Not all things that fail are failures

Moments from a special relationship

Emily Benjamin and I were officially married on August 31st, 2011 and divorced on September 27th, 2019. In between we had two recommitment ceremonies, one in England and one in Australia. The following are some words I shared with special folks at a few important moments.

Irreconcilable differences

Welcome to our Irreconcilable Differences party! Emily and I are glad you could make it, thank you! Dearly beloved, we’re gathered here tonight to celebrate the failure of our marriage. Wait, no. We’re here to celebrate the end of our relationship. Hang on, let’s try that again. We’re here to celebrate our enduring friendship, which will continue even now that we’re divorced. And I couldn’t ask for better people to celebrate it with. Not that there aren’t better people. We just couldn’t ask them.

I wanted to go first so Emily wouldn’t steal my jokes like she took everything else. Well. Actually. We were lucky to have a fairly straightforward separation, despite bureaucratic attempts to induce stress. Even San Francisco — progressive city that it is — doesn’t make it that easy to get divorced.

But before we get to all that, let’s talk about the marriage and the person to whom — until today — I was married.

Emily Benjamin: a person so awesome, I married her thrice! You’ve probably already heard this story, but we semi-eloped to get married for love and visa reasons in August 2011, at San Francisco City Hall, in the sight of Harvey Milk. And our families only gave their blessing, on condition we’d get re-married in front of them at a later date. After three years of hoping they’d forgotten, and being constantly reminded that no they hadn’t, we planned a World Wide Wedding Tour that saw us get re-committed in my mum’s back garden in England, and in a field in Australia. Both of our re-celebrants were friends called Ben, and we said we’d name our first child after them, Benjamin Talbot. Sorry, Bens! 🤷🏼‍♂️

We met about 10 years ago, in Australia, insulted each other immediately, and knew it was serious. After traveling around the world without any real friction, we landed in San Francisco, and through excellent luck ended up living here. I was working in an industry I was really excited about, and Emily was going to college. We both thought we got the better end of the deal, but as usual, I was right.

For those of you who know Emily, you’ll know that she’s kind, caring, funny, and thoughtful. You’ll have seen how she helps anyone who needs it, without regard for whether she’s giving too much of herself. You may have experienced her steak and potato bake, or witnessed her telling wait staff that her steak was better than the restaurant’s. You may recall — fondly or otherwise (and perhaps tonight later be reminded of) — her passion for dancing, and dance offs, and her signature dance move, the Matrix.

She remains a wonderful person whom I commend to you highly.

Over time though, I think it became clear to both of us that we were better as friends than as spouses. (Spice?) We tried talking, we tried counseling. As the Aussies would say, we gave it a Red Hot Go. And we just couldn’t make it work. There’s no shame in that. The hardest part was when we both realised we were hurting the other and didn’t want to, but didn’t know how to stop. Personally speaking, there was a fair amount of crying in the shower in the months leading up to it, as I came to terms with the inevitable. Separation then, when it came, was a relief, and allowed us to go back to what it turns out we’re best at: being friends. I’m really glad we were both able to treat the other person with love and dignity as we unwound things, and I think it’s a testament to the quality of our friendship that we’re able to stand here together tonight.

So, we began the process of divorce, for friendship and tax reasons in April 2019, at the San Francisco Family Law Courts, right next to San Francisco City Hall, which is either ironic, or a coincidence, or just good town planning.

And the process is really drawn out. Even though San Francisco has No Fault divorce, one of you still has to state a reason, sue the other person, and serve them with papers. Our thanks to Dan Pupius, who served Emily — with not a little bemusement — over hors d’oeuvres at one of Range’s mini-conferences. The legal process calls for a disinterested party to do the serving, and for those of you who know Dan, well…

Even with the help of divorcewriter.com — yes, that exists, as does cheaponlinedivorce.com, netdivorce.com, and 3stepdivorce.com; they’re all a lie — we still had to submit 19 documents, many in triplicate, and many notarised, over multiple trips to court. The process took 6 months. For folks with kids, or more challenging circumstances, it’s even harder and longer. And though we tried to keep it light and easy, if I can be real for a second, the reality is when you’re at court, you’re waiting in line with folks who are desperate for child support, need a restraining order, or who are fighting for custody. Being upbeat in that room is hard, and probably not even appropriate, so I was incredibly glad that we could support each other through that together.

