Who did you have a crush on in sixth grade? Maybe it was a back-row kid from homeroom or a spelling bee champ. When's the last time that person crossed your mind—or even your newsfeed? For Sunday Today host Willie Geist and his wife, New York Times best-selling children's book author Christina Geist, it was, oh, four seconds ago.
The pair met in middle school, and while life took them in different directions, the universe nudged them back together. The Geists have now been married since 2003 and have two children: Lucie, 12, and George, 10. The duo also have two demanding careers. Christina, 44, runs two businesses and is the author of Sorry Grown-Ups, You Can’t Go To School!, which drew on a clever hack she invented to get her daughter excited to start school, framing it as a special thing only she gets to do.
And Willie, 44, who was a longtime cohost on Morning Joe, is settling into is groove on Sunday Today—where he trades high-drama politics for actual dramatists. So far he's interviewed the likes of Bill Murray, Jerry Seinfeld, David Letterman, and Tiffany Haddish.
While their schedules require a lot of coordination and their lives have countless moving parts, their partnership is stronger than ever. Here, the Geists fill us in on how they've been making it work from middle school to (their words!) middle age.
Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.
Willie Geist: We both went to George Washington Middle School in Ridgewood, New Jersey. On the first day, Christina had a bunch of friends from elementary school, whereas I was the new kid from the other side of town, standing alone and scanning the room. And I know it sounds like revisionist history, but this is true. I really remember thinking in my little 11-year-old brain, Oh, she seems cute and cool. And it turns out I was right—because that was 33 years ago, and we’re married with kids.
Christina Geist: I remember it too. It’s crazy, but I feel like Willie always stood out. He’s a presence in any room he walks in, both because he tends to be taller than 95% of the people, but also because he’s just the type of person that the attention naturally shifts toward him.
Trust your gut.
Willie: We dated briefly during freshman year of high school. I played on the football team and I had a little towel that hung out of my pants and I wanted to write Christina’s name on it—but I made the first letters too big, so it basically said "Christ" and then had a little "ina" in the corner, because I ran out of space. It ended up looking like a tribute to Jesus rather than to my 14-year-old girlfriend. So she was the one who broke up with me, because once you see guys with cars, you’re like, "Oh, you’re just a pimply 14-year-old with 'Christ' on his towel."
We got back together junior year, then went to Vanderbilt together. But after college I got a job in Atlanta and she went to Boston. We felt like, "If we’re going to break up and see what the world’s like outside of this, it seems like this is the time to do it." So we did for a couple of years and I remember hearing things through the grapevine that she was dating someone else. And I had to be okay with that, because that was the point of the whole thing. But after a certain period of time I thought, I know in my heart that this is the person I want to be with. If we just went through this exercise of breaking up for the sake of breaking up, and I’m going to lose her over that, that doesn’t make any sense. I found myself trying to reel her back in and make sure she didn’t slip away.
Christina: When we got to college, we felt like we were supposed to break up because that’s what you’re supposed to do, but it didn’t really stick. Then when we ended things after college, it was the right thing to do. I hadn't been in a group since I was 16 years old where I wasn’t "Willie’s girlfriend." I would meet people who didn’t know him, and that was important to establish my own identity. But in my heart he would’ve absolutely been the one that got away. I’m grateful that neither one of us was too proud at age 25 when we were figuring out how to get back together and make it work out. You have to really look yourself in the mirror at certain moments in your life and say, "What’s most important here?" For me, that was being together.
Remember: It's not a contest.
Willie: I started doing Morning Joe in April 2007, and our daughter was born in June of 2007. So I’ve been getting up in the middle of the night ever since we had kids. It was harder back then, for obvious reasons, especially when we had a second child and I was walking out at four in the morning and Christina had a crying baby in her arms and one tugging at her leg. But we've always had an agreement: Christina has the mornings, and I’m around at night. My kids' memories of me will hopefully be having dinner with them, reading them books, and being there for bath time when they were babies. And we also cover for each other. It will be like, "I have this thing tonight, can you pick up the kids?" I'll get Outlook invites from Christina telling me I'm picking up from ballet today, and I'm like, "Okay, it's in the calendar." You have to pull your weight.
Christina: Another piece of it is not keeping score. If you're comparing who has it rougher right now, that’s a losing game.
Know when it's time to make a change
Christina: Sometimes you have to look your partner in the eye and wave the white flag. We did that when the kids were three and one. Willie started doing an even earlier TV show [that began at 5:30 in the morning], and we'd just had a second baby. I made it through that first year, returning to work after maternity leave—but by the time the babies were three and one, I looked at him and said, "I’m going to quit." I was at Johnson & Johnson, in a great job and a really creative environment, but it was too much. We have this dynamic where it was just the two of us in that moment being like, "Okay, let’s make this decision right now, and we'll adapt to it with each step."
It's about the journey, not the destination.
Christina: This is a long game. We’ve been partners in life since such a young age since—long before having children or having the careers we have now—and we'll be partners on the other side of it. So we're able to stop each other and appreciate these phases. Like the fact that we're in a sweet spot with the kids where they actually want to hang out with us. So right now we're prioritizing being with them over "date night." I can look backward and appreciate how far we’ve come, and I can look forward to all the chapters that are coming down the road.
Willie: Christina’s really funny. For me that’s the lead trait, and everything after that is gravy. Because when times get hard, we've always used humor to get through it. Something funny happens and you get to enjoy it with the girl you saw across the room in sixth grade, who's every bit the person you’d hoped they would be 33 years later.
Originally Appeared on Glamour