Mark and Susan

Susan is 48 and Mark is 53.  They’ve been together for 21 years.   Find them and their music here:

How did you meet?

Susan: We met at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1991. Our camps were set up pretty close to one another; Mark was camping alone, and Susan was part of a large camp that included her dad and stepmom. One afternoon when it started to rain, Susan’s dad invited Mark to come under the tarps around the tents and motor home to get out of the wet.

Mark: We then spent 4 solid days together and started a conversation that never really ended. Within a few weeks we were together and have been so ever since.

What was your life like, what were you doing when you met/got together?

Susan: I had just been hired as a full time teacher at an Austin-area school district. I would start in the fall. I was playing a little guitar. I was singing, but not professionally. I was in a 5-year relationship with someone when I met Mark. The relationship was not necessarily unhappy, but there were some issues there. 

Mark: I was going through a divorce, had been separated for about a year. I was living in Houston and working as a social worker fresh out of graduate school. I was playing music professionally and seriously pursuing that vocation/profession since my early twenties.

Were you actively looking to be in a relationship?

Susan: Well, I was not, since I was already in a relationship.

Mark: I definitely was not looking for anything, quite the opposite. I was ready to be alone for as long as I needed, but this relationship just took off with a power of its own.

What first attracted you to him/her?

Susan: Well, first of all Mark was (and is) very good looking. So there’s that. And his guitar playing was very attractive to me. But he also is very smart, which is super sexy. And funny. The first few days we knew each other was at the Kerrville Folk Festival. We spent a lot of time talking and laughing. I loved that we talk for hours about many diverse subjects, but also we were comfortable with silences. We had similar values and we both were in to music — different music, but that was fun too.

Mark: I found Susan attractive, very intelligent, open to the all kinds of ideas, and searching for greater meaning, as I was. Our conversations were just like a force of nature, they went on and on, and into areas I never anticipated. She was living a fairly conventional life at the time, but her mind was and spirit were wide open to the unconventional and to adventure. There was a lot of action in her thought processes.

I’ve had people tell me that there was a certain instance when they ‘knew’. Was there a specific time or event when you knew that this was the person you wanted to be with long term?

Susan: You know, it’s funny. I think I knew for certain that I was in love with Mark when we went camping in Big Bend in March, less than a year later. But I don’t recall a specific time that I knew we’d be together long term. In fact, for about the first five years, we would say that — this is great! Hope it lasts. But we tried not to put the “happily ever after” expectations and pressure on the relationship. So I guess I’d say were were together for at least five years before I realized this might last a while.

Mark: I agree with Susan. There was no one moment; my love for her just grew and grew the first couple of years. We consciously put no expectations or labels or restrictions on our relationship. In hindsight, I’d say that rather than us defining our relationship, it began to define us and change and enlarge who we were. By the end of the first year we knew we were onto something bigger than either of us had known before, and I felt totally committed.

What if anything did you learn from previous relationships that you feel has helped you build this one?

Susan: I always say that I kissed a lot of toads before I found Mark, but the truth is that the two long term relationships I had before I met Mark were both with very nice men. They just were not the right guys for me. I found that I had to compromise myself — one of them did not like the attention I got when I sang. So I learned, for sure, that I needed to be with someone who was strong enough to let me have some attention. I also found that I really needed to be with someone who I had more in common with — someone who was creative and liked to talk about books and songs and politics and philosophy and… well, just liked to exchange ideas. Also, the relationship in my home when I was growing up made me realize that I needed to be with someone who is calm and does not live in chaos. I grew up with a lot of yelling and anxiety in my house, and I recognized that this came from repressed anger and unfulfilled needs. I think we work very hard to try to talk about how we’re feeling, rather than bottling tension and anger or resentment. 

Mark: Without a doubt! I had been in two short, unsuccessful marriages with people who wanted very different things out of life than I did. After that I felt like I was ready to define myself much more clearly and live with purpose, then hopefully find a relationship that fit. I was ready to pursue a musical life and have a partner who was a friend and ally. I also wanted to be done with conflict as a defining feature in a relationship, or to find a mate to fit my larger family.

How do you feel that your creativity impacts your relationship?

Susan: Creativity is  a huge part of our relationship. We both have projects, ideas, and goals that are generative in nature going all of the time. In the beginning, I’d say that my emotional and spiritual support of Mark’s creativity — his music —  was the glue of our relationship. I understood, respected, and appreciated his goal of playing music professionally, which was unlike his previous partners. My role on stage with him has gradually increased to the place where we bill ourselves together, but early on, I was in a supporting role. I think that one thing that’s very necessary in a creative relationship is that you have to give each other a lot of space. Mark needs time to write. He needs time to play. I need time to read and think, so we do a lot of things together, but we still have things that are individual pursuits. 

