Hey everyone, and welcome back! I am your host, Danielle Roberts, and this is episode nineteen of The Darn Good Life Podcast!
In Episode Two, I introduced you to my wife Shea, and we talked about lessons learned after our first two years in business. We celebrated our second anniversary on November 10, so I figured I would dedicate this month’s episode to that! So today, I’ll be revealing our engagement story, what we experienced while wedding planning as a same-sex couple, love languages, and the lessons I’ve learned after two years of being married.
Hey everyone! Welcome back to the show. Today, we’re going to talk about L-O-V-E, love. I am going to start off this episode by saying that I invited Shea back to the show so we could both share the lessons we’ve learned so far. She was supposed to be my guest today, and ultimately she wasn’t comfortable with sharing her thoughts and feelings about our marriage on a public forum.
I’m not here to sugarcoat things for people, it hurt that she wouldn’t show up for me in that way, but I also understand that everyone gives and receives love differently, so I’m not going to force her to do anything she’s not comfortable doing.
I am the opposite. I made a promise to show up here as my full, authentic self. And I am an open book. I will never not wear my heart on my sleeve.
Marriage is hard work. That’s why most rom-coms stop at the “we’re in love” or the “I want to spend the rest of my life with you” realizations.
Marriage is loving in spite of the good, the bad, the ugly. The insane laughter, the soul-shaking disagreements, the pressure from all the external pressures and circumstances that exist in this world.
And when you’ve spent basically half of your marriage quarantined, it is especially hard work. Extra stressors, excess time together, job uncertainty, economic downturn, all while you are in survival mode 24/7.
The relationships that will make it through this crazy time are those that have the strongest foundation, which, in my opinion, includes trust, honestly, and communication above all else.
It also starts with yourself, and it takes time. One of my vows to Shea was to never forget to love myself, so I am here showing up for myself, and keeping that promise. Relentlessly being my authentic self – because when I do that, in spite of whatever fear I face in sharing it, I believe I open myself up to loving — and receiving love — better.
I started building my foundation early – at least I like to think I did; I take pride in the fact that I am an old soul. I started going to therapy in 2013 and still do six years later, to confront and defeat my demons. I also spent a significant amount of time by myself – years actually – actively choosing to be single and date myself, so I could figure out who I was and what I wanted.
It was during that time, in fact, that I began processing my sexuality, and the following year, started dating Shea.
Had I not done that, I would be in a very different spot today. If you want to hear my full coming out story, you can go back and listen to Episode 10.
Shea and I started dating in 2015. We didn’t move in together until 2017, which by lesbian relationship standards is a lifetime. Most women-loving-women are U-hauling and moving in together in only a couple of months. Then, she proposed a few months later, on October 28, 2017.
The night before we got engaged, we were over her brother’s for a Halloween party and she wasn’t drinking a lot, which I found odd because Halloween is one of her favorite holidays. Sidenote, I was dressed up as Bob Ross, and she was one of Bob Ross’s paintings. There are two types of girls on Halloween, am I right?
Anyway, I asked her why she wasn’t partaking, and she said her stomach was bothering her, so I shrugged it off and just thought “more for me, you’re driving home then.”
Saturday morning, I was both confused and hungover when I heard Shea stirring around early in the morning, because we both love to sleep in on the weekends. I asked her what was going on, and she said nothing and came over to give me a kiss, and I could feel that she had changed out of her pajamas and had her cologne on.
Then, I was in an immediate panic, because we were supposed to head to my dad’s to help him set up for his halloween party later that day, and I thought I had overslept. But Shea assured me that I was just imagining things, being weird, and told me to go back to bed.
Not long after, my alarm went off. I woke up confused again, like seriously what the hell, it’s Saturday! But I immediately noticed the smell of a freshly brewed cup of coffee on my nightstand, which is one of the only things that excites me about mornings. When I went to turn off my alarm on my phone, I found a note wrapped around it that said: “I feel like we haven’t spent enough one-on-one time together lately, so I planned a little day date for us. When you’re ready, get dressed and come downstairs.”
