Illustration by Patrick Long

I met my wife in 2002 at a farmers market through a friend of a friend who had started a job with my wife's ex-girlfriend that same day. What started as a chance meeting turned into our "meet-cute." She walked through the farmers market toward us as my mother not-so-jokingly whispers in my ear, "Stop drooling and shut your mouth." My heart and eyes knew from that first moment, that first look. I had never expected to meet her that day, or that randomly. However, love, like marriage, comes with plenty of surprises.

I don't think any of our friends would have chosen us as a couple who would last. We had very little in common. Me, a spiritual hippie, queer artist, and activist—while she was an in-the-closet Catholic, non-registered voter, and conservative. We disagreed about most everything except Star Trek, Filipino food, our love of history, and being fiery Leos deeply in love. Eleven years, two domestic partnerships, two weddings, two college degrees, and two cats later, after many ups and downs, I can happily say our marriage is stronger and healthier than it's ever been. Yes, we still fight about the little things: dishes, my backseat driving, financial planning, camping vs. napping, Corgis vs. English Mastiffs, who loves whom more. What we don't fight about is our relationship.

After a couple of rough years when family illness, conflicting personal goals, and financial stress had taken its toll, we reached that "make it-or-break it" moment, where we could have easily walked away. That is when the hard work of marriage began. Work that a million romantic comedies never prepared me for. I never raised a boom box over my head, or dramatically performed a musical theater number on a quiet street, or burst into a crowded room shouting "You complete me." It was simply the act of taking responsibility for our faults, validating feelings we didn't understand, placing a priority on our relationship, and promising each other to never let go. We took time for the hard conversations, being brutally honest about our problems (as well as our needs and desires), analyzing what wasn't working and why, and then critically thinking about possible solutions. (This included tango lessons, 1,000-piece puzzles, weekly date nights, dedicated self-care alone time, holding hands more, and a lot, A LOT of cuddling.) The plan: team building and personal growth. Our task: clearing away the baggage in our marriage. Our obsession: to love, honor, and protect our marriage.

In my work as a wedding officiant, I reference my own life lessons in my ceremonies, offering gentle reminders to these couples in order to ease the life-long task of living and growing together. And I wish the same for you. So... never forget to:

"Treat yourselves and each other with respect, and remind yourselves often of what brought you together. Give the highest priority to the tenderness, gentleness, and kindness that your connection deserves. When frustration, difficulties, and fear assail your relationship—as they threaten all relationships at one time or another—remember to focus on what is right between you, not only what seems wrong. In this way, you can ride out the storms, remembering that even if you lose sight of it for a moment, the sun is still there. Marriage is a choice—a choice for a life of work and dedication in tribute to your love. And if each of you takes responsibility for the quality of your life together, it will be marked by abundance and delight."