Russell Clayton and Jonathan Tieken met nine years ago when they were undergraduates at Texas A&M. Tieken, a native of Austin, works at Prelude Dynamics, a pharmaceutical software company founded by his father, by day. To nourish his creative side, he recently founded an event and experience production company called By MoJo with a dear friend of his. Clayton was born and raised in Anaheim, California, and has called Austin home for five years. He works at TreeHouse, a startup company focused on sustainable, attainable living. Prior to that, he managed enterprise resource planning at Sweet Leaf Tea. They told me about the organic nature of their connection and how they’ve been able to sustain it.
Where and when did you first meet?
RC: February 11, 2003, is when Jonathan and I first connected in an unlikely land: Aggieland. Jonathan’s charm got me instantaneously—and his great looks; I thought for sure this ex-swimmer and Jeep driver was only for ogling. Thankfully, I was wrong.
JT: Russell and I met at Texas A&M as Fish Camp Counselors. We were quick friends, frequently exchanging witty banter and spending time together. As two closeted individuals, our communication was hindered and awkwardly adorable at times. More often than not our physical contact consisted of bumps, hits, taps, or anything that would allow us to touch without giving ourselves away. We spent hours together in an attempt to figure each other out, both aware, or at least hopeful, that there was something more but both far too afraid to say anything. Over the course of two months, we ever so carefully and with great anxiety pushed that line further. I don’t recall the exact moment that we both knew we were in a safe place, and safe with each other, but I will never forget how it felt. I would never replace the path we took, as awkward and tense as it may have been. We met as friends, and grew into our love for each other in a completely organic way. Overcoming numerous obstacles, some self-induced, many a result of our position, laid a solid foundation that holds us together to this day.
Tell us about your first date.
RC: Blue October, a band I used to love dearly, played a show in College Station on April 2, 2003. After many long nights of wishing and wondering, we interlocked fingers during the song “18th Floor Balcony.”
JT: Russell and I went to see a band that he really liked play. Really, for me it was just an excuse to be in a dimly lit room, full of people where we could make contact without anyone being the wiser. It’s difficult to look back now and think that it was what I would consider an actual date, but it is the night that we really connected and became completely at ease with one another.
What is the secret to maintaining a strong, long-term relationship?
RC: Jonathan couldn’t have summed the challenges any better. Don’t be afraid to have fun.
JT: Relationships take work, it’s been said many times before. More than that, though, relationships take the abil- ity to find and create moments that you can share, cherish those that you’ve already experienced, and not lose sight of the things you fell in love with in the first place. It is an evolution and a progression, but not always in a for- ward direction. Setbacks and bumps in the road should be expected, as should the ability to learn from those stum- bles. Time puts tarnish on all things, and new and shiny will always catch your eye. However, time also creates a story and a bond that is unique and cannot be replaced. Remembering the story that you have created together puts new and shiny into perspective. Take control and make your relationship what you want it. Passion, laugh- ter, fun, love, and overall happiness seldom create them- selves. If you can look at your place in the world and smile, don’t forget to look at your partner and do the same.
What’s your favorite place to visit as a couple?
JT: In 2004, we backpacked through Europe for about two months. Ever since then, travel has been a major part of our bond and is still a huge part of bringing us together and keeping our relationship strong. We both enjoy the outdoors and find ourselves returning time and time again to places where we can let go of distractions. A 5,000-mile road trip through the national parks in the Rocky Moun- tains, a drive out to Marfa once or twice a year, hitting the trails throughout the northwest (Vancouver and Se- attle)—they all provide great ways to let go, find ourselves, and find each other. When it’s time to lose ourselves for a while, we end up in a big city somewhere. New York City pulls us back at least once a year, and Chicago in the sum- mer is really hard to beat.
RC: We love to travel. There hasn’t been a year after 2003 that didn’t see us on an adventure.
If gay marriage were legal here, would you tie the knot?
RC: Absolutely. When we hit 10 years, a New York or California wedding will happen. We would absolutely wed in this great state when it becomes possible.
JT: Austin is and always will be home. My hope is that we will be able to get married here one day. In the meantime, our plan is to celebrate our tenth anniversary, surrounded by family and friends in New York, as we tie the knot. Then we’ll come back here and have a big party.
What do you love the most about your partner’s personality?
RC: Jonathan’s amazing ability to bring joy and life everywhere he goes.
JT: Russell has an amazing drive and focus that I doubt I will ever posses. He provides a direction and focus to my free spirit, and brings a much-needed logic to my some- times far-flung dreams.
Do you want to start a family?
RC: Yes, eventually. One smart, cute kid, please.
JT: A family is absolutely in the plans. Or rather an addition to the family we already have with our pups Olive and Rylan—when I feel like I am in a place where I am completely selfless.
Do you have any gay couple role models?
JT: Every couple is different, what works best for one doesn’t work for everyone. I admire any couple that can com- mit to loving each other and find what works best for them. RC: Perhaps we should find one.
How do you typically celebrate your anniversary?
RC: It’s changed year after year, which makes it fun. It’s always a good meal with plenty of celebration, in Austin, D.C., with family, friends, or just us and the dogs. JT: Whether it’s a favorite spot or someplace completely new, we gather around the table with family; share drinks, food, and long nights of laughs and occasional tears. We get to spend just about every day with each other and are lucky enough to have a family that supports and loves us. Celebrating our love for each other is great; celebrating that love with family is even better. Love in a relationship is an exchange between individuals. Having love pour in from those around you feels like you’ve gotten a one up. It’s a great recharge.