She also laid out pajamas for me so I wouldn’t walk down indisposed. She knows me well.
When I went downstairs, I walked into a fort. Yes, an adult fort! Which is what she made for us on our first Valentine’s Day to spend all weekend in. But this time, there were string lights all across the top, and hanging from them pictures from all of our travels together so far (which was I think like almost 20 places in our first couple years together).
In the back corner of the tent, was a note. I won’t tell you what it said, but as I was reading it, all I could think was: Holy shit. I am going to turn around and she’s going to be on one knee.
I did. She was. With the most beautiful ring I had ever seen.
I had no idea it was coming. I never even thought about the ring I would want, I’ve never been that kind of person. But she knew me so well that she got everything in that moment absolutely perfect.
Then we announced our happy news to everyone we cared about during the day and at my dad’s party that evening.
We intended to take our time, but found a venue we loved that had availability the following here. And so ensued our wedding planning!
And I just have to say (and I know I’m biased here) that we had one of the best wedding parties and most fun weddings I’ve ever been to.
Planning, however, was interesting.
During wedding planning, we noticed a huge gap in the industry that essentially alienated people in the LGBTQ+ community.
At a bridal show, vendors assumed we were best friends. And when we clarified we were both brides, they asked what the dateS were to our weddingS. Plural.
Sales associates at David’s Bridal would throw around “husband” or ask “who’s the lucky guy?” when we looked at dresses.
It was insanely difficult to find anything on Etsy that didn’t say “Mr. & Mrs” or “Bride & Groom.” At Hallmark, you can probably choose from maybe two inclusive cards. And if we could find something, it was even harder to find something that didn’t overdo the rainbows or really GAY IT UP. Like, it was more than obviously someone straight designed these things.
Our DJ even slipped up and announced us as husband and wife, on the most important day of our lives, because their vendor intake form only listed out options for “Bride” and “Groom” and “Bridesmaids” and “Groomsmen” and didn’t consider that circumstances could be different for any other couple out there outside of what’s classified as a heteronormative relationship.
I bring this up because it’s a lesson in and of itself: We’ve come a long way, but we still have so far to go. All of these things – probably seemingly not a big deal to most people – make us feel foreign, aliens in our own skin. Not welcome. Not safe. Even if it’s unintentional.
For me, it sometimes felt like a looming cloud during wedding plans. My excitement was overshadowed by anticipation of these comments. And the anxiety over how I might answer. And the responses I’d get. And while it’s hard for people who identify as bisexual, gay, or lesbian, I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be for gender non-conforming, genderfluid, nonbinary, and transgender individuals.
When Shea and I recorded our first episode together, we talked about lessons learned after two years in business running Tail of Two Creatives, but I don’t think we ever mentioned that, because of what we learned and experienced during wedding planning, we also launched an online store called Inclusive Apparel to inspire more inclusivity for queer couples.
But we made it through that craziness to have a kickass wedding. Check out our wedding trailer here, to see the party you missed!
Ok, so now onto my lessons learned – I’ll give you my biggest one for each year.
For year one, the first lesson that I learned is that the first year feels really rough for no reason in particular, at least it did for us. We had already been together and lived together, and we knew what we were agreeing to. We didn’t even have to go through the headache of changing any paperwork because we both kept our last names. But we argued and bickered more in our first year married than probably the entirety of the rest of our relationship. I think that’s because, everyone gets you excited for the pomp and circumstance of wedding planning and your wedding day. People give you advice on what it takes to build a lasting, successful marriage. But no one prepares you for exactly what makes that successful first year.
According to LCSW Aimee Harstein, a therapist who has been working at a private practice for over 20 years:
Even if you have an amazing wedding and a ton of fun planning it, life after the big day can still be tricky—because suddenly it’s over. “There also can be a bit of an anti-climax post-wedding,” Hartstein says. “People have been working towards this goal for a year or two and it’s over in one night. It can be tough or disappointing to pick up the next day or after the honeymoon and get on with regular life.” So, when regular life sets back in and there’s no more flurry of excitement, it’s tempting to blame the most recent life change—marriage.
