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Allison Wojtowecz (00:00):
So we talked a little bit about how you and your husband do business together or separately. I want to talk to you more about your relationship though. Let's start from the beginning. You said you met him at work?


Jen Fulwiler (00:11):
Yes. I met him at work and I've often thought that I made a really smart decision in picking this guy, and I think it went against the way some people evaluate dating relationships that I would say that with me and my husband, the spark actually came second. I think most people are expecting to have a spark instantaneously, and for me, so I worked at this company out of college and he was brought in by the board because it was a tech startup. This was during the dot-com boom, which was the wild west. I mean it was like 26-year-old CEOs and no one over there was over age 28. But then venture capitalists would give us 10 million. It was a horrible idea. The economy absolutely deserved to crash. I was part of that. I mean, we would literally throw $50,000 parties for our company of 12 people over. We didn't even hit the milestone, but we were like, we feel like we try it.

So the board members out in Silicon Valley had some questions, so they sent in a new suite of executives. We were pretty sure to fire all of us, which probably honestly deserved to happen. And one of those people was now my husband. He had just finished business school out at Stanford, and so I thought he was going to fire me. He wasn't exactly my boss, but he was way high up on the totem pole. He's seven years older than I am, so he was ahead of me in life. So just never, I always dated people my age. I mean, it never occurred to me ever that anything would happen there. I was just intimidated by him. I assumed he didn't like me, but we started going to coffee and chatting and we did really click. It was great. I enjoyed his conversation, but there was very much that there was no spark.

This is my boss. On my end, there was no spark because I wasn't evaluating that direction. There is one moment when things changed and I was like, I want to date this guy. Okay, so this is getting a little deep, but it might help someone who's single dating whatever. So quick background to help you understand what a big moment this was. My dad, God rest his soul, was an amazing guy. Green Beret engineer, great guy. But he struggled with depression his whole life. And my dad and to some extent his dad, my grandfather, who I was also very close to, they felt like life was very hard and complicated and they had no agency over their own lives. They had an external locus of control, meaning life happens to you, life happens to you, and it is what it is and life sucks and then you die.

And that was their mentality, but specifically that they just felt like everything is hard and can't get ahead in life, can't do anything, change life, change it. Very passive. And I had begun shortly after college to realize not through therapy should have been, this was a little before therapy became a big thing. So through getting drunk and sobbing to my friends, which that was therapy in the early two thousands, I had begun to realize that that left me just with some issues that my life had had, had a lot of negative repercussions because my dad just didn't feel empowered to live the life that he wanted to live. And I had begun to see, you know what? That's actually a big problem. That was a big problem. And I am still carrying the weight of that. There was one moment, Alison, I was out with this guy from the company, Joe Fuller, and we went to get coffee and he said, Hey, let's go to a bookstore because I need to get a book on, I think it was Java Development.

It's a major programming language. And so I went with him and we're looking at the books and I said, do you know Java? Do you have a programming background? And he said, no, not at all. But I have to learn it because they just put me in charge of the development team. And the development team is telling me that we can't hit this milestone in six months. I think it's probably possible. So I'm going to learn Java this weekend to just be able to converse with them a little bit better about these deadlines. And I mean, you have to understand Java is this massively intense. It's a language. Yes. I mean, people study this for years. It's very intense. And I looked at him and I said, that sounds really hard. And he just shrugged and he said, everything's easy. If you just break it down, everything's easy.

Those words changed my life. I just got chills from that. Then I was like, I don't care if this guy's kind of like my boss's boss. What am I going to make this happen? And again, it wasn't like this. My husband would kill me if I get vulgar at all. But I wasn't actually thinking let's hook up anything in that. It was just more, it was, I want oddly getting choked. I'm kind of surprised that I'm getting choked up by this. It was like, I want to build a life with someone who thinks everything's easy because I've lived my whole life being dominated by someone who's wonderful. My dad, kindest soul you could ever meet, love him so much. But that was a big problem that he thought everything was hard. And they always say, you end up marrying your father, but that's how you don't, is you realize, okay, dad's a great guy.

