Amanda Burden (left) and Jaci Goodman have been together 20 years.
Amanda Burden (left) and Jaci Goodman have been together 20 years.

These couples’ backstories and life experiences vary quite a lot, but when it comes to talking about the building blocks of a great relationship, well, you’ll notice some common threads.

Cozy co-workers

Jaci Goodman, 55
+ Amanda Burden, 53

Together 20 years

In 1999, they exchanged numbers on cocktail napkins. Today, they’re in business together. Jaci is the advertising director at Edible Reno-Tahoe magazine. Amanda is the editor. They still have those cocktail napkins.

Amanda: I was in The Lexington [in San Francisco]. … It was just packed with all of these women with piercings and tattoos, very severe looking. Jaci’s from Dallas, where all the women are very feminine looking, and she wasn’t ready for that.

Jaci: The sea parted, and I saw her. I ran at her, splashing my cosmopolitan out of my glass.

We are so different, and I think that works. I sell. I’m the outside grip ’n’ grinner. She’s a little bit more introverted. She’s the editorial side. She’s the business side. She’s everything I’m not, and I can sell her because of how great she is. We work really well together.

Amanda: Opposites do attract. I mean, she’s got skills that I could never have. I have such a hard time selling anything.

Jaci: I respect what she does, and I can only sell things that I believe in, and it was really easy to sell her. I love working with her. I love watching her shine and lifting the community up, and it’s perfect.

Amanda: If I leave for a few hours, we miss each other tremendously.

Jaci: This is going to sound so stupid, but I left the house for three hours today, and the whole time I was thinking, “I miss Amanda.” Like, who in the hell—20 years of being together—still thinks that way? I like her. She makes me laugh.

Amanda: Jaci is absolutely hilarious. I love her stories.

Jaci: My mother always told me, “You never go to bed angry.” Oh, forget about it! When Amanda gets mad about some shit, she’s not talking till 3 before she goes to bed. … Then she’s calm the next day, so you can actually talk it through. I’m not saying that we don’t upset each other. I’m not perfect. She’s not perfect, you know? But we always come back together, and we work that kind of stuff out.

Amanda: You have to have that base of respect and love to start with. I think those are the two most important things, personally.

Jaci: We have a mutual respect and a trust. And I think that’s key. If you don’t have that, then forget about it. Get yourself a good lawyer because you’ll need that.

Emily Scott holds up photos of her with Ian Rice.

PHOTO/KRIS VAGNER

Long distance love

Emily Scott, 35 + Ian Rice, 39

Together 1.5 years

Emily is a paralegal who works for a Reno divorce attorney, and Ian is a pipefitter who lives in Calgary, Canada. They met at Burning Man.

Ian: We get a few days together every five to six weeks. But we talk a lot. We stay together that way. Fortunately, both of us are grammatically picky.

Emily: He’s a really good writer, too.

Ian: You don’t want to read into messages too much. It’s tough, understanding where the other person is at, when you’re just kind of communicating in little bits through the day, as opposed to being able to see them.

Emily: It’s like a whole different level of intimacy when you have to communicate everything with your words. We talk every day for an hour or more at night. At the beginning of our relationship we were talking for three and four hours a night, like teenagers. Now we go to bed at a sort of decent hour. When you live with someone, you kind of fall into a routine. You can achieve intimacy by just physically being present in a room with someone. I can’t imagine that a lot of couples who do cohabitate do talk for an hour a day.

Ian: Lots of communication is kind of a given. But also, what you’re communicating is super important. “Being honest” can look like honesty, but it’s not, if you’re not being honest with yourself. Start there, and then put that out there.

Emily: He’s my soul person. We share similar values. We value family and community, and the pursuit of the arts, and making a difference, and service, and he has really good taste in music, and he’s really good in bed. We have very matched sex drives, as well.

I watch people get divorced every day. Everyone who walks in my office. Within five minutes, I’m like, “I understand why you married this person, and I understand why you’re divorcing them. Usually the same fucking reason.” … I think you have to want the relationship, not the person. You can want the person all day long, but if you don’t value relationships and understand that those take work, then it doesn’t matter how much you like another person. If you feel disconnected, and you feel unseen, and you feel unvalued, I guarantee your partner feels the same way.

Ian: Emily changed the paradigm of love for me. It looks totally different now. Everything is exciting that we do. It’s the way we can talk and are willing to talk, and the way we just vibe on the same frequencies, and we just seem kindred in ways that make it easy.

