In August, Elie and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary with a getaway to Vancouver. While we visit Vancouver often, it’s always with Theo to visit family. We seldom get to just wander the neighborhoods, sit uninterrupted in coffee shops, window shop at leisure and linger over long dinners, holding hands across the table.
So that is what we did. We checked into the elegant Hotel Georgia and reconnected.
I recently spent time with a new friend, who asked how Elie and I met. I proceeded to give her a shortish version of a long story. She told me I should share our love story, because it might inspire others. So, here it is.
Elie and first met in 2005, at a furniture market in North Carolina. I was there assisting my mom and then-stepdad, who were furniture manufacturer’s reps, in their showroom. I met hundreds of people at that furniture show, most of whom I wouldn’t be able to recognize in a room. But, I remember everything about that first meeting with Elie. His smile. His positive energy. The way he spoke. I liked him immediately.
My then-husband and I had just moved to Seattle for his job. Married for four years, I was stepmother to five teenage and young adult children, four of whom had lived with us until that move to the Pacific Northwest. My first marriage was not an easy one. My husband battled compulsive behaviors and anxiety, and daily life felt turbulent and uneasy. More often than not, I went to sleep in tears. But, I was committed to my marriage and making it work.
Over the years, I continued to help my mom at furniture markets, and Elie and I became friends. He had known my stepdad since he was a teenager, so we would often end up at the same dinners and events. Over many dinners, I would sit with Elie, his brother Oren, and our friend Lisa, all talking about how hard marriage is, the sacrifices of self, the struggle to compromise, the co-dependency of needing or wanting to make the other person happy, even when it feels impossible.
I always felt a connection to Elie, and it confused me. One night, at the Las Vegas furniture market, a big group of us went to a show after dinner. I ended up sitting next to Elie, and during the whole show, I felt this compulsive desire to hold his hand. I kept thinking, What is wrong with me?! I’m married. Why do I want to hold his hand? After the show, as I was walking back to the hotel with my mom, Elie asked us both if we wanted to go out dancing.
Definitely not, I thought. I’m going back to my room. And I did.
In 2008, I had moved from Seattle to Toledo, Ohio where my then-husband had accepted a new job. That move fell at the beginning of the recession, and I struggled to figure out what I wanted to do next, especially in Toledo. I felt lost. I had put my whole self into my marriage, which was failing. I felt numb, searching, a deep longing for joy, for meaning, for contentment.
A visit with my best friend from high school, who lived in Cincinnati, gave me the kick-in-the-butt I needed. She’s the kind of rare friend who knows my heart and cares enough about me to be brutally honest. Over lunch, she said, “I don’t even recognize you anymore. You always knew exactly who you were and what you were going to do with your life. What DO YOU want to do?”
I looked at her and said, “I have no idea.” But seeing myself through my friend’s eyes jolted me. I decided to figure it out.
During my undergraduate years, I almost became a registered dietitian, and food and nutrition had remained a strong interest and hobby. After a little research, I found my undergraduate nutrition credits still counted, so I went back to school at Bowling Green State University to finish the requirements I needed to become a registered dietitian. Before you take the RD exam, you spend a year in an unpaid internship. It’s a matching program, where applicants rank-order the internships they apply to and the internship programs rank-order their applicants. You’re only matched to one internship.
I clearly remember the morning I opened my computer to find my internship match. I had ranked Bastyr University in Seattle first and the Cleveland Clinic second. And then I prayed. God, if I should leave my marriage, give me Bastyr. If I should stay, give me Cleveland. When I saw Bastyr University next to my name, I felt free.
Leaving my first marriage was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I didn’t do it well. I have a history of avoiding conflict and confrontations (any other Enneagram 9s out there?), and so I tried to soften my exit and ease out of my marriage, instead of just making a clean break. I now recognize, it was not the kind choice. It made it harder on my husband. I didn’t communicate well with my step-children, and they were hurt. If I had it all to go back and do again, I would. But at the time, I felt paralyzed. It felt like all I could manage.
That was 2010. I packed up my car and my cats and drove across the country to begin again.
Elie and I had remained in touch over the years, often talking and providing support to each other. I admired him, respected him. Kind, joyful, empathetic, smart, fun. I knew he wasn’t available—he was still married to his wife—but he embodied the kind of man I wanted to share a life with.
