Overcoming Challenges to Build a Strong Marriage Foundation

They’ve overcome so many challenges to be together, being long-distance, becoming a primary carer for a dying parent, a breast cancer diagnosis and chronic illness among other things. But, it’s been nothing they couldn’t overcome. They married in a private ceremony, but plan to have multiple ‘receptions’ to celebrate with the people they love. 

Rachel and Susannah met at The New York Times in 2015. They both worked on the creative team for the Times’ branded content studio, T Brand, which Rachel helped found (Susannah had a secret crush on Rachel, but didn’t know if Rachel dated women, and was with another partner at the time).

While working in the same industry may be challenging for some couples, Rachel and Susannah share a love for all things design. It was one of the reasons that they picked The Sea Ranch, California, as the destination for their wedding, for its architectural history and famous “Supergraphics” designer, Barbara “Bobbie” Stauffacher Solomon.

Tell us about coming out once your relationship began. 

They credit the strength of their relationship to their mutual passion for using design as a tool for change, and navigating the many challenges they have faced since their relationship began. Rachel was not yet out to her parents, Susannah was already in a long-term relationship, they worked together, and Rachel was about to take a job on the opposite side of the country in San Francisco. They made it through these obstacles: Rachel came out to her family the day before Thanksgiving—over milkshakes at a Friendly’s—Susannah broke up with her then-partner of 7 years, and they began 10 months of dating long distance; Susannah living in Park Slope, playing roller derby in Bushwick, and working at the Times, and Rachel living in San Francisco and working at Facebook.

Tell us more about dating long distance while grieving a parent. 

Rachel was enjoying the slower pace of California life when Susannah moved out to join her in July of 2017; Susannah moved into Rachel’s apartment and they began to build a life together in Noe Valley. However, while they enjoyed sunny afternoons in Dolores Park surrounded by their new friend groups out West, the obstacles continued to mount: Susannah’s mom, who was battling ovarian cancer, was moved on to hospice care in 2018—Susannah flew up to Seattle to be her primary caretaker while Rachel stayed behind in San Francisco, where she continued to support her from afar.

Rachel spent a week in Seattle with Susannah and her mom, Barbara—they spent a wonderful afternoon together going through Barb’s old high school and night school art portfolios together; Barb showed them the lowercase Helvetica “a” she had to render by hand, and the design mockups she had made for an advertising agency that Susannah realized she was currently working for in San Francisco. At one point, Barb pulled Rachel aside and told her that she was one of the best things to happen to their family.

After Barb died, Rachel and Susannah had to navigate the grieving process as a couple; it was a difficult time—but they committed to remaining sensitive to each other’s needs and continue to grow together, maintaining the courage and determination to pursue their desired paths.

Tell us about how a breast cancer diagnosis, and chronic illness impacted your relationship. 

Things were steady for awhile again—together, they explored more of California and discovered The Sea Ranch for the first time and fell in love with the area. Then when COVID hit, Susannah was diagnosed with DCIS in her left breast, a pre-invasive “Stage 0” cancer. Because of her BRCA2 status (a genetic predisposition for cancer on her mom’s side), she opted for a double mastectomy. 

Around the same time, Rachel had been dealing with increasingly chronic pain and was diagnosed with a biotoxin (mold) illness triggered by water damage in their apartment (only later did she also find out that she had a pituitary tumor in her brain, which was surgically removed this year with success).

They were incredibly grateful to their friends, near and far, who banded together to help them survive “crisis mode.” Mid-year the same year, their newly adopted cat Samantha was diagnosed with a bilateral kidney obstruction and sent to UC Davis for emergency surgery, and Rachel and Susannah embarked on a harrowing mission to find a new (mold-free) apartment.

What is the glue to your relationship?

Rachel and Susannah’s resilience and mutual respect for one another both feel like important ingredients for this next chapter in their lives. While the beginning of their courtship was a whirlwind, full of excitement and passion, over time they have maintained the intimacy that fosters trust, honesty, and communication. They balance each other well—Rachel has helped Susannah learn to love travel and adventure, and to advocate for herself more in her work; Susannah has helped Rachel to enjoy slowing down, learn to cook, and take the leap into self employment.

They have supported each other through major upheavals that are challenging to the most dedicated couples, and were excited to affirm their commitment to each other as partners in marriage at their intimate wedding ceremony on October 24, 2021, where they were surrounded by their families (biological and chosen).

This year, they brought the celebration to all of their friends and extended family through casual “pop-up” receptions in Paris, Seattle, Portland, New York, and San Francisco.

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