Let's say your dad's a wonderful guy. There were probably things he did that just accidentally didn't impact the family very well. And when you recognize that and say, you know what? I want my life to be different. And it was in that moment, I was like, okay, I need to make a move for this. I was 23 and he was 30 and we were just in totally different phases. I mean, this is how different our phases were. He had to take a phone call at one point when we were in coffee and he said, I just feel so bad. My friend is a hedge fund guy and he made this move and he just lost a hundred million dollars. So we're going to talk later today. We got to figure out, and I mean he still has like 80 mil in the fund, but obviously it's a big deal. So we're going to strategize about how to tweak these investments. And Allison, I had taken a call, well, he had taken a call and he was like, so God, all right. So anyway, he's like, I'm going to have to go in a second to talk to Stan from Yale. So he's like, what was your call?

I should have lied. My friends, there was a mutual acquaintance and one of my friends called me to say that he was in the hospital and I should just stop by and see him because he collapsed his lung with a bong hit. He took such a deep bong hit that he collapsed his lung. I was just too put on the spot to lie with this guy. He is like, yeah, I got to talk to my hedge fund friend. We got to talk about this a hundred mil. And I'm like, I'm so hurt by this entire conversation. Connor collapsed his lung with a bomb. And I was like, it's not going to work. He's not going to date me. And then you have this scarcity of like, I've got to change everything. I'm done with these friends. I'm changing my lifestyle. I'm changing my clothes. Yes, yes.

And I will say when we first started dating, the spark was not there initially. It was for the first few weeks. It was like, this is great. I'm really enjoying your company. And I remember we actually had to strain a little bit. I'll never forget we went to Katz's Deli in Austin. RIP. Yeah, I know. RIP. Yeah. And I remember thinking, okay, this conversation's a little strained. Alright, it's not rolling, but he thinks everything is easy, so I'm going to stick with it. This is 180 degrees different than the things that my dad struggled with. And so let's see if we can make this work. Allison, I dunno how to tell you what happened. Something shifted like three months into our relationship, everything settled in. And ever since then we have been not only just a great couple, and I'm not saying our marriage has been perfect, but on the whole we are a pretty great couple.

I mean, we're very impressed with each other. We make each other laugh. Every night is a party with me and my husband because we're just, again, we're like wild. We make each other laugh. We do crazy things. And something just shifted three months in where the spark was suddenly there and then we were the couple that everyone envied and we were drinking way too much granted to that. But we would hit sixth Street until three o'clock in the morning and we'd fly different places and I mean, we were just wild. We were just living our best lives and there was so much spark and there has been ever since then. And so I really want to encourage people who are dating and evaluating, don't insist on there being a spark from day one if this person seems right on paper, particularly if they're interested in building the same way you want to build.

That's what I think people should look for is that building. If you're building together, your relationship stuff is going to work out in your relationship. If you're building and he wanted to build a life where you did interesting things and you didn't get blocked by things and you have an internal locus of control, not stuff happens to me. But no, I make stuff happen. We wanted to build in the same way and sometimes it can take a few months it did with us to get that spark going. But we will have been married 20 years this year. Oh wow. Yeah. I mean we are seriously to see. You've seen us interact.

Allison Wojtowecz (10:00):
Yeah I love watching you guys.

Jen Fulwiler (10:02):
We're not like a boring couple who's bored of each other. That's not fun.

Allison Wojtowecz (10:06):
Every time you guys are together, I know it's going to be fun and someone's going to be laughing and someone's going to be cracking a joke about some crazy thing that just happened. Yeah, it's always really good energy.

Jen Fulwiler (10:16):
Yep. Yeah, so just look for that. What is kind of the fundamental thing that you're like, if everything else has to go, I really hope that I have this one thing in my life and for me it was like I just want to build something great and have it be easy and I can make almost anything else work. If we get that out of a relationship and out of a life, I can make almost anything else work.

Allison Wojtowecz (10:39):
That's really beautiful. I never knew that story about how the exact thing that he said.

Jen Fulwiler (10:44):
Oh yeah, yes, yes. I hadn't thought about that in years, but I'm glad that came up. That was the moment when it all changed.


