Photography by Matthew Kristall
Styling by Grant Woolhead
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS
I ran into my friend Kate one day and she was with this brooding, James Dean–type guy in a leather jacket who gave me the head nod and then turned away. I assumed he was Kate’s boyfriend and said, “Nicely done.” And she said, “David? He’s not playing on my team, but he has a boyfriend.” So, then I just kept seeing him on the periphery, and in turn, catching up on him, but I didn’t want to be that guy who was creating some sort of romantic interference. So, I was always around when he was around, hoping the stars would align. When we all hung out for the first time -- I was invited by Kate to an American Idol viewing party -- I just stammered around him. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
There’s something kinetic about him and his being. He’s classically sexy, yet he’s very much a boy in his energy. It’s a great dynamic. When I see people who are equally attractive, they tend to seem more quiet and kind of Marlboro Man-y, and David’s the antithesis of that. He’s more like Tigger. I’m, in turn, very introspective -- the thinker, rather than the doer. I tend to weigh options before making decisions, and David is the polar opposite of that. We’re hyper similar and also incredibly opposite. We share a wardrobe. We have the same shoe size, body size, height, and weight. We’re both Gemini. We both like the idea of family -- not a nuclear family, but a social family. Yet, we’re incredibly opposite in the way we process information.
I remember being in my mid-twenties, lying in bed thinking, I’ve never taken a shower with anyone before; I’ve never had any kind of long-term relationship. I remember thinking that the rest of my life would be solo. I wasn’t weepy when I thought that -- it was just a realization that I had gone this long being self-sufficient. Thankfully, the world changed and perceptions changed, and my life went to the East Coast, where there’s a much greater acceptance of anonymity and freedom. In New York, I was able to date with my head held higher. In L.A., it felt much more gossipy.
It’s all baby steps: You have to be OK with telling your friends you’re going on a date; you have to be OK with the people in your world meeting and judging them; you have to be OK with breakups. I’m infinitely grateful all those steps led to Mr. Burtka -- once we started talking, we never stopped.
Staying with each other didn’t seem like going to the next level because we were sort of transients at the time. We thought if we were both going to be paying $5,000 a month to use someone else’s sheets and towels, we might as well do it together.
We found a place in Harlem that a woman had been living in for 40-odd years, and it was roomy and reasonably priced. We went to L.A. and got this moving truck and collected his mattress and bed frame and some stuff we each had in storage, and we started a journey across the country. We stopped in Albuquerque, where my family is, and they gave us some stuff. And we went through Memphis and up to Michigan, where his family is, and picked up his parents’ piano. We went slowly across America, filling up this truck, and by the time we got to New York, we had a new life full of furniture.
I initially fell for David harder than he fell for me. I was in love with him before he was comfortable saying it, and I think that speaks to our past experiences. I remember saying, “I think I love you,” and he was like, “That’s really nice,” which is not necessarily what you want to hear. But I appreciated his honesty in not jumping the gun and saying something because he felt obliged to.
Two of the things I hold dear, as tenets, are creativity and authenticity. Creativity can be on any level, but authenticity is key, too. If we have a fault, it’s probably over-communication. When I’m cranky, I’m admittedly cranky. When I’m in a hurry and distracted, I can’t act like it’s any other way. And he’s good with that, too. So we talk things out. I don’t want to paint our relationship like we met and it’s been happy family fantastic-ness ever since. What defines a relationship is the work that’s involved to maintain it, and it’s constantly changing. Sometimes I’m deeply in love with David and head-over-heels, and sometimes I question whether it’s going to work out and is meant to be. It’s like a business relationship, as well as a personal one; we have a business together and that’s maintaining our love for one another.