Mark: Creativity is one of the defining feature of our relationship. We recognize that if either of us doesn’t feel like we are living creatively – by writing, performing, producing in some way – then we just aren’t very content. In the beginning I was identified as the creative one, but that has balanced out over time. Susan is a tremendously creative person, and our differing approaches, I think, enhance each other. There is always space for writing, dreaming, and imagining, and playfulness in our relationship.

You have varied interests, some of which over lap and some that seem to be a long way apart. What effect do you think this has on your relationship?

Susan: We had a lot in common, basic values and we both are really jazzed by intellectual pursuits, and there is music also. I think that our interests have grown closer together over the years. I’m a reader of novels — literary fiction mostly. Mark often reads the same books I do now, which he did not in the beginning read so much literature. I have a much more conversant understanding of Carl Jung’s work, which I was familiar with but Mark is a voracious reader of. Also, our musical backgrounds are very different. Mark learned to play country music and I now know who David Lindley and Richard Thompson are — and I love them! I think the diversity of our interests and our willingness to dabble in each other’s proclivities has helped us grow together, rather than apart. But the other good thing is that if Mark wants to do something that I’m really not in to, he will do it without me. He’s not dependent on me to continue pursing an interest that he has. Similarly, I will go off on my own tangential interests, without the expectation that he’ll join me.  

Mark: We do a lot of things together, as best friends, and that that allows us to really explore these things deeply. But, we also have separate interests that give us individual lives. I love hearing her talk about things that excite her, even if they don’t appeal to me much, such as some of her educational work. I think we’re good at appreciating the energy generated by the other, and we both are enthusiastic people.

If you run a business together, what do you view as some of the challenges and rewards of this life style?

Susan: So we work together musically, and it’s a lot like running a business. It’s sometimes challenging, mostly because you don’t get a lot of money for something that takes a lot of time and energy, but it’s so much fun and it’s become who we are. Playing music is so essential to who Mark is and who I am now that I cannot imagine our not doing this together. It’s become who we are. We always have this to talk about and work toward, so it gives a huge common goal.  Mark does the really hard work — writing, recording us, booking us — so he’s probably got more to say on this topic than I do.

Mark: I think the difficult part of managing the professional side of music is doing so in context of other careers and time constraints. Susan is especially busy and taxed by her profession, but I also get drained sometimes by the psychotherapy work I do. I have the benefit of being able to do that work on a less than full time basis, so that helps a lot. Running a business together obviously has us switching hats on a daily basis and challenging each other from time to time. Susan is more more organized than I am, so I turn to her for help in that area, and she probably turns to me for calm in her sometimes chaotic work. We tend to be very supportive of each other.

On what did or do you base your decision to be married or not to be?

Mark: Our choice not to marry has left us unencumbered by the expectations that tend to go along with marriage. We could marry, and may at some point, but coming in I had huge disappoints with marriage, so just being in a committed relationship – one I choose to be in day after day – was liberating.

Susan: I’ve never really wanted to be married. I was in two committed, long-term relationships before I met Mark. I lived with the guys, but I didn’t want to get married. I had not seen too many examples of happy marriages when I was young, so I don’t think I ever intended to marry anyone. When I met Mark, I was pretty clear on the fact that I didn’t want to have children. We are not really closed to the idea of getting married, even at this point, but there just never seemed to be any reason to do so. If either of us really wanted to be married, we would be — I think. 🙂

Any words of wisdom for others who think they want a relationship to last as long as yours?

Susan: I’d say find someone you like to be with. I think it helps to have a lot of respect for the other person’s ideas and interests and career. I also think wanting similar things out of your time on the planet is pretty important. If you start having to compromise your own goals and ideals for another person, that’s a deal breaker. I think having a lot of space to grow up and out is very important. If someone is trying to isolate or control, again — deal breaker. 

Mark: Shared interests are important, so it’s easy and common to spend time together, but separate pursuits are also necessary, as well as an interest in what the other is doing. Your partner has to get who you are and be able to appreciate that without looking to change it. I think that having a history with relationships is an advantage. We have often talked of our relationship in terms of me, you, and us, as if there are always three entities involved, with each needing it’s own space. Ample conversation, ample silence, and for us keeping your family of origin at arms length and out of the decision making process. Plus, I try to never be too critical of anyone in her family; she’ll state the obvious when it needs to be said.


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