Posts tagged relationship
5 Reasons Why Our Marriage Works

Ivan here.

The title of this post is like hanging up a “Mission Accomplished” banner on the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier. It’s tempting fate, by inviting complacency, leading eventually to a divorce.

The fact is, no marriage is perfect and every relationship is a work-in-progress. Ours is no different. But having spent the past nine years together, and six of those years surviving a long distance relationship, we thought we would give our perspective on the reasons why we think our marriage works.


5 Reasons Why Our Marriage Works

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1. Having shared values is more important than having similar personalities or interests

A few mornings ago, Jennie and I noticed something about our interactions with the Cambodian husband and wife who run our favorite donut shop:

“Do you ever notice that they’re more relaxed and chatty around me than they are with you?” asked Jennie.
“Now that you mention it,” I said, taking a sip of coffee. “Yeah, that’s kind of upsetting. I come here more often than you too. Sometimes they see me twice a day.”

Life isn’t fair. We can’t all be short and peppy Asian girls, brimming with optimism and empathy. One of Jennie’s superpowers is that she can meet someone for the first time and make them comfortable enough to spill their deepest, darkest secrets - like they’ve known her their whole life. I’ve seen her do this many times. Frankly, it’s manipulative, but as a writer, I’m also jealous. I want to learn people’s secrets…

[Editor’s note: It’s not manipulative. It's called genuine interest and empathy.]

On the other hand, I’ve found that people are not as comfortable around me. I don’t give off many verbal or non-verbal cues of interest (even though I’m usually very engaged!). Sometimes, when I’m in a conversation, I have to remind myself to smile.

But despite our personality differences, Jennie and I operate on the exact same wavelength. This is because we have almost identical values. While we’ve definitely worked at this over the course of our 9 year relationship, the similarities were there from the beginning:

  • We both have problems with being told what to do.
  • We don’t like being tied down.
  • We like to challenge everything, and
  • We’re willing to do (just about) anything to get what we want.

You don’t need to have similar personalities or interests to make a relationship work. Those are just details. Having similar values means that we both want to move in the same direction.

2. Different backgrounds and perspectives can often be complementary

I have no idea what it’s like to grow up poor or to experience racism. But collectively, we do. Jennie has no idea what it’s like to live and work in a foreign country, or to plan your financial future out in decades. But collectively, we do. Whenever we have different opinions about a person we just met, I usually defer to her opinion. Whenever she’s trying to figure out the best way to communicate an idea, she usually defers to mine.

Having worked part-time service jobs since she was 14, I trust that Jennie has had more exposure to different types of people than I have, and understands what makes them tick better than I do. Having had a lot of time on my hands to sit around in air-conditioning (Taipei summers: would not recommend) and read and write all day, I know how to communicate an idea with clarity. It’s the only useful skill I possess.

We learn from each other, ask each other for advice, and openly disagree. Through this process, Jennie makes me a more well-rounded and empathetic human being, whereas I challenge her to think and act in a way that’s true to herself.

Because of these differences, we’re able to draw on a larger sample size of experience to make more informed decisions.

3. Being able to say anything to each other and trusting that it comes from a good place

We argue - a lot. Sometimes, a brainstorming session for our business or this blog feels like open-hand combat while scaling Mount Everest. We both have to bring the big guns and artillery to an argument, because otherwise, one person is going to roll over the other.

The motto for our relationship should be:

If you give me an inch, I’m going to try to take the entire mile.

Arguing a lot means we end up saying some unsavory and uncomfortable things to each other. Not going to lie - stubbornness ensues and feelings get hurt - but eventually, we come around to the idea that what the other person says (usually) comes from a good place.

It can be small things. I remember in the beginning of our relationship, Jennie had this habit where she’d agree with someone just to seem agreeable. It’s the sociable side of her that wants everyone to have a good time and feel comfortable. Usually, this is fine, but I draw the line when she starts agreeing with something she obviously doesn’t believe.

“ Is that what you actually think? Because I know you said the exact opposite to me. So either, a) you lied to me or b) you just agreed for the sake of being agreeable. I can’t trust you if it’s the former. The latter makes you look weak and spineless. Stop doing that. ”

Or how about this comment Jennie made before I headed off to Taiwan?