What I’m saying is, in a town of startups, this is a process ripe for disruption, with a really large addressable market. TurboTax for Divorce. I’m only half joking.

So, to use a time-worn metaphor, this is the closing of one chapter and the start of a new one for each of us. And my chapter includes some travel. For those of you who don’t know, now seems as good a time as any to mention that in November, I’m moving to New York. That’s right, Emily won San Francisco in the divorce.

I’m naturally a bit of a nomad, and 8 years is a long time in one place for me. I’m very excited to be moving to the same city as my girlfriend Megan, and to be closer to my mum in England.

In preparation for the move, our cat Hecate moves in with Emily tomorrow. I hope she brings Emily all the joy and laundry duty that she’s brought me over the last year.

I joked about failure of marriage above, but it’s obviously not true. How can 8 years of fun and adventure, and an enduring friendship be a failure? I know that we’ll be looking out for each other no matter where we end up in the world.

The temporary pain of separation doesn’t detract from all that, and I’d do it all over again, even with the same result. Well, perhaps I might cook more. Maybe graduate from man-child to at least man-teenager a little sooner.

I don’t know that there’s any lessons I can share with you. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, things fall apart. But if you can extend to each other a little grace and compassion, it doesn’t have to be the end of everything.

To you all, and to Emily Benjamin — good job you didn’t change your name, hey?!

Cheers!

September 27th, 2019

Recommitment

To everyone who is here tonight: thank you. It’s good to be in England again. Though Skype, Facebook and Twitter are fine ways of staying up to date on birthdays, promotions, and cat photos, nothing beats being face to face and seeing you all in person. I’m taking the opportunity to do so before the wine kicks in and makes my vision blurry.

To everyone who is here with us today: thank you. It’s good to be in Australia again. Though Skype, Facebook and Twitter are fine ways of staying up to date on birthdays, promotions, and cat photos, nothing beats being face to face and seeing you all in person. And there are lots of you to see! We’ve been here about two weeks and it feels like we haven’t had a moment to ourselves. Of course, this is just a testament to your collective friendship and generosity, and we’ve enjoyed (almost) every minute of it.

We’re joined tonight by friends and family from near and far, representing three continents and the three-plus decades of my life.

Ever-present through it all: my mum, Eleanor. Mum, your love and guidance has made me who I am today. Many of you won’t know this, but Mum took seven years off work when I was born in order to give me the best possible start in life. It’s perhaps the biggest example in an unending list of ways in which she’s always put me first. The sacrifice she made with years of scrimping and saving to put me through private school, and ensure I had everything I needed to get to university and beyond, is one that I can’t ever fully repay.

She is still constantly worried that she could have done better, but I’m here to tell you: I couldn’t have asked for any more. Thank you.

As you probably know, I’m something of a traveller, and usually I’m ambivalent about returning to countries that I’ve previously visited. Australia is different. There are very few places in the world that make me feel as comfortable as here. Of course it might just be the weather, but I strongly suspect it’s because of the people, because of you all. Collectively, you’ve made Australia feel like a second home for me.

I’d like to start by thanking Emily’s relatives for accepting me into your extended family. And it is an extended family! We’re joined today by a large contingent of Benjamins on Emily’s dad’s side. Spending time with you is always interesting. We also have a large contingent of Dwyers from Emily’s mum’s side. Spending time with you is never dull!