In for the long run

Brian Smith, 68 + Maggie Smith, 71

Together 48 years

Brian and Maggie Smith are part owners of Jub Jub’s Thirst Parlor, and Maggie runs a rescue facility for domestic horses. Their story goes back almost 50 years.

Maggie: I used to manage a Jimboy’s Tacos. I used to have to kick him out of there.

Brian and Maggie Smith have been together for nearly five decades.

PHOTO/KRIS VAGNER

Brian: Jimboy’s Tacos used to be the hangout when we used to drag main still, Virginia Street.

Maggie: My boss didn’t like him.

Brian: We’re living in a Volkswagen van down by the river.

Maggie: My boss said him or my job. And I chose him.

Brian: Was it your 21st birthday party? I actually somehow or another got invited to the birthday party and slept there that night and never left. She had two kids, and so I took in two kids. I was 19, and ended up adopting them. It was a whole new thing—19 years old trying to raise kids and be a dad.

Maggie: We started raising horses.

Brian: We were both country people. She was raised on a ranch.

Maggie: I’ve got 23 horses.

Brian: And I’m still getting drunk every weekend.

Maggie: It’s comfortable because I get to do what I want, and he gets to do what he wants. He likes Burning Man. Not my thing.

Brian: We’ve got seven grandkids. Five of them were born in two years. They’re all like 26 now. We had kids in our house for 35 years. We raised a granddaughter.

Maggie: My granddaughter and I started a nonprofit rescue, for the horses that would have gone to slaughter. … That’s pretty much full time.

Brian: I’m retired. I was a graphic artist. I was a construction worker. I’ve had a heart attack. I’ve had triple bypass. We just never gave up. My parents were married forever, and they never split up. And we never got so mad that one of us left and had to reconnect.

Maggie: We believe that when you leave, it’s harder to come back. So no matter what happened, we never left.

Brian: There was a couple of close calls, probably. In 50 years, who doesn’t have a couple close calls? Make the decision that you love each other and that love’s going to be forever, and then you just got to get there.

Maggie: He’s much better temperament than me.

Brian: She laughs at my humor. I’ve got some weird, sick humor.

Dominic Martin (left) and Steven Gunderson got engaged in Paris.

COURTESY/JACI GOODMAN

Maggie: Yes, he does. His humor is awesome. He’s just off the wall sometimes. Sometimes I have to go, “Brian, I can’t believe you said that.”

Brian: I think a breakthrough came when we figured out that you don’t have to hold hands and be together every minute of every day to have a complete life. When we were able to do that, that was a pretty big transition in our lives—to give the other one permission to go out and have a good time without them.

Maggie: My advice is—you find your friend. You have to be friends. He is my best friend.

Love and let love

Dominic Martin, 28
+ Steven Gunderson, 50

Together 1.5 years

For Dominic and Steven, it was love at first sight—well, a few minutes before that, actually. They got engaged on a recent trip to Paris. The wedding’s in October.

Steven: I had just gotten out of a five-year relationship, and I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself. So, I just randomly put a profile up on an app. I didn’t even put up a picture. I could have been a bridge troll. And within like 10 minutes, this guy had answered. And I was like, “Wow, how do I not know you?” You’re literally around the block. And It didn’t hurt that he looked like a French actor that I really admire.

Dominic: I had been single for about two years. Playing the field, as they say. And one night I was bored looking for Mr. Right—or Mr. Right Now, maybe. And there he was. I remember his screen name was “scotch & soda.”

Steven: My dumb screen name was literally the cocktail that I was having at the time. … I’d went through kind of an odd death of a relationship and had kind of a face plant for five years. I feel like I’ve been waiting my entire life to meet someone like him. We can sit at the kitchen table and literally drink a bottle of wine and talk for six hours about design and architecture and traveling.

Dominic: I think the first week we added each other as Facebook friends finally, we were like, “Oh my God, we have 110 friends in common.”

Steven: I knew that I was popping the question in Paris.

Dominic: I had a feeling.

Steven: I had asked his parents. And they had maybe mentioned it.

Dominic: No. That night, I could just tell something changed. They’d never seen me so happy and so comfortable in my own skin and so confident about what I was doing.

Steven: We’re so much alike. I’ll show him a picture in a magazine, and he’ll bring a magazine over and show me the exact same picture.

