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 Josh Kilmer-Purcell, 52, and Dr. Brent Ridge, 48
Occupations Together they own Beekman Farm, a goat farm in Sharon Springs, N.Y., and Beekman 1802, a skin care brand.
Their Marriage Eight years, three months and counting
Through the Years
The coupled married June 28, 2013 at their upstate New York farm, by a pasture atop Matrimonial Hill. “We wanted an untraditional traditional wedding,” Mr. Kilmer-Purcell said. “We put 300 reservations online and told everyone they were invited. The first to secure tickets — friends, family or fans — got a seat.” Each guest was asked to bring a celebratory dish and matching recipe. “Martha Stewart brought her hard-boiled eggs,” Mr. Kilmer-Purcell said.
Mr. Kilmer-Purcell and Dr. Ridge met in December 1999 in an anonymous AOL chat room for gay men. “I was a drag queen and hard partyer — I wanted to clean up my act,” said Mr. Kilmer-Purcell, who back then was an advertising executive at Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners in New York. “I heard you could meet people online.”
Dr. Ridge, a transplant from North Carolina, had recently arrived in New York for a residency in internal medicine at Columbia University Medical School, and he had not yet come out as gay.
“We internet chatted for four hours,” Mr. Kilmer-Purcell said. Other chat sessions followed. Dr. Ridge remained shy.
But eventually Mr. Kilmer-Purcell asked enough questions to figure out where Dr. Ridge lived, what time he came home, and what subway stop he exited (West 168th). “I told him I was going to be at his subway stop at a specific time and date,” he said. “If he wanted to meet me, he knew where I would be. It was 50/50 he’d show.”
On March 15, 2000, they spotted each other on the subway stairwell. Dr. Ridge was wooed into having Chinese food; then there was a kiss, his first with a man. They dated on and off for 18 months. “Brent wasn’t ‘out’ at work or to his family,” Mr. Kilmer-Purcell said. “He wasn’t ready to be with someone. But I knew in my heart I liked his heart.”
A turning point came when the pair landed in Paris on Sept. 11, 2001, unaware of the terrorist attacks back home. “Relationships are an accumulation of shared experiences,” Mr. Kilmer-Purcell said. “It suddenly became the two of us against the world.” Within months after returning home, the couple moved in together on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
In 2006, they went apple-picking in Sharon Springs and stumbled upon an old farm with 100 goats that was for sale. It was there that they began creating beauty products from goat’s milk, and Beekman 1802 was born. Two seasons of “The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” a reality TV show about their farm life, followed.
Dr. Ridge proposed in December 2012 with a ring he designed with the help of a local blacksmith.
What They’ve Learned
Mr. Kilmer-Purcell Brent wakes up singing Christmas carols. He’s eternally happy. I have anxiety and depression and tend to see the negative. He’s calming and assuring. He reminds me happiness is possible even if I can’t get there myself.
Unlike me, Brent is very sure of himself. He’s analytical and directed. He sets goals, follows a path and achieves whatever he wants. He’s headstrong and has blinders on. I took the blinders off him. I brought uncertainly, possibility and randomness into his life. It’s made him more adventurous and cautious in a good way.
He’s made me more focused, helped me achieve things and added discipline. He has a different perspective of what’s happening; that has propelled me forward and to the next great thing.
Before I met him I was wrapped up in other people and situations that weren’t good for me. I used to put myself last in order to please everyone. He’s taught me how to say no to things. He’s made me more judicious about where I put my energy and focus.
We work because he found me intriguing, fascinating and couldn’t figure me out. I was this weird thing to him. I think he felt I needed help and direction. And he’s given that to me. He wouldn’t have come out without me. A relationship would have been too complicated for him to figure out. I think he would have stayed single. If he doesn’t know how to take the next step, I’m there to take it with him, and vice versa.
I was a mess and at a transition point when I met him. I was trying to find a new path. I didn’t have plans for what I would be next. When I was young, I thought I was in charge of myself and anything that came my way was my own doing. I couldn’t have done anything this fulfilling or rewarding by myself. I wouldn’t have one piece of the life I have today if it were not for him.
Dr. Ridge I grew up in a very conservative, religious environment. I’d never entertained the idea of dating a guy. Part of going to New York was because there were a lot of gay people. Our first kiss was swoon worthy. I’d never had that profound emotional, electrical connection. I was in love with him from that first date.
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Before I met Josh I didn’t think people were without an ulterior motive. To meet this person who is authentically nice, who has never broken my heart, is the pinnacle for me. I was hiding pieces of myself; he’s unlocked my potential and allowed me to be who I am and to explore who I was. Once I came out, it was a floodgate of everything I had left untapped in my life.
We have developed deep admiration and love for each other. We have learned what each other’s triggers are and how to defuse situations. I’ve learned how to think ahead of him when it comes to his own emotional responses. I know which situations will bring him joy and satisfaction, and what little gestures of affection, check-ins and validation I can give him to make him feel heard and understood.
We have learned to be open with our emotions, to ask for help and to be 100 percent accepting of each other. We don’t always agree, but we’ve learned to negotiate with one another to achieve maximize happiness jointly.
So much of his life was controlled by his anxiety and depression and fear of being hurt. He knows there is nothing he can do to make me leave him; that’s a huge safety net for him.
I was always fearful of being judged. It’s been extremely hard for me to express my emotions and connect with people. He’s helped me be more expressive and to explore, accept and understand my limitations. He completes me because he’s allowed me to accept myself as a gay man. He’s enlarged my world and given me permission be who I truly am. That’s profound.