“ Recently, I’ve noticed that you’ve been taking your lack of productivity out on me. I didn’t do anything wrong. You’ve just been lazy and not producing like the professional you’re supposed to be. And I don’t appreciate being treated like this. ”

And those were the family-friendly versions of what we said. But at the end of the day, no matter what was said, we both realize that we’re on the same team. This means that we can be brutally honest with each other to make the team better.

4. We’re able to function together and independently

If there’s any upside to spending six years doing long distance, it’s that we were both forced to develop and grow separately. Both of us have 4-6 years of working experience under our belt in our areas of specialty. We had social lives apart from each other. We could get ourselves set up in most cities around the world with food, shelter, and a job.

We don’t have to be together - we chose to be together.  

I think psychologically, this is an important distinction. Because how else would I know Jennie isn’t just with me because I’m familiar or for lack of a better option? Or that she’s scared of what life might look like without something she’s “used to” or “depends on”? The idea of being someone’s convenient or default choice is upsetting.

5. We’re not influenced by people’s expectations of what a marriage is

The institution of marriage is not sacred to us. Had it not been for the fact that one of us needed to immigrate in order to live together, we probably wouldn’t have married so early in our twenties. I guess the best way to put it is:

We would’ve stay unmarried for as long as the tax advantages of marriage were less than the expense and hassle of holding a wedding.

Even after we married, we had no expectations of what married life “should be like.” What should the husband or man be responsible for in a marriage? The wife or woman?

Our approach was pretty simple: I’m me. You’re you. And we’re going to figure out exactly what kind of marriage we want that works for us, and we’re going to make conscious, rational decisions to build towards that.

Everything else is just noise.

8 Years Together: What’s Changed (And What’s Stayed the Same)

A few weeks ago, Ivan and I celebrated our 8th anniversary together. Since Ivan has been away in Taiwan on a cross-country cycling trip, I’ve had some time to reflect on our relationship. In response to Ivan’s “Why We Always Fight On Our Anniversary” post, I wanted to share ways our relationship has changed and stayed the same over the last eight years together.

Five ways our relationship has changed:

1. Small moments matter a lot more to us now than grand gestures.

When we were in a long distance relationship, every little thing felt like a grand gesture (e.g. visiting each other, flowers sent to the office, fancy dinners, etc). Now, the most memorable moments are those mundane/in-between moments we spend together. Activities like taking long walks together or having coffee in the mornings has made a lasting and positive impact for our relationship. The little things help us stay connected and I value the social capital that builds up from these moments much more than the big moments now.

2. Our arguments have become MORe trivial (and get resolved faster).

A great example of this is when I drove Ivan at the airport last week. Ivan started getting irritated with me because he was anxious about getting to the airport on time but I kept getting lost (even with the GPS on). So we started bickering. By the time we got to the airport, both of us were annoyed. Afterward, I seethed all the way through heavy LA traffic and when I got home, I saw that Ivan had texted me and apologized for losing his temper. I instantly forgave him. Problem solved.

I may be biased because we argue all the time, but I think open conflict is healthy in a relationship. Stuff doesn’t accumulate, everything surfaces. We’re forced to deal with our issues head on. Once you sort through all the important stuff (i.e. life goals and priorities), you start to realize that being right on the small stuff isn’t worth the hassle.

3. We’re more in tune with each other financially.

We’re more focused on planning for the the future as a couple. When I say this, it’s mainly about financial stability. We check in frequently about savings, investments, short-term goals, and long-term goals together; it’s probably been the best change in our relationship because we’re clear on expectations and the type of future we want to have together. A clear example of this is what we’re cutting back and saving more in order to reach our $40,000 savings goal for our year long round the world trip. This simple but clear financial goal helps us map out things we both need to do in order to be successful.