Another reason the first year of a marriage is different than just being in a couple is simple: marriage is different than just being a couple. “It’s simply different from cohabitation,” Hartstein explains. “Even though they look like the same thing, with cohabitation there’s always a relatively easy out. With marriage, you have signed a binding contract. You are in a permanent union and the stakes just feel higher. Every fight or disappointment within the marriage may feel more significant and more loaded because this is it.”
Whereas before every little fight may have seemed like no big deal, now you suddenly have the “oh-my-god-this-is-the-rest-of-my-life” factor making it all the more intense.
But with this, I also learned that Shea and I are pretty much always on the same page – we knew that we were bickering more than normal, and we communicated about it. On a broader scale, whether it’s thinking about a next step for our businesses, or knowing we want to move out of New Jersey, or even knowing that the other person needs sour patch kids or chocolate, we’re in tune with one another and have each other’s backs, and know we’ll push through it together.
Ok, now onto year two.
Like I said previously, most of our second year married has been in quarantine, during a worldwide pandemic. Particularly for me, which I’ve discussed with you all, all of this downtime has been challenging for me with my mental health and confronting some trauma. Shea is a saint for having dealt with me in all of my forms – and trust me, there have been a LOT of them.
My biggest lesson learned during year two is: We have such different ways of communicating. Even after being together for over five years, we’re still trying to navigate that. And that’s ok, as long as you’re communicating, but it also means opening yourself up and being more receptive to the way each other gives and receives love.
Have you ever heard of The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman? It was written in 1992. He theorizes that people tend to naturally give love in the way that they prefer to receive love, and better communication between couples can be accomplished when one can demonstrate caring to the other person in the love language the recipient understands.
The five love languages are:
- Words of Affirmation: Which is placing value on verbal acknowledgments – written or spoken — of affection like saying I love you frequently, compliments, words of appreciation, encouragement, or even frequent texts and social media acknowledgements.
- Quality Time: Which is feeling most adored when their spouse wants to spend time with them – and not just physical presence. This includes active listening, eye contact, time away from screens, and having someone’s full presence in those moments.
- Gifts: Which is a visual symbol of love. You feel most loved when you receive a gift. It’s not so much about the money, but the thought behind the item.
- Acts of Service: Which is when your partner goes out of their way to make life easier for you – cooking, taking out the trash, making your coffee, running an errand. This is the “actions speak louder than words” version of a love language.
- Physical Touch: Which is when people feel most loved when they receive physical signs of affection, and it doesn’t just mean sex. It also means kissing, hugging, holding hands, cuddling, or even a little butt slap when walking past your partner.
When it comes to the ways in which we give and receive love, they can be different and it can be more than one of these.
For me, I receive love the most through Words of Affirmation and Quality Time. Shea gives love through Gifts and Acts of Service, which is why being a guest with me today was difficult for her. As you’ll notice, there isn’t overlap between the way I receive and the way she gives love, as is the case the other way around. But it’s something we know we need to work on, and we communicate about it. Just because you have different love languages, does not mean you aren’t compatible. In fact, Shea and I are very different people. We tip the scales in opposite directions.
Like I said before, I am an open book, and I value relentless vulnerability and depth, which happen to be tough for Shea. But we balance each other out.
Because I value doing this type of work – of verbalizing these lessons (and even over communicating to a vault sometimes)- I’ve been able to open up about things that I never have been able to before, and it’s emboldened me to step out of places where I’d normally feel fear or guilt and instead stick up for myself and protect my truth in a way that I was never able to.
But I believe everything we are comes from somewhere and, when we do the work of seeing ourselves more clearly, Shea and I both win because then we’re in the best spot to love one another to the best of our ability.
Like I said in my vows, being with Shea is and always will be my favorite adventure. Even if she couldn’t be here to tell this story with me today. And every day I spend with her, I get closer to the best possible version of myself.
My friends, life is short, so go out there and make it a darn good one. Go give someone you love a call or a text, and tell them you love them. Verbalize it. The world needs more of it. I love you all, and I’ll catch you next time.