Celebrating 10 years of marriage

Our lived experience through our first ten years of building a family, house, careers, and friends

👋 Hi there!   Helen and Adam here!  Welcome to the 27th episode of our Mind The Beet newsletter.   We’ve talked about changing jobs, taking time off to recharge, what’s worked best for us to manage our calendars at work, how to hire a nanny, experience with a custom-built home telepresence studio, and more.   Subscribing is free and new posts are delivered every Sunday.  Join us as we reflect on our own experiences managing two jobs, two kids, and the crazy balance between it all. Your time is precious, so we promise to make it thought provoking and throw in some good content and product recs along the way that you’ll find interesting, too.

-Helen and Adam

Ten years ago we were doing this:

surrounded by our family and friends:

It was an epic good party, hosted on the UCLA campus (where we met, apparently as do 28% of college-educated coupled according to this Facebook study).  What’s been our lived experience over those ten years of marriage?  What did we learn?  What are we proud of?   What’s unique to our journey and what’s something most couples go through?   This post explores our last ten years via some questions that we asked ourselves.

💕 How did you meet and what did you think of each other?

Helen: We met at the end of freshman year at UCLA in 2001. I didn’t know what to think of Adam – he was reserved and thoughtful; I was not.  I thought we might become friends. My roommate remarked “He’s cute.” We spent our formative college years building a foundation as friends and our paths did not cross romantically until a few years after college when we went on a trip together in Ireland.  I reflect that we ended up in the right place at the right time –as we entered our post college lives and we found ourselves aligned in our values and goals.

Adam:  Our first introduction to each other started out rough as we both were vying to be chair of a student government committee (I won…but it is totally not still a thing).   We got beyond our differences by the end of college and it was really the post-college pruning of friends that sparked something meaningful.  Helen was one of the few whom I maintained a deep relationship with – shared travel, talking about our early post-college lives, and being there for one another.  It was a trip to Ireland with just the two of us in 2007 (hiking/biking in Dingle Peninsula) where we started dating.   It was a beautiful area of the world and I remember some long walks where we opened up about our past and having deep conversations about our core beliefs.  It was in hindsight a remarkably special way to start a life together.

💍 When did you know you wanted to get married?

Adam: It took me longer to be sure than it did for Helen – she had to wait around for a bit.   For me, it was not any one epiphany but rather a series of trust building moments that convinced me that we were right for each other and that I was ready to start the next chapter in my life.   Examples include: getting through some tough times together where we both questioned what we wanted, being able to lean on each other for support, a cornucopia of events that showed how often we approach life through the same decision making framework, and times when we both pushed the relationship to make it stronger and came out better for it.   I appreciate how Helen gave me the space to find my own way to decide – it helped tremendously to allow us to begin married life on equal footing.  By the time I was shopping for rings, there wasn’t doubt left in what we could build together and I was more confident in what I wanted out of the next stage.

Helen: With every boyfriend I’ve ever had, I would wonder if he was the one I’d want to marry.  So it’s interesting to reflect on when do you know when you’ve met the one. In hindsight, a defining moment for me was when I persevered through a period of self-doubt and deep questioning. About two years into our relationship, we moved in together and I was unemployed for the first time as I was preparing to start business school. I felt lost and anxious as the upcoming unknowns surprisingly shook me. I thought that what I wanted was to be rescued by a knight in shining armor. To my surprise and annoyance at the time, Adam made it clear that he will stand by me through this darkness and hold my hand, but I need to find my light and end of the tunnel on my own.

As it turns out, Adam believed that I needed a cheerleader and a supporter, not a savior. When I did find my way out of the tunnel, I reflected that Adam walked the road with me, held my hand, but let me find my own way. This experience built my self-esteem and also helped me see what a partnership looks like. That period helped me picture what a life with Adam would look like – removing the romantic fairy tale filter and replacing it with a “nofilter” view which turned out to be richer and more meaningful.

Cool resource: 13 Questions to Ask Before Getting Married - The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Read all 13: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/03/23/fashion/weddings/marriage-questions.html

🔮 What did you think marriage would be like before you got married?

Adam:  In today’s society where it’s common to live together before getting married, I felt like we already went on the extended internship and not just an interview.  In hindsight, I underestimated the degree to which a public commitment made a difference.  We moved from “If” and “Why?” to “How?” and “When?” and that was a meaningful shift into problem solving:  Less soul searching and more focus on building together.   It’s given me more respect for tradition and age-old ways of doing things: There’s a reason behind the pageantry of a wedding in the way it gives you succor and fortitude to work problems and overcome obstacles over the years.

Helen:  I always knew that I wanted a family and thought that marriage was mostly a way to achieve that.  While I did accomplish that goal, I can see better now that having a family (kids specifically) is one aspect of marriage and while in my lived experience, it is a huge part, it’s not the only thing. Marriage is a choice we make to spend a life with someone – to support each other, to love each other, and be there through life. Adam has already played so many different roles since we’ve been married – obvious ones such as a romantic and a parenting partner, but also less obvious ones such as a caregiver (people don’t recover from surgeries on their own), a friend, a coach, and a confidant.  

🦚 What are you most proud of that you have achieved as a couple?

Helen & Adam: We are both very proud of the life we are building together – constantly evolving and adjusting as we move through phases. There are three things that stand out that we have anchored on:

  1. The ever-changing balance.   With two intense careers & two growing kids, the fiercely fought balance we have between family, household, relationship, friends, hobbies, and careers is something that gives us intense pride.  It’s a constant struggle – like a fragile, top heavy sculpture held up by six pieces of taught guidewire – pull too hard on any one, say a time when the kids prevented us from reconnecting our own relationship – and it all comes down. 