4. It’s More difficult to Keep our relationship Fresh

This is still a working item for Ivan and I. When we were living apart, it was a lot easier to set aside an hour or two to Skype each other. Now that we’re living together, it’s tough to spend quality together without life getting in the way. It seems like we’re constantly boppin’ around grabbing groceries, going to appointments, or working; by the end of the day, it’s exhausting to prioritize our relationship. Even though I personally think there’s more to be done on this front -- Ivan and I have begun to lay the foundation work by grabbing coffee together in the mornings (without distractions) and that’s helping a bit.

5. We’ve rounded each other out

From the very beginning, Ivan and I were complete opposites.

Ivan used to be a lot colder and more distant from other people. On the other end of the spectrum, I was always a little too emotional in my arguments and opinions. Over the years, we’ve had practice in improving those characteristic flaws and now Ivan’s EQ has improved (slightly) and I’m more rational/logical in my arguments (significantly).

Note: The emphasis on "slightly" and "significantly" were all Ivan's edits... - Jennie

Three ways our relationship has stayed the same:

1. We’re still just as competitive.

The friends and family that know Ivan and I well understand that both of us are obsessed with being “right” and “winning” an argument. Early on, we constantly debated/argued to see who could get the upper hand. We even made wagers -- and Ivan always takes them because he thinks he’s always right.

One time, Ivan lost a game of poker to me (because he was on a long winning streak) and ended up wearing a maid’s outfit to the movies with me in Japan.

2. We’re still our own person, with our own goals.

One of the primary things we’ve been adamant about since we’ve been together is being our own person. I’ve met several couples where over become a single unit with no real ambitions or distinguishing qualities. The problem with this is that over time, you lose what makes you unique and start to become defined by your significant other.

For us, being partners means first establishing who you are as an individual. You don’t want to live every waking moment for the other person. Instead, it’s about establishing personal goal and space to evolve as an individual. We can support one another but it’s so important to have something that is solely yours.

3. We still love each other a lot, in spite of our flaws.

I still love Ivan as much as I did when I first met him. I love him more because I’ve grown to love and accept him as he is. He and I have a lot of faults and I know we’re not perfect people, but we’ve learned to accept one another as is. That’s key. It’s difficult to find someone who will love every good and bad aspect of you as a flawed human being.


Why We Always Fight on Our Anniversary
What we're like when we fight...
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
— Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

Ivan here. 

On April 4th, Jennie and I celebrated our eight year anniversary. For some strange reason, we always cap off our celebration with a huge fight. Jennie claims it’s my fault. I’ll let you be the judge.

Before I get to this year’s train-wreck, let me give you a recap of our last two anniversaries:

April 4, 2015: Six Years Together

This was back when we were still living apart, caught up in a seventeen month long immigration nightmare. I was living in Toronto. Jennie was in Boston. Let’s just say we were thinking some un-American and politically incorrect thoughts at the time. We were also running out the rope on a six year long distance relationship. All because some incompetent nitwit sitting in a cubicle somewhere had lost our paperwork. 

A month before our anniversary, I told Jennie I couldn’t bring myself to visit her that year. I informed her that I wasn’t going to set foot on American soil if it meant buying yet another round-trip ticket back to Toronto. The very thought made me physically ill. To make matters worse, I told her not to visit me because I knew that in my mental state, we were just going to end up fighting. 

Needless to say, Jennie didn’t appreciate my candor and we ended up fighting on our anniversary anyway. Except instead of fighting in person, we did it over Skype.

So well played on my part. 

April 4, 2016: Seven Years Together

I’m pleased to report that our seventh anniversary was not my fault. Jennie and I had just moved into our new Los Angeles apartment. We were in a new city and were both adjusting to our new environment. Jennie had a brand new job. I was writing more than I ever had in my life. We were feeling great.

A few problems though. We had no furniture in our apartment as our bed wouldn’t arrive for another week. We also had no power because the last tenant was late in paying his bills. Because our anniversary fell on a weekend, we had to wait until Monday to call the power company to maybe send a guy over at the most inconvenient time possible. BTW: if this were Taipei, I’d be able to walk down to my local 7-Eleven, pay my electric bill by machine and the lights would be back on by the time I got home. 


We must have gone somewhere for dinner that year, though neither of us remember where we went. All we remember was coming home after charging our phones at a nearby Starbucks, getting into an argument about nothing in particular, then falling asleep on a pile of cardboard boxes. The weak, flickering flame of the candle we lit that night felt like a metaphor for our marriage. 