Dominic: We started living together pretty quickly. We can just sit there, and we are very on the same wavelength. If one of us has a rough day and just needs to vent. … I just get blue, and he’s very good at just letting me be and working it out myself because it’s not about him. I’ve never had that in a partner. He doesn’t try to fix me. He just lets me be, and he knows that I’ll get over it. Like I can talk to him. And I can be honest, and even if that’s not pretty sometimes. He gets it and he accepts it, and he respects it. … Not to be cliché and take a RuPaul thing, but if you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love somebody else? Can I get an amen?

The word “adventure” comes up often when Adam and Annette Lucero discuss their relationship.

PHOTO/KRIS VAGNER

Steven: Everyone has, like, an ideal, and I think everyone thinks that you need to jump on the ideal. Sometimes the ideal, or the ultimate goal that you have in your head, is not the ultimate goal that you should have in your head.

Dominic: If you’d asked me, I would not have said that Steve was my type before we met. And he was the most handsome. Biggest heart. Best fit. I couldn’t see it any other way. I really couldn’t.

Trans parenting

Annette Lucero, 34
+ Adam Lucero 36

Together 17 years

Adam and Annette were teenage sweethearts who’ve been through their share of challenges together—including a gender change and a child with an illness. They use the word “adventure” a lot.

Adam: Right after high school, we both joined this church program—which since has been classified as a cult. We were really good friends that got really close really quickly.

Annette: This was before his transition. In the church it’s a huge no-no, two girls. They separated us. We had to go see a person that would exorcise our demons. They tried.

Adam: Unsuccessfully. … We got married in 2016.

I think we complement each other in a lot of ways. She’s more of the emotional type. She can sense other people’s emotions really well. And I’m more of a logical type thinker. I see how to get through things, and she can feel for people, and we make up for that in each other’s lives.

Annette: We’ve grown up together. We’re both very forgiving. We call our relationship an adventure. When the punches come, and we have arguments or life happens, we’re like, “That was part of the adventure.”

His family isn’t in his life at all. It sucks. He gave birth to [now 9-year-old daughter] Rory, and we did that on our own. It was different for the staff at St Mary’s, but they were really supportive of us. Our daughter has primary immunodeficiency. That kind of runs everything, really, but we’re figuring it out.

I think for a lot of gay couples, when they first get together—at least in our generation and before us in older generations—codependency can be something that happens just because it is “them against the world,” and there isn’t a support system. We’ve evolved out of that codependency, where it’s like, “You’re all I have, and nobody else.” That was part of growing up, and now we’re like a well oiled machine. He works, and I take care of Rory, and we just kind of go-go-go.

Adam: As a family, we like to play board games, and we play on the Switch. We like hiking, movies and hanging out.

Annette: As a couple, I want to take him out on a sexy date or something.

Adam: It’s been hard to be able to get a babysitter because people are critical of the fact that our kid has primary immunodeficiency.

Annette: Every morning, we stop and look at each other like, “I love you. Have a good day.” And when he comes home, he comes straight to me and gives me—even if it’s just five minutes—he’s like, “How are you?”

Adam: She’s very much a quality-time type person. Those five minutes will fill her for the day.

Annette: Therapy, too. I’m not going to lie. I’m sure people always wonder. I really believe that at some point in every person’s life, seeing a therapist is beneficial. We both have had our times with therapists—who’ve been really amazing and helped us put things in a row. … Most people say communication is important. Definitely. But for me, I learned in the last year that respect is really important. You have to respect that person and trust that they’re doing their best. Expect the good. I’ve learned over the last year that if you lose respect for somebody, everything else, even communication, goes out the window. But if you respect them, you’re willing to communicate and hear what they have to say, less defensively.

As a trans couple, I’m really fortunate and proud of him, that he’s been true to himself his entire life. When he came out, we didn’t know anybody that was still a couple. People were like, “Oh, you’re going to break up because he’s going to change, and you’re not going to like it.” And I had to think about it. I hate to say it, but it was like, “Whoa.” I told him, “We’re in an adventure, and so, come what may, you know, let’s just figure it out.” And we’re still together. He’s still putting up with me.

Adam: Vice versa.

Annette: I know for trans couples, a lot of times it’s hard to keep a relationship that you’re already in. I just want people to know that it’s possible. And as long as you both accept each other and where you’re at. For all the trans couples out there—and the gays and the lesbians and everybody in between and outside of it—it’s your love and your rules.

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