Doug Zullo and Michael Nestor have a bond that many couples strive for: In personality and temperament, they are well suited to each other. Both are longtime residents of Austin and happily building a life here. After working in the hotel industry, Nestor joined the team at LIVESTRONG in 2008; Zullo co-oper- ates, with his father, a local insurance agency called Insurance Designers of Central Texas. They took some time to share their passions as a couple, the genesis of their connection, and how teamwork is a key to their success.
Where and when did you first meet?
DZ: We used to tell people we met through friends, but the truth is that we met online. Now that more and more people utilize online dating, it doesn’t seem as embarrassing. Plus, af- ter almost eight years together, apparently the Internet isn’t the worst place to meet someone!
MN: After talking on the phone for a couple weeks we de- cided to meet in person. We met at my apartment and Doug brought a friend with him to calm his nerves; to avoid it feeling awkward, he told the friend that we’d already met in per- son. When I opened my front door, I was delighted by Doug’s adorable smile and handsome looks. While chuckling to my- self as we exchanged our first hug, I jokingly whispered into his ear, “You’re not as tall as I remember.” We both laughed and the ice was broken.
Tell me what your first date was like.
DZ: After that first dinner at Michael’s apartment, we went out on the town with some of my friends. I could tell Michael was a little nervous, as he was pretty quiet. We like to laugh about the fact that at one point that first night I said, “It’s okay to talk,” to which Michael replied, “Give me just a second,” walked over to the bar for a shot, and promptly returned ready to talk. I’ve since learned that was totally out of character for Michael, which makes it even funnier looking back!
MN: As the night went on, my nerves calmed and we had a great time. We ended the evening sitting on a dock at Quarry Lake near Doug’s apartment and talked for hours. It was a re- ally special moment that I’ll never forget. We discovered many similarities in our families, how we were raised, and our life experiences. Luckily, Doug felt the same way, so we met up again the next day.
What is the secret to maintaining a strong, long-term relationship?
MN: Doug and I are truly a team. Our personalities comple- ment each other well, we balance each other out, and we share a lot of the same interests and values. We also are committed to being kind and thoughtful to one another in our everyday lives. We show our love for one another by doing small, thoughtful things we know the other person will appreciate. Ultimately, over the years our commitment to one another has helped us develop a peaceful, solid, and fun relationship centered around teamwork and love.
DZ: We’re head over heels in love with each other and we tell each other every chance we get. As a kid, there was a big focus on respect in our family. My dad would never let the kids get away with anything but respect for each other. As an adult, I think it is probably one of the most important aspects of our relationship. I never take Michael for granted. I also think our personalities complement each other well. We each bring different strengths, which, when combined, make for a solid bond. I love it.
What’s your favorite place to visit as a couple?
MN: We love to travel together. My favorite destination is the Bay Area. We like to go back to the steps in San Francisco’s City Hall where we were married. We enjoy heading up to Napa. Plus, Doug loves to drag me on hikes in the John Muir Woods and other parks! We have a lot of happy memo- ries together in California and always seem to connect when we are there.
DZ: It will sound like an unlikely place, but I’d say Cleveland, Ohio. Yes, there are lots of fun places to explore in the world, but since Michael is so far away from his family, our trips home to see his parents, siblings, niece and nephews are very special. It makes me happy for him to have solid, uninterrupted time with them. They are a great group of people.
Have you tied the knot?
MN: Doug and I were legally married in San Francisco on September 29, 2008. The next day we flew to Bluffton, S.C., and shared in a larger celebration with our family and friends. The weekend was full of fun, casual activities. The ceremony was officiated by a good friend, and we had plenty of time to connect with all our friends and family that had traveled to celebrate with us.
DZ: What I loved most is that we realized that we didn’t have to follow the typical rules of what should happen at a wedding. We got to pick all of the things we liked most from other weddings we’ve attended over the years. We also added new touches based on the things we enjoy and that represent us as a couple. It made the weekend really special and memorable. MN: When gay marriage becomes legal, we would love to get married here. It would be very special since this is our com- munity and the place we’ve built our life together. I believe with time we will have equal rights and can’t think of a better reason to marry Doug for a third time!
What do you love the most about your partner’s personality?
DZ: Michael is the most kind and thoughtful person I have ever met. He has an amazing way of making people feel special and he never expects anything in return.
MN: Doug is the most even-tempered, loyal, and centered person I know. He doesn’t let silly things faze him and always maintains a generally happy demeanor. These qualities make me love being around him and have the added benefit of balancing out my more sensitive temperament.
Do you have any gay couple role models?
MN: My good friends Steve Flores and David Thibodeaux have always been role models to me. When I was young and first living in Austin, I hadn’t had much exposure to couples who enjoyed a healthy, long-term commitment to one another. Steve and David showed me the potential happiness, security, adventure, and love that could be shared between two men. Over the years they’ve taught me important lessons about relationships, parenting, love, and teamwork.
How do you celebrate your anniversary?
DZ: Typically, we don’t make a big fuss over our actual anniversary. It may sound corny, but we are very committed to showing our love for one another throughout the year, rather than making a big production out of our anniversary.
MN: We usually do something low key, like cooking a nice dinner together and opening a good bottle of wine. In the past couple years we also started reading our wedding vows to one another on our anniversary. It’s a nice way to focus on what we vowed to do for and with one another as we begin another year together.
Tell us something you want readers to know.
DZ: When I began to realize I was gay, I thought it was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. It gave me an extra set of challenges that at the time I wished I didn’t have to go through. It is obviously a big part of who I am, but it is by no means everything. Now, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m glad I have had to go through those challenges. I’m stronger because of it. Make yourself proud in whatever you do in life and don’t take “no” for an answer. You only have one shot at life on this earth; live it without regrets.
MN: The thing that stands out most to me is what a pro- found impact getting married had on my relationship with Doug. While we were just as committed to one another be- fore our wedding, I believe the act of declaring your love and commitment to the person you want to share the rest of your life with in front of your closest family and friends is truly powerful. It made our bond grow in so many unex- pected and wonderful ways and has made me even more passionate about equal marriage rights for all.