About eight years ago, I had the great pleasure of walking Mum and Jan down the aisle at Birkenhead Town Hall in the first year following the creation of civil unions. In fact, I was wearing the same shoes that I’m wearing tonight. Though a momentous and brave public statement — pioneering even, in one respect it was a mere formality: Jan had already been a part of our family for many years. Jan, thank you for taking care of Mum while I’m not around (and even when I am), and for everything you’ve done for me over the years.

More recently, Mum and Jan have been fantastic in organising everything you see here today, coordinating numerous people and facilities over a number of months, and running around on our behalf right up until the last minute. It is to their extreme credit that Emily and I were able to turn up with one week to go and have nearly nothing to do. Thank you both. Put your feet up. Well, maybe not on those chairs.

I’d like to extend a special welcome to Vivienne, and Brian and Mary, Emily’s grandparents, who have each spoiled us with thoughtful gifts and messages over the years. I don’t have any grandparents of my own remaining, so it is lovely to see so many generations of Emily’s family here with her to celebrate today. I’m sorry I spirited Emily away three years ago at short notice, but I just couldn’t wait. I hope you enjoyed seeing Emily walk down the aisle today!

To Emily’s dad, Laurie, thank you for all your help over the years and for your contribution today. And while I’m here, I’d just like to congratulate Laurie and Patrizia one more time on their own wedding last weekend. Apparently I now have Italian grandparents. I’m look forward to the future care packages already.

And thanks in particular to Emily’s mum, Tricia, who not only was hugely supportive in the planning and financing of this celebration, but also put up with us underfoot in her house for the last week or so.

It’s no understatement to say today wouldn’t have happened without the substantial support of Tricia and Laurie. As Emily says, you should buy them a drink from the bar. Though if the bar tab hasn’t run out yet, then technically they’ll be buying a drink for themselves.

I’m happy to have friends and former housemates here from university, and fellow Computer Science graduates from Manchester, who I haven’t seen in person in more than ten years. A number of you are up from London, including Sandy and Faith, originally from Australia, and Ben and Penny. Ben, special thanks for your efforts as celebrant this afternoon — I’m glad someone knew what was supposed to happen! We owe you one.

We’re lucky enough to have friends with us here from near and far, representing three continents and some of the best years of my life. A number of you are here from other Australian cities. Special shout out to Jo and Trev, who braved a plane journey from Melbourne with four month old Flo, and to Dave and Erin, who made the trip from Sydney amidst preparations for their own new arrival.

Trev and Jo might recognise the layout and format of today. As a Canadian and Australian, they too organised two ceremonies on two continents. We were lucky enough to see them renew their vows in British Columbia, and were inspired by what we saw there.

It’s lovely to see you both again all these years after our time time teaching in Japan. Ed, Fergo: did I tell you I used to live in Japan? Speaking of which, thanks to Ed for organising yet another bucks party. That’s two now, which is pretty generous given that I’ve only been married once. And to Ben, special thanks for your efforts as celebrant this afternoon. You did a great job, and we owe you one.

We’re also doing wonders for international relations, and have three friends here who have made the trip all the way from New York. Sean has arrived by way of Dublin, Hollyhead, and, as I see from Facebook, the Guinness Brewery. We’re also very happy to have Danielle and Lakshan here, Danielle originally hailing from Australia too. It turns out that Australians seem to magically find each other no matter where they are in the world. They’re clearly drawn together by their love of sport, beer and universal opposition to anything us Pommies do.

Thank you all for making the trip.

We’re also doing wonders for international relations, and have four friends here who have made the trip all the way from San Francisco. We have Ken, who I first met over Skype as he interviewed me for a position at StumbleUpon, while I was in a small motel somewhere in Utah. We are also joined by another former Stumbler, JD, and his wife Lea. Together, these people were a huge part of the reason why I loved StumbleUpon, and it is no coincidence that soon after they departed, I too decided to leave.

We’re also very happy to have another SF transplant, Mike, here, also originally hailing from Sydney. I swear, it’s impossible to avoid Australians wherever we are in the world. You seem to magically find each other no matter where you are in the world. They’re clearly drawn together by their love of sport, beer and universal opposition to anything us Pommies do.

