What's the hardest thing about being married? Ask a hundred couples and you’re likely to receive two hundred different responses. Maybe he slacks off on the household chores or she overspends on the allotted monthly budget. Truth is, whether you’re talking about heterosexual or same-sex couples, relationships all face similar obstacles. But ask Thomas Roberts and his husband, Patrick Abner, what’s been the hardest part of matrimonial bliss, and the answer is surprising.
This year marks the first time the couple is being recognized as married by the federal government, and with recognition come questions and curiosity about how the financial chips will fall.
It would have been easy to assume that Roberts’ early wake-up calls for work would be the thorn in his husband’s side—the MSNBC Way Too Early host and Morning Joe contributor sets his alarm for an ungodly 3 a.m. five days a week. Thankfully, Roberts managed to find a partner who shares that early-to-bed, early-to-rise mentality. And though Abner points out that this new schedule takes that sentiment to a whole new level, his husband’s work hours have been the only major adjustment (other than filing status) since they tied the knot in September 2012.
“For me, I felt like I already was married to Thomas. Our life was together, and this would just be a formality. I didn’t expect to feel that different,” Abner says. “But I will tell you that that wasn’t the case at all. The day we got married, the emotion that I had and the feeling that I’ve had afterward is amazing.”
“Our marriage is such a testament to our commitment and what we mean to each other,” Roberts adds. “I think, for us, it was the perfect progression for our relationship. And to be able to get excited about getting married in our 12th year together [was] pretty special.”
Indeed, making it to 12, 10 or (for some) even two years is something to celebrate. But with the rapidly changing state of marriage equality in the U.S., same-sex couples have more to consider than ever before when it comes to the long-term future of their relationships. Marriage isn’t the goal for everyone, but for these two, it was a long time coming.
Then again, just living in the same city was once a luxury for Roberts and Abner. The pair met by chance in September of 2000, when Roberts, then working for an NBC affiliate and living in Norfolk, Virginia, took a weekend trip to North Carolina. With a gentle push from some friends, he tagged along to a going-away party for a complete stranger who was on his way to Philadelphia. That stranger, of course, turned out to be Abner.
“I recall the first time I saw Thomas and I said to my friend, ‘He’s just too good to be true,’” Abner says. “I thought he was the best-looking guy I had ever seen, so I was just immediately smitten. But a relationship was the last thing on my mind.”
The two chatted throughout the weekend but eventually went their own ways, seemingly the end of what had the makings of your typical rom-com. That is until a month later, when the pair ran into one another while in New Orleans for Halloween. Two chance meetings seemed too much to ignore, so they dove headfirst into a long-distance relationship. The very next weekend, upon returning from New Orleans, Abner flew to Norfolk to visit Roberts. And to hear both tell the story, they’ve quite literally been together ever since.
“We would travel every weekend, one way or the other, so we could be together. It was all just so nice,” Roberts says. “I felt very invested in the relationship, and we fell in love pretty quickly.”
“The odds were against us from the beginning,” Abner adds. “I was starting a new job where there was a lot of pressure. I think we were a year and a half into our relationship before we had to go a weekend without seeing each other. We made every effort we could and pushed against all the obstacles and the odds. It was work, but as you can see, it was well worth it.”
Splitting time between Norfolk and Philly eventually grew tiring, so Roberts decided to put his relationship first and began plotting a work move to join Abner. But just as he was offered a job with a Philadelphia news station, CNN threw a wrench into Roberts’ plans. The network came calling, and with the national jump came a relocation to Atlanta. The move meant putting things on hold professionally for Abner, who left his job at the pharmaceutical company Merck to head south with Roberts. But it’s a decision Abner says he never second-guessed.
The move also meant new pressures on the relationship besides house hunting and furniture shopping. Roberts, who had only begun coming out to work colleagues just before the move, recognized that in joining a national news organization, his profile was about to be raised significantly. There was no other openly gay on-air journalist at this level at the time, and the specifics of how to proceed were a bit of a guessing game for the new CNN anchor.
Read more of our cover story with Thomas Roberts an Patrick Abner in the new April/May issue of Instinct—out now! Instinct is available at Barnes & Noble, at iTunes for the iPad and iPhone or through our subscription services at (888) 45-INSTINCT or through our online store here.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY VINCENT DILIO