Tom Kirdahy and Terrence McNally: An Immediate, and Lasting, Need

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It’s No Secret

Because marriage is an ever-evolving experience, we constantly shift, change, love harder, love less and, in some cases, start over. In It’s No Secret, a new feature, The Times highlights couples who share thoughts about commitment and what they have learned about themselves and each other along the way.

Who Tom Kirdahy, 54, and Terrence McNally, 78.

Occupations Mr. Kirdahy is a theater producer and lawyer; Mr. McNally is a Tony Award-winning playwright.

Their Marriage 13 years, 11 months and counting.

Through the Years

When Tom Kirdahy met Terrence McNally in June 2001 at Guild Hall in East Hampton, N.Y., something ignited in both men. “When I first saw him, I thought he was completely adorable,” said Mr. Kirdahy, who was producing a panel discussion, “Theater From a Gay Perspective,” organized by the East End Gay Organization. “It sounds cliché, but his eyes just smiled. I can’t say it was love at first sight, but I knew I wanted to get to know him more.”

Mr. McNally spoke similarly. “I was immediately struck by him,” he said. “It was mystical, emotional and spiritual. I thought, ‘This guy is really special, I like him.’”

During the panel, which included Edward Albee and Lanford Wilson, the two shared a laugh. Then an intentional look. “Towards the end of the evening a dear friend told me, ‘You’re going to end up with him,’ ” Mr. Kirdahy said. She was right. The pair have been together since.

They took part in a civil union ceremony Dec. 20, 2003, in Vermont at the Inn at Saw Farm in West Dover. They have lived in the East Village of Manhattan for the last 20 years.

What I’ve Learned

Mr. Kirdahy “In the 16 years that we’ve been together, this August was the first time I was in a foreign city I’d never been to before without him. I found myself craving and missing him. I had no idea I could ever feel that about another person. But knowing I had this partner to come home to was overwhelming. Terrence was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after we met, and I had done AIDS work for two decades and was ravaged by loss.

My husband’s health and well-being has become the most important thing to me. I’m not sure I knew I was capable of that feeling prior to this relationship. I learned that the words ‘Till death do us part’ meant more to me than I ever thought they could. That love can be that intense. The commitment to another person’s well-being has been the greatest honor. I knew I could bring all of my experience to help him navigate the frightening world of fighting for your life, which all felt so purposeful to me, and that was part of our falling in love. I love the feeling of having committed to someone, ‘In sickness and in health.’

Terrence is cancer free and very healthy today, and that means everything to me. I didn’t know I was capable of loving someone so deeply. That I would ever get to experience that feeling. I’ve learned that it’s real. That the intensity and longevity and joy of love are real.”

Mr. McNally “I do believe in love at first sight. It just seemed right from the very beginning. I had lost a partner from AIDS the year before. I was 63 at the time and didn’t expect to meet someone again. We’ve spent almost every night together since. The freedom to marry has changed the playing field for gay men and women. Before, the relationships were between ourselves. We didn’t have rights. Having the legal support from the government has made a difference.

I didn’t realize how much we’d been missing by not having it. To marry Tom was a great moment in my life. I’ve learned how blessed I am to be with the right partner. He’s very much a part of who I am. We don’t take each other for granted. I earn Tom’s trust and affection, and he earns mine. I don’t think of myself without thinking about him, and that completes me. I learn from him every day. I’ve seen compassion and kindness in him. I’ve learned about being less selfish. He’s a good man and he’s made me a better person.

That’s thrilling to be learning at this age. I knew Tom was the person I needed and knew I had to be with. A lot of people said they loved me, but they didn’t love me the way I needed to be loved. He makes me feel safe — that’s a big thing to say — and I pray he feels the same from me. You read about happy tears and I understand them now.”