When I left my marriage to begin life again, I knew I would never again compromise my own integrity, my values, for another person. When I married my first husband, he had habits that bothered me, behaviors and ideals that made me uncomfortable. But I made excuses. He has a good heart. He means well. He’s just angry when he says that. He won’t do that again. I can love him enough to make it okay. Sometimes we have fun together. I know he loves me. Excuses. A need to fix him, to heal the brokenness. A feeling of dependency and responsibility. If I can make him happy, I will be happy.
I wouldn’t make that same mistake again, because it doesn’t work. You can’t fix another human being, and you shouldn’t even try. You can't make another person feel whole, or worthy. My first husband deserved someone who loves and accepts him exactly the way he is. Or he must love himself enough to become the person he wants to be, the face he puts to the world. That’s true for us all. I have come to believe that true love is an accepting love, foibles and all.
When I left Ohio for Seattle, I knew only that I was embarking on a new adventure for myself to choose a new career path I loved and to create a new life. And then life took an unexpected turn.
Elie and I talked after I arrived in Seattle. His marriage was not a happy one either, but I knew—or thought—he was committed to staying in his marriage. He would often tell me of the sweet and thoughtful things he planned to try and make her happy. I told him his wife was lucky—he was such a good husband.
A few months after I arrived in Seattle, Elie told me he had decided to leave his marriage. He was filing for a separation. And then he asked me on a date. We started dating, and it felt exactly right. Elie and I have an ease with each other I’ve never experienced with anyone else. We could walk and talk for hours and days on end and never tire. I cooked for us. He played guitar. We took long walks and kept talking. We shared our stories. We were in that euphoric stage of new love, where we'd walk out in the rain at midnight for falafel or eat breakfast in bed and then spend the whole afternoon curled up with each other. It took months for us to watch a movie together. We fell deeply in love, accepting each other completely and adoring each other, exactly as we were. We still do.
During those first weeks, Elie teased me for my detailed storytelling, but it was really important to me that I was completely honest with him about my life, the decisions I'd made--both good and bad, my shortcomings, my secrets, and how I'd grown through my experience in my first marriage. I didn't want there to be any surprises. Elie accepted everything I told him with empathy, without judgement. That experience of sharing became the foundation of the gentle honesty and kindness on which we build our marriage.
I was so happy when Elie and I started dating. We both were. But, Elie wasn’t ready for an exclusive relationship. He had been with his first wife for 18 years and wanted a chance to date other people and have more experiences. I didn’t blame him at all. I knew we were perfect for each other, but I wanted him to have the same confidence in our future as I did. I told him, not all begrudgingly—to go and date. And he did. He dated locally. He traveled through Israel and Bali and Italy for over a month, meeting new people. And then he came home.
In July of that year, we were laying by a pool in Las Vegas when he asked me to go steady. I loved the old-fashioned and romantic gesture. I had recently finished my dietetic internship and had moved to Bellingham to start my business. I lived first temporarily with him and then into my own apartment. It felt important that I have my own place, my own space, before we moved forward with our relationship.
But to be honest, I didn't stay at my apartment very much, and the cats and I soon moved back in. We started our blissful life together.
That next November, in 2012, Elie proposed. I was completely surprised, because I thought he would wait another year before asking me to marry him. In classic Elie style, he had planned an elaborate surprise proposal, to make me feel valued and special. He invited our family and friends to join us for dinner and then to an improv show at The Upfront Theater. During the last sketch, Elie and I were both pulled onstage to join the performance, where Elie got down on one knee, opened a ring box and asked me to be his wife. Stunned and overjoyed, I said yes.
The following August, we said our vows to each other in a fairytale wedding. But most importantly, we have the marriage I always dreamed was possible. So often, I hear people say marriage is hard. And Elie and I both have lived that version of marriage. But I want you to know it doesn't have to be.
I will never regret the winding road that brought me to Elie and my current life, because the learning and growth along the way made this life possible. I learned to always be kind. To really listen. To pause before I speak. To let the little things go. If something is bothering me, I sleep on it--give myself a chance to process what I feel and why I feel that way. Is it really something Elie said or did? Or is it my reaction? Elie does the same thing. And if it's something we need to talk about, we do so gently. Elie and I have developed a method for managing conflict, and it begins with this sentence: "I need to check in with you about something." And that's the signal to the other person to stop and clearly listen with an open heart.