What Happened This Year

The week leading up to our eight year anniversary was lovely. We had breakfast together every morning before work, trading memories about all the wonderful things we’ve experienced together since we started dating on a perfect spring morning in Kyoto, Japan. We both agreed to keep this year’s celebration low key: a sunset walk to a nearby sushi bar we’d been meaning to try - a small, unassuming place run by a Japanese husband and wife team. The restaurant even had a clock that ran counter-clockwise. Isn’t that poetic? Like going back in time. 

When the day of our anniversary arrived, I was juggling a few deadlines and had also committed to a volunteer session that afternoon. Originally, I was under the assumption that Jennie would be at work, giving me time to take care of business before she came home.

What I didn’t account for was Jennie being a klutz and trying to off herself with a shard of glass to the wrist. 

Now I don’t expect applause or anything, but for context: I’d been doing all the cooking, cleaning, and laundry for the week that Jennie was incapacitated, all while trying to keep up with a mounting pile of work. By our anniversary, I was feeling worn out and irritable. Meanwhile, Jennie felt increasingly neglected as I went about my tasks, barely acknowledging her existence. 

That afternoon, after three hours of unsuccessfully trying to instill a love of reading into a group of eight year olds, I arrived home exhausted, but looking forward to some quality time. We took our sunset walk to the sushi bar, sat down and placed our orders. 

The conversation that ensued went something like this: 

Jennie: Tell me something. 

Ivan: What? 

Jennie: Tell me your favorite memory of us. 

Ivan: Wait, I thought we already did this. You know, this past week over breakfast?

Jennie: Yeah, but today is my anniversary. 

Ivan: Our anniversary. And I know. That’s why we’re sitting here having sushi.

Jennie (eyes narrow): Is it too much to ask for you to just come up with something? 

Ivan: I've already told you my best memories. Now it just feels forced. Besides, I’m tired and all talked out today. Can’t we just do that thing where we look deeply into each other’s eyes and lapse into a comfortable silence? 

You can imagine what happened next.

My Three Takeaways about relationships and arguments

1. Expectations are corrosive

I hate how certain days are “supposed” to be more romantic than others. Valentine’s Day, for example. Total bull-crap. It’s like we enjoy setting ourselves up to fail. I've had a great time with Jennie over the past eight years. Why should we have to get our hopes up for one day out of the year? 

2. Focus on the journey over arbitrary milestones

We were never more appreciative of each other and happy in each other’s company than during the weeks leading up to our anniversary. It felt great. I may not be that bright, but it’s almost as if the process (i.e. spending our days together) is more important than some arbitrary milestone. 

Btw: I feel the same way about birthdays. Why is being born such a great achievement? What did the baby do in the delivery room that’s so worth celebrating?

3. It’s (probably) my fault

I’m just a stubborn guy with a bad temper who prefers to be left alone 90% of the time. I should feel lucky that someone wanted to marry me in the first place. The most practical solution to avoid future blow-ups would be to refrain from standing on principle and just do the little that’s asked of me, right? 


5 Small Occupying Moments of our Week (03/19 - 03/26)

You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kinda thinking it’s the other way around. You know, like the moment seizes us.
— Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Ivan here. 

For those who haven’t seen Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, go check it out. It was filmed over the course of twelve years and lends new meaning to the phrase “boy, time sure flies.” Pun intended. 

To the critics who complained that the movie was boring: so fucking what? Some of my best memories are completely mundane. April 2009. Osaka, Japan. Jennie falls asleep on my shoulder while we’re riding the subway. We weren’t in a hurry, so I didn’t wake her when we arrived at our station. We rode the same line back and forth for an hour and a half. 

Sometimes, I wish I could remember what I was thinking in those moments. How did I feel? What observations did I make about the people around me? What did Jennie and I talk and laugh about afterwards? 

Why doesn’t anyone capture these moments before they slip away? 

That’s how this series was born. An experiment. A weekly log of small insignificant thoughts, observations and moments which occupied us for a little while. 

