Maybe it's because I used to write Vows columns for the New York Times – but not only do I find personal love stories (about long term love, midlife marriage, cohabitation, etc.) heartwarming, they're also inspiring and freeing. How can celebrity love stories help make sense of it all? The worlds they inhabit are so wildly different. Perhaps I should have called this series "Love on the ground", because there' something about them that is profoundly grounding.
Love Style: Keith & Marty
Keith: "I was born and raised in Cleveland, where no major sports team has won a championship since 1964." After living in Sweden and Germany, Keith's degrees in theatre (Northwestern) and international relations (Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies), prepped him for a wide array of jobs from analyst of U.S. defense policy to tech consulting. Now he's opted to get a second master's in technology management. "I'm 52 and can't believe it ... it seems like yesterday that I was 25."
Marty: Transplanted from the Massachusetts' Berkshires to the DC area when she was 12, then stuck around to pursue her love of art with a degree in graphic design at American University. After decades of working in studios she launched her own graphic design business. "Design can eat you alive if you let it. The only way out for me was to design two sabbaticals: a yearlong round-the-world trip at 31, and when I turned 40 I circled the globe again. After turning 50, I re-connected with my inner artist through encaustic collage. Sometimes I relate to that cocktail napkin about forgetting to have children.
How they met: Keith: Separated from my then-wife in early 1998, I put myself out there on online matchmaking sites. My ad? "More than More of the Same" — I wanted to distinguish myself from all those ads that were about nothing more than physique and superficial interests ("I like tennis and walking on the beach.") Marty responded to my ad a few months later. (Her response was titled, "A Lively, Lovely Someone" — how fitting!) We had both learned from experience not to have a long, virtual getting-to-know-you period. We spoke on the phone that day and went out to dinner the day after that. The, rest, as they say. . .
Marty: I had been through the dating mill for decades and was drawn to Keith's photo and ad. But his honesty about his impending divorce was also a big factor. Lots of guys hide that stuff and spring it on you later. I had many "Seinfeld" experiences, so my radar was on hyperdrive. Before our first date, Keith agreed to call on a certain day. All day I eyed the phone, and gave him a 10pm cutoff. He called around 9:50! We came quite close to missing the relationboat.
Finding the fit: The most important thing I was looking for in a partner was shared values, intelligence, and creativity. Boy did I find those things in Marty! The biggest no-nos for me would have been political and religious issues, and an allergy to cats — I had 2; when we moved in together, we had 5 between us!, Keith says.
As for interests, I figured that one could always learn to like what the other one was up to or leave it for her to enjoy on her own. I've never believed that shared interests are the most important key to relationship happiness."
How long they've been together: Keith: Our first date in was in August 1998; I was 38 and Marty was 40 (she's also taller than I am). Our relationship became permanent when we bought our house together – we closed on Valentine's Day 2000.
Neither of us had any religious or familial pressure to get married, nor did we plan to have kids, so formal marriage was almost an afterthought. We finally decided we had the money, the time, and the location, so we got married on the Chesapeake Bay in Southern Maryland in October 2009. It was supposed to be sunny and warm that time of year, but the three days of our wedding weekend were the coldest and rainiest anyone could remember. The nasty weather gave our event an intimate feeling and a specialness we ended up being thankful for. The whole thing was pretty informal, with fabulous food and 65 guests."
How does what you do impact your relationship? Keith: Marty's being an accomplished designer and artist means so much to me. Her vision and work just blow me away. I don't love her work because I love her. If anything, the work itself made me love her more. I don't think I could be with someone who wasn't good at what is most important to her.
Having left the art world back in the '80s, Marty's place in it is enormously important to me. I love the art openings and the artists she is surrounded by. We love going to the theatre together.
My professional skills, including technology and financial management are very helpful to Marty. I troubleshoot her computer all the time and manage the household's and her business's books and investments, things that terrify her.
Marty: Keith is an integral part of my solo business. He keeps my books and is my tech support, both of which I would have to pay for otherwise. I tend to get panicky if something goes wrong with the computer, and used to have an annual meltdown at tax time. It never occurred to me to hire an accountant. Keith's expertise has been an enormous help, allowing me to concentrate on my design work.