David first proposed to me five years ago on the actual street corner where we met. We were on our way to an event at an Indian casino 45 minutes out of town in a limousine, and David wanted to stop for some reason that I didn’t quite get. I thought he wanted to get some booze or something. And then he got on one knee and proposed, and I was so freaked out by it that I said, “Yes,” but I didn’t know what it meant. Then I got the ring and loved it, and a year later, on Valentine’s Day, I proposed to him in Santa Monica. That was four years ago. The callus on my right hand is long-formed—and not from masturbation. I’m dying to move over to the other hand. I’d also like to call him my husband. I’m not the biggest fan of the word “partner”: It either means that we run a business together or we’re cowboys. “Boyfriend” seems fleeting, like maybe we met two weeks ago. I’ve been saying “better half” for as long as I’ve been able to. I think it’s a little self-deprecating and clearly defines that we’re in a relationship, but it would be nice to say “my husband.”
Children were always talked about, but there was a certain point -- when David was in L.A. and I was working on How I Met Your Mother, maybe season two or three -- when we both agreed that if we wanted to have kids, we didn’t want to do it super late in the game. We wanted our parents to enjoy the process and to be young and vibrant enough to throw a ball with them, or to chase them around without using a walker. That was the eternal game-changer -- now we rarely fight in the big ways. What’s the point? We’re in this for a major long haul.
I’ve always known I was going to have a monogamous relationship, raise children, and be happy in love. It was the one thing in life that I never doubted for a second. I was in another relationship when I met Neil and was doing the long-distance, New York–to-L.A. thing. It was sort of on the rocks. Long distance is so hard. I was performing in the Sam Mendes version of Gypsy on Broadway when I ran into Neil on the street. He was doing the Mendes version of Cabaret at the time, and I was with a friend who knew him pretty well. I wasn’t a big Doogie Howser fan -- I had probably seen it once or twice when I was growing up -- so I gave him a, “Hey, what’s up, nice to meet you,” and that was really it. I thought it would be nice to know him, but I didn’t think in a million years I’d start dating him.
We began hanging out with other people, and we had a lunch or so, but nothing romantic. I thought he was adorable, though, with these amazing blue eyes that are just hypnotizing to me. I ended up breaking with my boyfriend, and a week later, Neil and I had a date. We went to see a movie -- I think it was Taking Lives with Angelina Jolie. We started hanging out every single night, and after three months, it was just non-stop. We talk on the phone at least eight times a day and text at least 25 times a day. We are, in a way, very codependent. He’s my lifeline, in an amazing way. Without him, I can’t breathe. The biggest thing is that he makes me laugh, but he’s also smart. He can do everything. I’m not kidding; I think he’s half robot. He makes me a little more grounded, and I bring out the wild side in him. Don’t get me wrong -- we fight. Our fights last five minutes, then we’re over it. And we’re both Gemini -- we have a good twin and a bad twin, and the four of us get along really well!
The first three years was our honeymoon period. Then you settle into the relationship, and it morphs into just living, breathing. It becomes more comfortable, but it becomes a necessity -- something you can’t give up, like an addict. How has it changed me? I basically have diarrhea mouth -- I am brutally honest to the point of being a negative thing. Now I think more before I speak.
Even on that first date, we talked about kids. If he hadn’t wanted kids, I don’t think we’d be together. I always thought that family was the most important thing in life, and no matter what I do, whether being a chef or an actor or a dancer, being a dad is what I do best. I am the maternal one in the relationship. For the first year, I didn’t miss a nighttime or morning with them. I think it’s important to have other lives and feed your relationship, but it’s also important that your children are raised by you. We named Gideon after an artist we collect, Gideon Rubin, and Harper after Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of our favorite books.
I don’t want people to think we’re a perfect couple. Nothing’s perfect. A relationship is work and it changes. And you go with the changes. It’s more good times than bad times, but it’s not always good. You have to overcome those issues and move on. We have a really great recipe for a wonderful relationship, but we don’t want to be the poster boys for gay relationships. We’re not trying to pretend that we are perfect. We’re just trying -- in a good, positive, loving way -- to live our lives.