Ivan's Moments

1. Small Dogs

They call a Chihuahua and Dachshund hybrid a Chiweenie. I Googled it. I also Googled: “how much chocolate does it take to kill a dog?” Because this week, I seriously contemplated lobbing a piece of Lindt 99% dark chocolate into one particular backyard. 

The yard in question lies along my jogging route and belongs to the most loathsome creature I’ve ever met. As a rule, I dislike small barky dogs. I also startle easily. Because this Chiweenie is usually hidden behind a wooden fence, it never fails to scare the living wits out of me.

Last week was the final straw. I finally had proof that this little shit had it out for me. On my Friday run, I saw the biker ahead of me whiz past the yard, followed by a jogging couple. Not a peep from behind the fence.

It was waiting for me. 

2. Dave Chappelle walking away from $50 million

Would I have walked away from $50 million? Choices, right?

In 2005, comedian Dave Chappelle walked away from a successful show on Comedy Central and a $50 million contract. First, he fled to South Africa and just hung out for a few months. Went to the mall, did normal things. Then he retreated to his farm in Ohio, where he would remain for the next decade. 

I was reminded of this story after watching Chappelle’s two Netflix specials this week as well as this moving interview with Maya Angelou. 

I understood his reasons perfectly. Sometimes we all gotta learn what we can and can’t live with. But that doesn’t mean that doing what’s right can’t be an ordeal, that you can't second guess yourself at every turn. Rich or poor, young or old, we’re all in the same struggle of making sense of our lives - and we can only do it one fold at a time. 

3. Midnight in Fatburger

Jennie's attempt at portraying my midnight snack.

During the 17 month immigration process, you could’ve gauged the state of my depression by the number of pizza boxes and takeout containers lying around my apartment. My low was probably finishing two family-size boxes of Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies (the chewy kind) in a single sitting in the dead of a Toronto winter. No, I didn’t have milk. 

For a variety of reasons, last week wasn’t great. So I found myself dragging Jennie to Fatburger at 11pm. I ordered a turkey burger (I don’t eat beef), onion rings, and an extra order of fries (also for me) while Jennie looked on disapprovingly. As we waited under the fluorescent lighting, our clothes soaking in the smell of burning flesh, I opened up my Goodbudget app and logged my purchase under Eating Out & Entertainment. $15. In the comments I wrote,“Fatburger, you fat fuck.” 

On our way out, we passed a man parking his car in the plaza parking lot. He took one look at us and said, “you folks look exhausted.” Jennie smiled. I kept walking.

Jennie’s Moments

4. EntertainmenT Hospitals

The other day, I called a hospital within my insurance provider network to find a new primary care physician. Here's how the conversation went:

Me: Hi there, I'm looking to become a new patient with Dr. XYZ. Is she accepting new patients right now?

Admin: Why yes, of course! What part of the entertainment industry are you from?

Me: Huh? Oh, I'm not in the entertainment industry.

Admin: Oh, sorry, but we only cover those who are part of the entertainment industry...

Me: Well, I got your information off of my provider network.

Admin: There's nothing we can do. Sorry about that. 

What makes people in the entertainment business so special? 

5. Venice Beach STing

My office is in Venice Beach. Sometime last week, I was walking back to our office with a colleague from coffee, when we saw a swarm of police officers and cars surrounding an RV that doubled as an mobile recycling service for the homeless. 

I quickly walked past as my colleague was trying to get a ton of photos of the neighborhood disturbance; as we got to a door some guy in a bulletproof vest walked up to us and completely unprompted, started telling us everything. 

Random police officer: Yeah, you’re okay. Just completed a sting. We just busted people trying to sell dope to our undercover guys.

Me: Oh, well, thanks, I guess. 

Random police officer: Yeah, they were selling dope. There’s been a lot of auto-thefts in this area but now we’ve got the culprits. And we’re taking away their kids too.

He smiles, proud of himself.  I didn’t say anything.

Random police officer: Well, uh, you’re good to go. 

First of all, what was he bragging about? Second, why was he divulging this information to me? Nobody asked him. Finally, why did everyone in my office seem to take such visceral pleasure from this incident?