information because he processes first, and I don’t understand that. I have to tell myself to back off sometimes when I expect him to tell me what he’s thinking.

D: A lot of times he tells me I’m just hungry. He’s usually right.

T: Sometimes you have to ask someone, “When this comes up again, what would you like me to do?”

D: I like brutal honesty. Sometimes Thomas just tells me to just get over it.

T: Dustin is often blunt, but you have to remind yourself that it’s coming from a good place. Like some of the comments he makes on my cooking. They’re not cherry-flavored comments. Sometimes I get a little mad because I’ve put my heart into it. But he’ll give suggestions, like to put a little less cilantro in it because it overtakes the flavor.

D: We’re foodies. We don’t compliment food just to compliment it.

T: That’s who he is, and it’s what I like about him. He told our friend her corn was cold. And it was.

D: I’m a little bit darker and you’re a little bit lighter. You’re like a living gummy bear.

T: I’m like sunshine.

D: I’m like sunset.

T: That is what makes our relationship so good. We’re not complete opposites, but opposite enough to appreciate each other.

D: We both come from a lot of divorces and failed relationships. I’ve learned some really basic rules from other people’s unhappy relationships: Always be truthful, always communicate and always respect each other. If you don’t want to do any of those, you shouldn’t be in a relationship.

T: A lot of things we’ve noticed with others is that they’re full steam ahead and don’t really take time to evaluate. We took it slowly. I didn’t even let my shoes live at his place for one and a half years.

D: It’s been five years, and we just got a joint checking account.

T: We took our time making decisions.

D: After time, more of a partnership/relationship started to develop. Thomas is great at organizing and I’m not. There are certain roles we’re really good at, and we let each other shine.

T: He’s great at decorating and home projects that I couldn’t even fathom doing. The most unique thing I love about him is he can look at anything and make it into something functional, whereas I’d look at it and just see a paperweight.

D: But we can get 15 of them, string them together, and we’ve got a paperweight chandelier!

T: We’re not on a plan. We don’t have to meet certain checkpoints at a certain time. We’re just letting things flow the way they are.

D: We exchanged rings two years ago. It was just like a promise – a promise for tomorrow. No super formal commitment stuff. Plus, I kind of wanted jewelry.

T: When I look at it, I’m always thinking of him. But today we were eating crawfish. I had to take mine off.

T: When you’re in a relationship, you have to ask yourself, “Is this person worth staying in a relationship for? Is it worth all this heartache for the next day?” Every day I think about it, and the answer is always yes. I’m so glad to be in this relationship with him. He’s been a really big support for me and has helped me go for things I wouldn’t have otherwise gone for. He encourages me.

D: When I first met Thomas, the first thing I liked were his legs.

T: I had perfect teeth, too.

D: But I also liked that he inspires greatness in everybody. It’s effortless. If you’re having a bad day, it’s nice having Rainbow Brite sitting next to you.

T: OMG, he’s got all these nicknames for me. Another important thing is you always have to make the other person feel beautiful and always compliment them, but don’t lie.

D: You can never get too comfortable. You need to keep dating. And wooing.

T: I let him know when he’s wearing something he shouldn’t. Like those pants.

D: You doubted the polyester.

T: He’s gotten really great compliments on those tight, brown polyester pants.

D: They look really good with my boots.

T: Humor’s another thing. If I couldn’t laugh with him at least two or three times a day, I don’t know how we’d survive. Many of my past relationships were so one-sided. I like to talk.

D: About more things than your workout routine.

T: Yeah, or the chicken I ate that day.

Right before we leave the restaurant, Thomas pulls out his phone and there’s a picture of Dustin’s eyes on it.

T: He’s watching me all day.

D: That’s just because you can’t change your wallpaper!

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