As a result, we've never had a fight. We've never raised our voices at each other. We've never been mad. We're kind, open-minded and open-hearted. That's not to say we never have conflict or we don't sometimes annoy each other. We're human. But we manage the conflict together, putting aside our egos as best we can to support ourselves and each other. Eight years into our relationship and six years into our marriage, it's working.
Your choice of spouse is probably the most important decision you make in your life. And through my experiences, I've developed strong viewpoints on choosing the 'right' person. First, marry someone you respect, someone who is honest. Because during times of trouble, if you respect each other, almost everything else can be salvaged. Marry someone who is kind, because kindness provides a foundation for serenity and understanding. Kindness is calming. Marry someone who likes to live life in the same way that you do--someone who fundamentally has the same values. And lastly, marry someone whom you intrinsically like--someone you don't want to change. Because you cannot change someone else, you can only change yourself or your reaction to someone else. And if you have all of those things--a foundation of respect and kindness and true friendship, then conflict or challenges become manageable hurdles you tackle together.
I felt then—and still do—that Elie is perfect. Always cheerful, he never seems to have a bad day. He has a youthful exuberance for life, a joyful exploration of learning or doing something new. Elie is strong, compassionate and vulnerable, always growing, always learning. He's not afraid to be wrong or to try something new. He cares deeply about others and is openly empathetic and kind. He inspires me to be the best version of myself, and I can't imagine a better quality in a spouse. I wouldn't change a single thing about my husband.
People often ask me how and why I share so many personal stories on this site. Since I was little, I loved the process of writing, of taking stories out of my head and recording them on paper (or the screen). It has always helped me make sense or meaning out of my life. So, the process is important. But also, any time I feel like maybe all this is a waste of time, I will get a note from someone, saying my stories have impacted their life in some way, small or large. And that's enough for me.
I'm sharing our love story and a peek into our marriage, not to boast or create comparisons, but to inspire.
If you have never been married, I hope this post makes you think more clearly about a potential spouse you're considering and what your life together might be like, not just now, but in the future.
If you're in an unhappy marriage, but one built on fundamental respect and friendship, I hope this post inspires you to sit down with your spouse and discover how to reclaim kindness and passion in your every day.
If you're in an unhappy and abusive marriage--mental, emotional or physical abuse--I hope this post gives you the certainty that life can be another way. Leaving a marriage with little respect or civility does not make you a bad person, or a quitter. It makes you strong, giving you an opportunity to seize the life you're meant to live.
And if you're in a loving, supportive marriage, I hope this post encourages you to share your story, too. It's not boasting. It's inspiring. Guaranteed, it will influence others and change lives.
So, that is why I write and share our story. I love our relationship, our marriage, our life together. And the deep love we have for each other gave roots to our family, which now includes our sweet Theo. I can't imagine a more beautiful life. I am so very grateful.
Photos above by Matthew Land Studios.
And now, for a recipe. This sandwich is the first thing I ever made for Elie--it was a late night snack after a night out. It quickly became known to us as a Lisa Egg Sandwich. Every time we eat this together, it takes us back to that giddy time of new love, when time stands still and everything else disappears outside the sphere of each other.
makes 2 egg sandwiches
Start by lightly toasting the bread, to give the sandwich a solid foundation and keep it from getting soggy when it's grilled.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add a good coating of olive oil and add the eggs. Pop the yolk and let the eggs fry in the olive oil until the edges are crispy, but the center is still tender. Flip and cook just for a few seconds, leaving the yolks still slightly soft. Remove the eggs from the pan to a plate and reserve.
To the same pan, add the slices of prosciutto and cook, turning once, until the prosciutto is crispy. Remove to the pan.
Wipe out the skillet.
Lay the bread slices out on a cutting board. Slather two of the slices with fig jam. Place thin slices of cheddar cheese on the other two slices. Place the egg on top of the cheese slice and the prosciutto on top of the fig slice. Fold the two halves together into a sandwich.
Return the pan to medium heat and add a good pat of butter, at least a tablespoon, if not two. Place the sandwich, cheese side down, into the pan. Reduct the heat to low and cook until the bread is toasted and golden and the cheese is melted. Turn the sandwich and cook on the other side, until that side is golden.
Remove from the pan, slice in half diagonally. Enjoy with the person you love.