Allison Wojtowecz (10:49):
That's beautiful. And that's really good advice too. I guess I wanted to ask you if someone's out there dating today, I mean it's so different than even 20 years ago with dating apps and all those different things. So I guess if someone is single and trying to date, would you again just kind of suggest that they know what they want before they go out doing that? How would you approach dating today? I know because I feel like you kind of said it just didn't say, it sounds like you maybe didn't know what you wanted, but as soon as he showed that to you, you were like, that's what I want.

Jen Fulwiler (11:22):
Yeah, yeah. So I didn't have a list because I came from this culture where I didn't plan to get married. I didn't want kids. 
There was no list. I never thought about marriage. I mean, not once in my young life did I imagine myself in a wedding dress. Not once in fact.

Allison Wojtowecz (11:40):
Well, you never wore white, right?

Jen Fulwiler (11:41):
That's right. And when I got married, I wore this purple prom dress looking thing. I refused to wear a wedding. I dunno, I was insane. But yeah, no, I never assumed I would get married, and in fact I thought I wouldn't. So I didn't care. I didn't have a list. I didn't know what I was looking for. And anyone, again, also I inherited that idea of life happens to you, you don't get to choose.


But I think about this a lot because my oldest kid is 18 now, so he's now getting into the, it's me dealing

Allison Wojtowecz (12:12):
With the apps and all that stuff.

Jen Fulwiler (12:13):
I know, I know. And so I've thought about this a lot and I know I fully recognize this. When you're not in the game, it's always easy to Monday morning quarterback to be there in the stands like, well, I would've thrown the ball that way. So I say this with all humility that it's different when you're actually in the game. But I am a big believer in first be the person that you've always wanted to be for yourself. Because if you're pretending to be someone you're not, and you're just living a life that you don't really want to live and you have all these insecurities and issues, you don't know what you want in a spouse, you don't know and you're going to attract the wrong people. People are going to be like, oh, she seems really negative and down on herself and she has slumped posture and doesn't give people eye contact when she talks.

Think about the kind of men you're going to attract if that's your feeling. Whereas if you've just taken some time and frankly some massive action to try a bunch of things, figure out who you are. If you don't know, try a bunch of things, figure it out. It took me one time of hiking to be like, so I'm not the outdoorsy woman. That's not me. We know that for sure. So just try a whole bunch of things. Figure out who you are and be yourself. So fearlessly. And I think that, I'm not saying it will be easy. I know the dating market is a disaster, but you will increase your odds of just people coming to you. For example, my husband was voted most popular in his high school class of 400 people. He was most popular, by the way, when I was in high school. I was goth. So very different backgrounds. Very different backgrounds. And so his little extrovert self, he gives all his extrovert advice to our kids, which I think is just wild. So my son is in a dorm where it's like they have different suites. You have suitemates, but then on the floor there are a whole bunch of other suites. My husband said, why don't you go knock on the door, just knock on the door of different dorm room, the different suites and introduce yourself. And my son.


But then my son was thinking about it and he was like, that would be a pretty confident move, I have to say would be that takes Coone to show up as an 18-year-old and be like, why? I'd like to introduce myself. But he took his father's advice. He's been doing stuff like that. My son has been at college now for three weeks and he has been asked out on three dates by attractive young women. Oh my gosh, he's knocking on doors. I love that for him. And he's showing up to things and he knows who he is. He's very confident in himself. And so he just takes massive action. He just yes to that part. Yes, I'll go to that retreat. Yes, he goes to church, he meets people at church. And so yes, I'll go to that thing. Yes, I'll knock on that door. That's true. And so just showing up and showing up and showing up again...

Allison Wojtowecz (15:20):
I think the big complaint today is about the apps and how you can find someone so attractive on the app, but you meet up with them and there's no connection. You have nothing in common, not even a shared interest. So it's like if you're doing the things that you like to do and then you just organically meet people that are also there, they like to do it. That's at least friends. You know what I mean?