  2. Practical yet inspiring gender roles and norms. We’ve found a blend between traditional gender roles and progressive household duty splits that feels right for us. Both of us feel like we carry about 60% of the burden of mental load/chores/running the household.   We don’t keep score or measure, but the philosophy is that each of us feels invested to do what feels like a bit over half of the work (you always feel like your own burden is heavier than others, so shoot to exceed).  And while we divide up the menial labor like cleanup and cooking evenly, we do find that we’ve snapped to traditional gender roles when it comes to decorating the household or managing finances, which feels right to us.

  3. Investing in each other.   These past ten years have been intense: Starting a family involved surviving the all-consuming baby/toddler stage of raising kids. Both of us have invested in our careers.   There are always excuses to not focus on building a stronger and deeper relationship between just the two of us – yet we’ve prioritized staying connected and finding ways of celebrating “us.” We make an intentional choice to spend time together – for example this Mind the Beet project has given us a reason to go beyond the transactional daily conversations.

Cool resource: We’ve often been fascinated what the research says about the mental, physical, and time loads between genders in relationships and then how it compares to our own. It’s an area we’ve wanted to intentionally role model being different than the norm in a way that works for us and can support dual careers. The Economist is a go to resource for the latest, as Adam talked about in his Information Diet post.

⏳ What advice would you give to your past self?

Helen: Advice I’d give to myself is to give less advice to my partner. The hard part about this is that I actually love giving advice.  However, I have learned that it is so easy to misconstrue advice in a marriage as an ask for your partner to change. And while Adam and I have both changed over the years (more on that in a minute), it is not because my partner has asked me or advised me to do so. I have also stopped taking it personally that Adam doesn’t ask me for advice as often as he could and when he does, I try to ask more questions and be more thoughtful, rather than share my “wisdom,” no matter how valuable I think it is.   

Adam: There’s a great quote from Tommy Lasorda, a famous baseball manager, that goes: “No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one third of your games.  No matter how bad you are, you are going to win one third of your games.  It’s the other third that makes the difference.”    Marriage, like baseball, is also a series of meaningful moments hidden inside things with obvious conclusions.   It’s easy to look at the first ten years of marriage and feel like the story arc was already written – establish careers, build a home, solidify a friends network, build a family.  It can be easy to turn on the autopilot and forget to think deeply.   You have to find those “season defining” moments within all the noise.  What type of family do you want to have?  What’s missing in your friends network?  What is most important to you about the home you want to live in?   This is an active process that takes thought and trying out ideas.  Helen is fantastic at this and I’m so grateful for her often taking the lead on how to think proactively these past ten years.

🤯 What did you learn about marriage that surprised you?

Helen: People do change. When I was getting married, so much advice I got was around the fact that people don’t change and if you are expecting your future partner to change, you are kidding yourself. While that’s mostly true, just as water smoothes rocks, time and marriage does change people.

10 years ago, we didn’t spontaneously and seamlessly invite multiple families over for dinner on a Friday night and throw the plan together with an exchange of a few words. I also could not envision a beach vacation without a whole bunch of programming and activities – and now I enjoy those as much as I crave adventure. As I’ve gone through life, my needs and priorities have changed and I’m grateful to have a partner who not only leaves room for me to grow but celebrates and supports it.  

Adam: Being accepted and integrated into a large extended family was a real joy and surprise for me over the past ten years.  I come from a small family with no siblings and few aunts/uncles/cousins, so the context around a big interdependent family for me came from novels and other fiction.  I had little idea of what to expect and feel very fortunate for how warmly I’ve been embraced.  It’s given me such perspective on the value of tradition and the richness to life that comes from a large family that depend on one another.

🗝 What is the key to success in the next 10 years?

Helen & Adam: Neither of us know what the next 10 years hold for us – surely there will be joy and sadness, ups and downs.  

Surely a lot of the next ten years will be building on all that we started.   We don’t have that many years left of our kids seeking and enjoying our company – so finding time to live in the moment will give us joy even as we continue to earn that balance between kids, friends, extended family, and our relationship.

And yet most likely there will be a lot more ambiguity than the previous ten years - most of life’s major milestones happen in the 20’s and 30’s – in the first ten years, we knew we were going to establish careers, start a family, and build a home.  But what’s next?  Society and Hollywood aren’t as clear on that and the 40’s is a time for self-reflection and exploring deeper meaning beyond achieving life’s typical milestones.  We both hope that leads to new ways we can support one another and just reinforces that a marriage is not a fixed contract but something that evolves with our needs.   Finding a new framework to spend more time figuring out what we need to thrive – as a family, as a relationship, and as individuals – and then embracing that growth is one of the biggest investments we are making with each other.

Cool resource: This recent Tweet from Jason Warner was a good framing for how to be planful and introspective. Click through for the full thread, it’s worth it:

Coda on Privilege

We end most of our Mind The Beet posts with a reflection on what we have that others don’t. Often we end up linking off to charities we support or talking about other ways we give back and support causes that matter. This post even more so than other seems filled with reminders of all the ways we are extremely fortunate to have we we have. 🙏

I remember back in 2004 when a college friend remarked that equal rights for the LGBT community would be the civil rights issue of our generation. As a society we’ve come a long way since our college days, but more to do, especially globally. Everyone should have the right to marry the partner of their choosing with full rights, protections, and privileges. 🏳‍🌈