Thank you all for making the trip.

Thanks also to Sue and Sue, for your support and generosity over the years, particularly through university, and thanks to my extended family here for welcoming Emily Benjamin into the Talbot clan with open arms. She doesn’t quite have the nose for it, but she has many other redeeming qualities.

But I am of course most grateful for Emily Benjamin.

Ah yes, Emily Benjamin. I had an inkling she was special when she arrived at my house for our first date in Brisbane. As we were walking up the hill to my local, the Caxton — you can tell I was trying particularly hard to woo her — I mentioned that I lived with a hairdresser. Emily looked my head up and down, and wrinkled her nose. “Really?”, she said. Worried that she’d blown her chances early on — as if! — she was relieved when thirty seconds later she told me that she used to be a personal trainer, and I looked her up and down, retorting “Really?”. Instead of scowling, she laughed, and I knew.

As Emily mentioned, it took nearly a year for us to officially get together as a couple, during which time we remained friends and dated other people. Emily likes to mention that I was dating three girls at once at one point, so it seems only fair to remind her that on the evening we first met, I was her third date that day! We bonded over discussing how awkward the first two guys were.

When it was time for me to leave Australia, there was only one person I wanted to travel with. We were standing in the kitchen of a guesthouse when I casually mentioned that I was going traveling for 8 months and then going to live in Vancouver, “and by the way, would you like to come?” We’d been together for six months at that point, and she said yes without hesitation. Emily Benjamin’s willingness to dive into adventures and remain open to opportunities for excitement is one of the reasons I fell in love with her.

In 2011, we took that trip, seeing some of the most amazing sights in the world. We travelled the whole world, but it wouldn’t have been half as fun without Emily.

We didn’t end up in Vancouver, but settled in San Francisco. Though maybe “settled” is the wrong word, as we both love it. I’m very grateful for the sacrifice Emily made in giving up her successful career to support mine, and in return have been very happy to support her in her studies. I’m very proud to say, because she won’t say it herself, that she was just accepted into the Haas School of Business at Berkeley, which is one of the finest schools in the United States.

Emily’s studies mean that we’ll be in San Francisco for at least another couple of years. And after that, who knows? I love my work at Medium — that’s medium.com: I have stock options, so tell your friends — and can’t imagine leaving, but the world is vast and Emily Benjamin and I have seen very little of it.

And about that name. I did reserve emilytalbot.com many years ago, even before we were engaged, which should tell you how sure I was. (The more technically minded amongst you can check out the WHOIS record and confirm this for yourselves.) Those with a good memory will remember that I mentioned this at the engagement party three years ago. But it looks like she’ll stay a Benjamin for a while longer yet. With green card applications and university registration, there’s a lot involved in the change, and neither of us are too motivated to do it. Maybe our first son will be Benjamin Talbot. There you go Ben, we’ll name a child after you, that should cover it, right?! No news to announce on that front yet though, folks.

In any case, we’ve hardly had the most conventional union.

We were married in San Francisco on August 31st, 2011, out of an abundance of love, and for visa reasons.

Though I had been planning to propose to Emily online with some elaborate scheme, I somewhat jumped the gun as we were sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon that July, in the midst of what would turn out to be our honeymoon. Then, having already asked Emily to marry me, I scrambled to call her dad and ask for permission.

Upon our arrival back in Australia, and still without any kind of ring, we had the stag and hen’s nights a week before the engagement party, where we announced to our friends that we were already married, and delighted in seeing their jaws literally drop. They made us promise we would have a recommitment ceremony so they could celebrate with us, and, three years later, here we are finally making good.

Frankly speaking, when they were first proposed, I was unsure about these ceremonies. It seemed like a lot of effort to organise, with no real purpose. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It feels particularly right to celebrate our recommitment to one another in front of you all on home turf. And, having said thanks to those of you here who represent many of the important stages of my life, I’m extremely glad to have found a partner with whom I can share the rest of it.

