Because marriage is an ever-evolving experience, we constantly shift, change and, in some cases, start over. In It’s No Secret, couples share thoughts about commitment and tell us what they have learned, revealing their secret to making it work. (Answers are edited for context and space.)
Who Bonnie Brescia, 60, and Jeanette Poillon, 62
Occupation Ms. Brescia is a founder of BBK Worldwide, a marketing and communications agency that connects patients and doctors with research studies. Ms. Poillon is a retired executive producer for corporate video projects and is now a beekeeper. They live in Needham, Mass. They have two daughters, Sophia, 21, and Grace, 25.
Their Marriage Sixteen years, one month and counting, though the couple had a self-uniting ceremony in Hawaii in 1989, before Massachusetts, their home state, permitted same-sex marriages.
Through the Years
Bonnie Brescia and Jeanette Poillon met in December 1981 while Ms. Brescia was bartending at Uno Pizzeria in downtown Boston. “We had a small circle of friends and Jeanette was a friend of a friend,” said Ms. Brescia, then 22. “I made her a strawberry daiquiri. There was an instant spark. Her eyes had laughter and warmth that seemed greater than you’d expect from someone you just met.”
At the time, both women were in relationships. Though they were attracted to each other, they waited until each was single to explore a deeper connection. “Every time I saw her, I told myself, I’m going to marry this woman,” Ms. Brescia said.
Three years went by. Then Ms. Poillon broke up with her girlfriend. A year later Ms. Brescia did as well. In 1985, Ms. Brescia invited herself over to Ms. Poillon’s home in downtown Boston. “We watched Silverado. It was an absurd thing to do, to watch a movie about cowboys,” she said. “But I left her condo knowing this was going where it should have gone but couldn’t go before.”
The relationship moved quickly. Within a year and half they bought a house together in the Roslindale neighborhood of Boston. A year later, in 1988, Ms. Brescia proposed in their guest room with a diamond ring she purchased at Tiffany. In January of 1989, the pair booked a flight to Hawaii where they had a symbolic ceremony. “We stood on the edge of the lava flow on the Kona Coast of the Big Island. We said our vows, shared an apple and threw our leis into the ocean.”
Over the next 10 years the couple adopted two baby girls from China. They married in 2004 when Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriages. “We got married on our sun porch,” said Ms. Brescia, who in the top photograph wore the blouse she donned 15 years earlier for the same occasion. “We only had a justice of the peace and our best friends and their son. Our daughter Sophia, who was 5, walked around in our garden saying, ‘I don’t understand. I thought you were already married.’”
What They’ve Learned
Ms. Brescia Jeanette’s low key, I’m not. She’s not high strung. I am. She’s not judgmental. She’s funny and sexy and has an edge. She’s not organized; I’ve learned to live with that. I over commit. I’ve learned that has an impact on others. I’ve become more contained. She’s become more outgoing. That’s a way we’ve explored our own paths side by side.
I was insecure about being loved. My parents were young when they had me and my two siblings. It wasn’t always clear who was parenting whom. Jeanette taught me how to love myself. She made me feel loved, safe, special and worthwhile of being in a relationship with someone; that I could be vulnerable; that I could take care and love someone else but not always be the caretaker. Over time we learned how to do that for one another.
I always wanted children. Jeanette didn’t. Her mother passed away the year I met her. She had a lot of loss growing up. I had a large, loving family, who loved and welcomed her. That filled in a hole for her and a missing piece got fed.
I knew she would be a great parent but she was afraid. She’s learned she’s a great mother; that she has so much to give; that you could be in a family and be happy and safe. It took her a long time to get comfortable with who she was. That wasn’t easy.
When things get messy, she tries to contain people. She’s learned to let me say what I need, that I could have intense feelings and I didn’t need someone to put it back in the bottle. I just needed her to sit by me while I processed it. And she did. We’ve learned to articulate what’s important to each of us, then analyze or explore how those things could be in conflict with each other, and how to harmonize them, move foreword and make it an even better experience.
This marriage holds us up. We’ve learned to reassure each other about our commitment. We’ve learned to voice our opinions without hurting each other’s feelings. We laugh a lot, at ourselves and at each other, together. If we weren’t together, I would be stuck. I’m afraid I would stop growing.
Ms. Poillon We are polar opposites. Bonnie is cerebral, organized and focused. She tends to be impulsive. I’m easy going, sometimes to a fault. I’m disorganized and easily distracted. She’s good at coming up with plans and I’m good at executing them.
I came from a very conservative family. I grew up in the military, we moved every year. That teaches you how to make acquaintances easily and fast, but it doesn’t teach you how to maintain relationships. Learning how to be close to someone was hard. Bonnie taught me how to do that. She’s very brave. She’s taught me how to take time for myself, to take care of myself, and to speak up. Before I just simmered. I’ve learned to ask questions and then ask the right ones. We’ve learned to encourage each other to do what makes us happy professionally.
I was an only child. I didn’t have any experience on how parenting would work. I didn’t think I’d be good at it. But it was part of the deal with Bonnie. She was dead set on having children. I loved her so much and it was so important to her that I was willing to do it. The kids saved my life. So did the marriage. It made me understand that everything I touch has an effect. I learned that about marriage, too. I learned I’ve become a great parent and a great wife.
The journey of marriage changes. Being able to embrace that change is what’s important. You’ve got to keep wanting to keep a marriage together. We’ve worked very hard to get here. I had lived this whole life where it was about me, and I could only hurt myself. Then I met Bonnie and I learned what I did could hurt her.
We’ve gone through many different phases, and as we’ve grown together, we’ve become this one organism. Marriage made me look deep inside myself. I wouldn’t want to do this life for anyone else but her.
Sheltering in Place
Like so many others, the couple and their children have been staying at home because of the coronavirus.
Ms. Brescia For the last several months everything we like to do has been put on hold: dinners out, trips, baseball games. Sophia moved back in with us when American University closed. I’ve been working at home, which I never thought I’d be able to do. I’m working much harder and longer hours and living on Zoom.
Ms. Poillon We’ve been playing a lot of gin rummy. We haven’t done that in 20 years. We each have over 21,000 points. We just keep turning the score page and keep going. I miss the freedom of doing what you wanted. I learned I enjoy being around my family more than I thought I would.