Are you a Romantic? Keith: I'm not given to traditional rituals (I hated people referring to us as being "engaged" before we got married), but I am romantic. Marty's not as comfortable with the whole candlelight-staring-each-other-in-the-eyes thing as I am, so I have learned to modulate how often and intensely I push for it. I am also the Chief I-Love-You officer of our household. I say it about a million times more than Marty. But this is not about the amount of love we have for each other, I'm just more verbal than she is. She "tells" me she loves me in a million nonverbal ways.
Marty: He's definitely the romantic in the house. I can get weepy and sentimental, but am mostly pragmatic.
A magical moment: At Christmastime we slow danced in the kitchen the day after hosting a big party. I also love that I can point out a spectacular sunset or an interesting bird, and he always makes time to take a look."
Anything different about your style from when you met? Keith: I made a few suggestions to Marty when we first met (don't brush your hair back, ditch the contacts and wear glasses, less clunky shoes), but I don't care much for fashion. If Marty went without makeup and wore nothing other than jeans and T-shirts, it would be fine with me. She has become more and more beautiful to me the longer we have been together.
Marty: I haven't changed my style, but hope it has improved. Keith encouraged me to get funkier eyewear. We share a love of good food, and Keith loves my cooking. (Keith: I sure do!) In the early years, both of us got chubby, and somehow neither of us recognized it in the other or ourselves. After turning 50, I joined Weight Watchers and Keith lost weight too. We still enjoy fine food, but both of us are very careful about maintaining a healthy weight. It would be difficult if we did not share this.
Do you shop together? Do you shop for each other? Keith: I don't know how to buy women's clothes. I do buy things like wraps for Marty and the occasional piece of (not expensive) jewelry. I don't enjoy shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores, so I never go shopping with her for her stuff. She likes to help me shop for clothes and sometimes comes along when I go. I am confident in my own taste, though, so I don't depend on Marty for style advice.
Marty and I have very similar tastes in clothes, music, décor, food, theatre, politics — almost everything. The only place where we have trouble is visual art, where it is hard for us to agree on pieces. When we do find something we both like, we grab it!
Marty: Keith's a good shopper, in terms of finding the right product at the best possible price. We even "shopped" for our dog! He wanted us to look for Ms. Right, whereas I always want to take home the first one I see. What a great dog we ended up with!
Formula for staying together/making it work? Keith: We have had our times of struggle, particularly about five years in. We were committed enough to the relationship, though, to seek counseling, which helped enormously.
The most important lesson from that was: give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Even if he/she has done something that might seem hurtful, don't forget: this is the person who loves you; this person fundamentally has your back."
Marty and I give each other space to be ourselves and pursue our own interests. We don't have to be glued to each other all the time. We also respect each other deeply, which certainly helps.
We truly like and enjoy each other. And our deepest values are held in common. Sure, we both have to compromise about little things (though we are incredibly compatible roommates), but there is no need to about the things that matter most.
Marty: I agree about shared values and style. Keith is very good at confronting issues straight on, whereas I tend to float down the river of denial. After the years go by, you tend to get very good at spotting issues early on. He is my heart and my home.
What do you like to do apart, what do you most like to do together? Keith: I have my occasional boys' nights out, techie interests, and political meetings that really aren't for Marty. Other than that, I'm pretty happy doing anything and everything in and with Marty's company.
Marty: I like to get together with my girlfriends and spend time at the local arts center (where I'm on the board and also "do" art) and in workshops with other artists. Together we love the theater, restaurants, art openings and travel.
Travel was what sealed our relationship early on, Keith says. We traveled together for 4 weeks in Southern Africa when we had been together less than a year. We were so compatible during that time, we figured if we can travel so well together, surely we can live together. Marty moved in shortly after that."
Do you celebrate Valentine's Day? Marty: I always make him a handmade card. Some years have been better than others. Since I have become more of an artist, the quality is improving. One year I made a box of "relation-chip" cookies and packaged them in a homemade heart box. We usually eat in and avoid the restaurant scene.
Keith: Marty's an artist. So her handmade cards are works of art themselves. I treasure them!
Love on the ground would be a good name for this, because it is the little things, tax books and tech support, animal care and handmade cards that form the collage of a relationship; imperceptible building blocks that subtly become bricks-and-mortar, the foundation on which to have a spontaneous slow dance — that underlying graceful rhythm of love.
Happy Valentine's Day.