Ten years of marriage

March 14, 2008. Kennebunkport, ME.

It was hot in June 2010, but not too hot. I remember being worried that the flowers at the estate where we had our wine country wedding might wilt in the Windsor, California heat.

We picked Madrona Manor after touring a few other venues earlier in the year. It was stately, quiet, peaceful, and absolutely stunning in the evening. There’s a Michelin-rated restaurant, elegant rooms with no televisions, and a view over the Anderson Valley. Inside it smelled like a rustic mansion, because that’s what it was.

I was happy to have a small wedding. There were 64 guests in total, and since my wife’s family is neat and compact, my side of the equation ended up with a majority of the seats. Not that anyone was counting.

We hired a local string quartet to play Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” for the procession and Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” for our first dance. My wife’s uncle officiated and we each had two people join our wedding party. My two guys went on to start a business together. Her two ladies were her sisters.

I recall forgetting my vows. Something about the moment got the better of me, but fortunately I gave our officiant a copy so he could assist. I might have had a line in there about always putting our children first. Or maybe it was her. Whatever it was, I recognize it now as unadulterated twenty-something naiveté. How could I know back then what being married actually means? Was I really trying to give myself marriage advice ten years ago?

I’m glad I’ve forgotten whatever I said at the Madrona altar. I hope everyone else did too.

What I remember most is how beautiful she was. Like the day we met, when I locked eyes on the prettiest girl in the room, I was there again, with the prettiest girl, on love’s most celebrated day, in the most romantic setting. I was overcome, to be sure. I was proud, nervous, and excited. But most of all, I was relieved.

I could have titled my wedding toast, “I’m so glad this was so easy.” That was the theme of my speech and also of our relationship. It was easy. We made it easy. From the time we settled into our relationship, there was very little stress. Our greatest concern early on was how long we’d have to wait until our next rendezvous in the broader New England area. She was living and working in Sacramento. I was studying at Harvard and MIT (yes, that had a nice ring to it.) Every month or so we’d find a reason to meet. It was in San Diego, Maine, Cape Cod, or, of course, Cambridge.

My friends loved her. “Ryan’s girlfriend is sooo hooooooot,” one of my now-successful politicos used to say aloud, a big grin on his face, whenever she was referenced in conversation. I didn’t mind. She was hot. She is hot. I was just glad they liked her, and more importantly, that she liked them and felt comfortable around them. She was not intimidated to hang around my group of friends, a motley mix of Ivy League frat boys and social activists. I think she was just happy to be near me.

She was the first girl I lived with. I remember when it came up. I hesitated.

It was my fall of 2008, going into my last winter in Boston. My Harvard friends had already graduated and moved away. I was staying on for another year to complete a MBA at MIT Sloan. I lived in a room off of Central Square, midway between the two campuses. There was a small park behind the flat and one night I called a friend to help me parse out my feelings. I told him I knew that if she moved out east and in with me, that was it. I was certain this next step would lead to us getting engaged and married. I knew the transition would come easily and that was, ironically, making me nervous.

My friend quelled that anxiety. “Choosing to lose control,” he said, “is the essence of freedom.”

So I took a deep breath and let go. We moved into a small furnished apartment together on Joy Street in the quaint Beacon Hill neighborhood just off the Charles River in Boston. Eight months later we were engaged, and less than a year after that, we were married, on June 12, 2010, in the gardens of the Madrona Manor.

It’s hard to describe the proximity you have to someone you love, with whom you’ve done everything major in your life, like buying a house, starting a family, and putting together a living trust. There’s no one I trust more. How could I? I can’t imagine it.

I know not all marriages last forever and I can’t take ours for granted. I would be foolish to assume that because the last thirteen years of loving each other and living together, ten of which we’ve spent married, has been so easy that the next thirteen will be too. All relationships take work and I feel grateful, still so incredibly grateful, that the work I’m putting into this every day still doesn’t feel like work.

Our days these days revolve around our children, a rambunctious 3-and-a-half-year-old and a 5-going-on-fifteen-year-old. Both girls, they have vastly different tastes in clothes. Our youngest is sporty, obsessed with Nike workout gear. Her favorite shirts are the ones I bought in the boys section at Gap. Our oldest is also athletic but very comfortable in a nightgown or dress. When our oldest was the age that our youngest is now, she was wearing Moana and Elsa outfits. Our youngest today would refuse to wear anything like that.

