Patrick Abner and Thomas Roberts
By Jacob Bernstein
New York Times
October 9, 2012
|MANHATTAN, SEPT. 29 Thomas Roberts, left, and Patrick Abner at the Gansevoort Park Avenue. |
EVEN news anchors with matinee-idol looks can get a case of the jitters.
Of course, this isn’t exactly how Thomas Roberts — a fairly down-to-earth guy and the 11 a.m. host of “MSNBC Live” — describes himself.
But it is what happened back in September 2000. Mr. Roberts was 27, living in Norfolk, Va., working at an NBC affiliate, and not even fully out of the closet. A friend invited him to Charlotte, N.C., for a party one weekend, where he met someone who gave him a total schoolboy crush.
“I was warned, ‘He has a face that will slay you,’ ” Mr. Roberts said in a phone interview. “And it did. I remember thinking, ‘I’ve never met or seen anybody like this.’ I was very nervous around him. I didn’t know how to compose myself.”
As it happened, the man in question, Patrick Abner, also 27, felt the same way.
“I thought: ‘There is no way this guy is gay. I can’t be this lucky,’ ” said Mr. Abner, who lived in Charlotte at the time. “There were sparks, but I played my cards close to the chest. I was a bit guarded.”
There were reasons for apprehension. First, the two lived nowhere near each other. Second, Mr. Abner, a salesman at the time at Merck, the pharmaceuticals company, had just been promoted and was about to take a new job in Philadelphia.
“I was a bit afraid of jumping into a relationship,” Mr. Abner said. “It didn’t seem like the timing was right.” But a few weeks later, by chance, Mr. Roberts and Mr. Abner met again in New Orleans at a Halloween party, and this time, neither was going to let the opportunity pass.
“That’s where we exchanged numbers,” Mr. Abner said.
Mr. Roberts added: “And got to know each other a little better. When we left, I said: ‘We should get together. You can fly to Virginia Beach or I can come up to Philly.’ And he said, ‘Maybe next weekend.’ ” From there, things moved quickly. Very quickly.
Mr. Roberts invited Mr. Abner to meet his family at Thanksgiving, even though he had only recently told them he was gay.
It didn’t turn out to be a problem. Michelle Roberts, Mr. Roberts’s mother, said of Mr. Abner: “He picked up a dishtowel and started washing dishes. We loved him right away.”
Within months both men had said, “I love you” to each other.
“Every time I turned around he was doing something thoughtful,” Mr. Abner said. “I knew this was the person who was going to be there no matter what. Security is a big thing for me. It’s one of my issues, but Thomas provided that on top of the attraction that we had for each other.”
And Mr. Roberts felt similarly, discovering in Mr. Abner “the sweetest, kindest person” he said he had ever known. And for the next year, one of them drove five hours each way to spend weekends together. Usually it was Mr. Roberts heading up to Philadelphia.
“We worked on his new home,” Mr. Roberts said. “We painted, bought furniture and cooked in a lot. We were nesting.”
As bright as their relationship was, Mr. Roberts had dark clouds to vanquish. For a decade and a half, he had kept a big secret: he was abused by his parish priest in Baltimore, where he had grown up and attended high school. But once he became involved with Mr. Abner, Mr. Roberts did not want to keep secrets buried.
“Because I fell so hard for Patrick,” Mr. Roberts said, “I wanted him to know me, and know my scars and bruises, the good, the bad.”
With Mr. Abner’s help, Mr. Roberts sought counseling and in 2005 went to the police. The priest, Jerome F. Toohey, was charged with sexual abuse of a minor. He was convicted in February 2006 and served 18 months in prison.
That was not their only roadblock. Geography continued to be a problem. From the start of their relationship, both men were ambitious and working in industries where job transfers were commonplace.
“It hasn’t always been easy,” Mr. Abner admitted.
In 2001, Mr. Roberts was offered a job at a CBS affiliate in Philadelphia, enabling him to finally move into Mr. Abner’s home.
“I thought: ‘Philadelphia is where it’s at. We can build a life together. That’s what I want,’ ” Mr. Roberts said.
But almost immediately, CNN came calling. “Patrick said, ‘You have to go and check this out.’ By Monday, I had a job offer and Patrick said, ‘Atlanta it is.’ ”
They purchased their first home together there, and for five years Mr. Roberts worked at CNN and Mr. Abner did sales for Roche.