Emily, I love you.

Thank you all.

June 28th, 2014
August 3rd, 2014

Engagement

Friends, Surrogate Family, Soon To Be In-Laws, Colleagues and Nemeses, thank you all very much for coming to our engagement party tonight. It’s nice to back in Brisbane to see you all again in person, rather than just through your Facebook photos or via Skype. Though, some of you definitely look better in Standard Definition with a lossy codec. My thanks to Ed and Ben for organising a bucks night that would be memorable if I could remember it. Our thanks too to Makala for the awesome cupcakes here tonight and to Tricia, Emily Benjamin’s mum, for the myriad chicken wings, use of beach house and the lovely balloons. And thanks in particular to Emily Benjamin’s dad Laurie for having us stay with him this last month, using his towels, his Internet, his chocolate and of course for organising this evening. Thank you Laurie.

It is said that traveling around the world together will either make or break a couple. In fact, it was said, by many of you, repeatedly! After 8 months of seeing each other every day, having not previously lived together, I’m happy to report back that you were right. Whether at 4am (in the morning 🙄) for a sunrise viewing of Angkor Wat, or after 14 hours on three planes in one day to arrive at altitude in La Paz; whether tired, frustrated or emotional, we never even got in sight of breaking. In amongst Petra, Easter Island, Halong Bay, Karnak and all the other wonderful things we saw, I had a constant companion to share the experiences with and to support me when I needed it. Thank you Emily Benjamin.

I realised after a few months that I was going to propose to Emily Benjamin. The more technically minded of you can check out the WHOIS record of emilytalbot.com, which will confirm for you that I had an inkling at least before July. I’d had these big plans to do it through a website at emilytalbot.com, naturally, and to propose on one knee as Emily Benjamin turned around. Then I blew it by asking her in The Grand Canyon instead. Still, it’s a memorable location for a memorable event!

We are now looking forward to our next big trip — moving to San Francisco. On Tuesday we head down to Sydney to get visas stamped in our passports and then next Sunday we will hopefully be on our way back to the US where Emily Benjamin will be going to college and I will be working for a company called StumbleUpon. I would encourage you all to sign up to this most wonderful of services because it’s great fun, you will find lots of cool stuff, and because I have stock options. That’s StumbleUpon; S-T-U-M-B-L-E-U-P-O-N-DOT-COM.

Finally, in the spirit of the recently departed Steve Jobs, we too have One More Thing. Laurie mentioned earlier that I actually proposed to Emily Benjamin before I asked his permission, so thanks again to him for being gracious about that. With the proposal coming before the permission, the bucks night before the engagement party and all of that before the appearance of a ring (be patient Emily Benjamin!), you may or may not be entirely surprised to hear that on August 31st, 2011 at 11:00am in San Francisco City Hall, Emily Benjamin and I were married!

Thank you!

Now you don’t get off quite that easily. There will be a ceremony in a year or two where Emily Benjamin will be walking down some kind of aisle, in something white, at which Laurie will have the chance to give his daughter away. We’re going to be having one ceremony in Australia and one in England, and we’re still trying to get RSVP to pay for the wedding — we are a success story after all!

At that point there is even a chance that Emily Benjamin might change her last name. That will possibly be the hardest thing to get to grips with! We’ve already rejected (yes, we have) James Graham Michael Benjamin — I need at least one non-first name.

Of course, that means that the 8 month jolly around the world we’ve just finished was technically our honeymoon, and of course this means that I proposed on our honeymoon, which possibly violates causality in a minor way, but it all seems to have turned out rather nicely.

We’re both very happy to see you all here tonight and I’d like to finish by asking you to charge your glasses and toast to my lovely wife, Emily Benjamin.

Thank you!

October 21st, 2011

Our friendship will endure.

August 31st, 2011

Ex-gaijin, kangaroo-loving software simian from Merrie England, building @Mailchimp and @Pinian. Formerly @Medium and @StumbleUpon.

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