Fortunately, they’re both sweet girls who love their mommy and give their daddy some much appreciated affection every once in a while. I knew their mommy would be a supermom right away.

She was 22 going on 23 when we met. I was 24 going on 25. I was interning for the Lieutenant Governor in Sacramento. She held a policy job at healthcare company. She accompanied a family friend to a food and wine expo. I took advantage of a free ticket that Lt. Gov. Garamendi’s wife, Patti, offered to the office that fateful evening in July. At the event, I waited until the last minute to go up to her and say hi. She seemed to be expecting me.

“Hi, I’m Ryan,” I said. I had her phone number by the time the conversation ended. I needed to see her again. We met the next morning at a briefing at the capitol. I sat next her. “Lunch?” I scribbled on a newspaper, and handed it to her. She told me she was heading out of town to see family, but we met up at a bar in Sacramento the following week. My roommate, who also had an internship in Sacramento that summer, came with me. He came to our wedding, too.

A few months later, in October 2007, I hesitated once again. I didn’t mean to fall into a relationship like this so soon. I knew if we stayed together we would wind up married. When I stared down that prospect, I blinked. Over the phone, I think it was, I broke up with her. I don’t remember what I said or how I said it. I do remember a couple of months later, sometime in December that year, I reached back out. I missed her. I missed the simplicity of being with someone who I could see myself being with forever. She responded. She was in New York with her family, and she was moving to San Francisco. As luck would have it, I would be there too.

She met my mom over lunch in Burlingame in early January 2008, a few days after we’d reconnected. I don’t remember those details. I only remember feeling relaxed, and when my mom and I had a moment to ourselves at the end of the visit, she told me what I already knew, that I could wind up married to this girl.

I wasn’t planning to call my mom before I proposed to her, but she caught me walking between the florist on Union Street and our apartment off of Chestnut Street in the Marina District of San Francisco. I had a bag full of pink, white, and red rose petals and plans to propose. I told my mom what I was about to do and she became giddy with excitement. I ended the call quickly, feeling a little odd that my mom, who always waited for me to call her, would call me right at that moment. Something was in the air.

I felt the ring in my pocket. I had stuffed it in my guitar case, figuring that would be the last thing I would lose and the last thing she would open, when we moved up to San Francisco after our temporary stay with her family in Los Angeles. The center diamond belonged to her grandmother, and I purchased the side stones and ring itself from her mother’s jeweler.

I was in a chocolate shop in San Antonio, Texas, with her mom when I suggested that we figure out what her ring size was. Her mom pulled me aside, eyes wide, nodding with approval. A few weeks later, I had both the ring size and the ring.

I discovered after being married that living together while dating and being engaged was all the same flavor of existence. The mechanical benefits of marriage would come later, when we applied for a mortgage and when we filed our taxes. We settled into our lives as urban twenty-somethings. She worked downtown, and later from home. I worked at a startup, and I started a startup with a friend at my wedding, and that became my career for the next long while. We’d have a house, a dog, and a kid before I gave that job up.

The biggest decision we made together, besides starting a family, was buying a house in Walnut Creek. We were able to save up the money by ourselves, and I was eager to move onto the next stage of adulthood. We agreed to focus our search on the far side of the east bay, in the sleepy suburb where my grandparents lived. She and I would go visit my grandpa pretty often, and he was delighted when our daughter started showing up on those visits. When he fell ill, I coupled my visits to see him with open houses. For a short while we considered buying his house from my family. Eventually, after several false starts, we found our house. We liquidated every dollar we’d saved together to get it, and it was worth every penny. To our surprise, a new group of friends emerged who have helped us expand our sense of home throughout the neighborhood.

A neighborhood community is a unique and powerful thing, and I think we’re so embedded in ours because she values it too. It’s never been more important to us than it is now, in the midst of a crisis, where everyone is impacted and no one has childcare, so we quarantine together in our oak-lined bubble.

I imagine myself an old man. I’m still with the girl I married ten years ago. I’m not sure what else I could ask for.

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