Friends noticed a certain opposites-attract quality in their relationship.
“Thomas is very outgoing, he’s never met a stranger,” said Holly Firfer, a CNN correspondent. “Patrick is a little quieter, a little shyer. They definitely balance each other out.”
In early 2007, it was Mr. Abner who was on the move: he was transferred to Washington. But Mr. Roberts found that CNN was unwilling to find a job for him there with the network.
“I couldn’t imagine us going through that long-distance relationship again,” Mr. Roberts said. “And so I resigned from CNN and moved to D.C.”
They listed their house and moved into an apartment in Washington and for the next several months Mr. Roberts floundered, unable to find work. He became increasingly depressed. Their relationship suffered.
“I was terribly bored,” Mr. Roberts said, “and resented being there.”
Mr. Abner said: “I would say that was the roughest time. There was definitely a point where both of us thought maybe it would be easier to go our separate ways. But as I thought about that it made me sick. Letting Thomas go was not an option.”
Soon after, in August, Mr. Roberts was offered a position as a host of “The Insider,” an entertainment-news show in Los Angeles, which separated him from Mr. Abner by 2,700 miles. He took it, only to find that tabloid journalism wasn’t for him.
“I was seduced by money,” he said.
The job wasn’t the only problem. After seven years together, the thought of yet another long-distance romance wore on them.
“We had reached a serious impasse on what we were doing,” Mr. Roberts said. “We had lived through so much upheaval, we were unhappy and would not be able to sustain a bicoastal relationship.”
So, six months later, Mr. Abner accepted a job in Los Angeles to be with him. And then Mr. Roberts was dismissed.
“It was the worst,” Mr. Roberts said. “I’d never been let go from a job in my life. I was always in control of my own departures.”
They remained in Los Angeles. “They fired me but still had to pay me for another six months,” Mr. Roberts said. Even after the paychecks stopped, they made the best of it.
“We had little money but our relationship was stronger, more solid,” Mr. Roberts said. “We survived the storm.”
|Don Lemon and Meghan McCain. |
Now thoroughly tested, the couple considered marriage in California. But then, California’s Proposition 8 passed, revoking gay marriage in the state, and the dream faded until the two men decided to move to New York, with Mr. Roberts taking a job at MSNBC after several freelance assignments and Mr. Abner at Merck, where he is the community liaison in its H.I.V./AIDS division.
When gay marriage was made legal in New York in June 2011, Mr. Abner and Mr. Roberts plunged into wedding planning.
“We’re so lucky that we get to do this,” Mr. Roberts said. “It blows my mind.”
Mr. Abner added, “It was a no-brainer,” although he said that he has trouble using “husband” to describe Mr. Roberts. “When you say ‘husband’ you think of wife. When I think of Thomas, I think ‘spouse.’ I like that term better.”
They were married on Sept. 29, as their parents, Michelle Roberts and Albert Roberts of Baltimore, and Patricia Ann Abner and Dale Abner of West Elkton, Ohio, joined other family and friends around the pool on the rooftop of the Gansevoort Park Avenue.
Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor of California, officiated after becoming a Universal Life minister for the event. Both grooms wore navy Ted Baker suits, each of their mothers read poetry, and the music afterward was almost loud enough to rival Twilo in its heyday.
Among the 170 or so guests at the reception was Sam Champion, the weather anchor at ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He took a turn on the dance floor with his partner, the photographer Rubem Robierb.
“We’re getting married New Year’s Eve in Miami,” Mr. Champion said in the spirit of the moment.
Mr. Robierb corrected him: “We’ll do it here officially, and then have a party in Miami.”
On a deck, guests sipped Champagne and caught a September breeze. After stopping at the photo booth on the edge of the dance floor, Mr. Roberts, who turned 40 a few days after his wedding, looked out at the crowd in wonder.
His wedding, he said, had turned out to be all that he’d ever hoped for.
“That and more,” he said. “All of my favorite people, all of the greatest influences in my life, family and friends, in one room. It’s incredible.”
Later on, Mr. Abner, 39, said: “I never imagined in a million years that I would be on a stage kissing my male partner, spouse — husband, Thomas is saying — in front of my father. I never thought that would be the case. And to be able to do that and have not just my father but my whole family be proud of me, that’s something special.”