Jen Fulwiler (15:44):
If you've stepped into that knowledge of who you are. For example, this is something my son has always been good at. He's a nerd, he's an engineer. I mean, he loves math and all of that, and he's always known that about himself. He doesn't care what anyone thinks. And so it's unusual for someone his age to just have that self-possessed confidence. But you end up attracting the right people. Imagine if my son were trying to pretend to be a broy frat boy. If he were trying to pretend to be that guy, he would be so upset with his situation right now.

Wait, think about the women he'd be attracting. It's like that's not, you've got to know who you are in order to attract the right people. And it's kind of interesting. Looking back at me, I had no idea who I was. I had not even the first clue who I was, but I did have that one grain of knowledge that I don't want to live a life where I think everything's harder and I can't do anything. I do know that I know that about myself. And so even if you feel like, gosh, I have no idea who I am and what I'm about or whatever, if you even have that one grain of is there one thing in life that that's kind of the thing. And if the details don't matter, but if you can just have that one thing, if you know that and you start projecting that, you may very well meet someone who helps you figure out who you are. We started dating when I was 23. My husband helped me figure out who I am.

Allison Wojtowecz (17:12):
Yeah. Oh, that's a good way to put it too, is I think a lot of people maybe approach dating thinking that they want the person to complete them or fix them or whatever, but approaching it as like, no, we're going to learn and grow together. That's a healthy way to do it.

Jen Fulwiler (17:27):
You bring up a really interesting distinction between someone fixing you and completing you versus helping you evolve and grow. It almost sounds like it would be the same thing, but it's not because I think the completing you is if you have this hole of love in your heart, so you know what it is, it's one way. If you have issues, it's like, I just want to take and take and take from you. And all the affirmation in the world is never enough. It's never enough. I'm just a black hole of whatever it is I need. Whereas that building and growth mindset is saying, I have some issues. I have some things I need to work on. And so, and we will build and grow together. That is different than having being a black hole.

Allison Wojtowecz (18:13):
Correct. Yeah, completely. It's still your responsibility to do that half of the work. Right. And I wanted to ask, with your relationship with Joe, especially when you had kids, how have you guys maintained this 20 year marriage? How do you keep that up and how do you take time for one another, especially when the kids were little?

Jen Fulwiler (18:34):
Okay, so one thing that I think is worth every couple thinking about, I have this theory that every couple is either good, they thrive in times of crisis, or they thrive in times of abundance. And then whatever they are, they fall apart in the office in the other one time. So Joe and I are a couple, we thrive in a crisis. So all of my pregnancies were high risk. I didn't know it till my second one, but I have a blood clotting disorder that's exacerbated by pregnancy. Do you know that? I had to give myself shots in the stomach every day.

Allison Wojtowecz (19:08):
You told me you had to do shots in the stomach. I didn't know it was every day. Every day. And you found out about this high risk thing on the second pregnancy.

Jen Fulwiler (19:14):
Yeah, two through six. And so when number six was born, it was such a fiasco. I got bilateral pulmonary embolisms. I came so close to dying. It's unreal. Then he had issues because we had to induce and he had issues. He almost died. And my husband and I were never better. I mean, we were, and we had no money. Guys are so happy. And after insurance, they had to switch my medication because of the pulmonary embolisms. After insurance, our portion was $4,000 a month, and we had no money. The account was overdrawn every, I mean, it was a crisis upon crisis. And because my kids were little, my oldest was only seven. So I had five kids at home, ages seven and under no money, $4,000 a month to stay alive. And my baby might die in the NICU and he couldn't come home. Joe and I, we were a masterpiece in terms of how we handled it.

I mean, it was incredible. So then that passed, I started making money in my career. He started making more money in his. We had a little more money. The kids were growing up. That is when we struggled, to be honest. That is actually, I mean, our marriage has always been solid, but there were a few years where we had some things that we needed to work out. And it was hard, but it was actually because of the abundance. We are such business people. We're such analytical people. We come together with a problem to solve. 

Allison Wojtowecz (20:43):
Yeah, both of you are so business-minded that it's almost always not Let's celebrate these wins. Well, there's that one thing.

Jen Fulwiler (20:50):
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So when the kids were little, we really thrived. There was always something to talk about. It was like, how are we going to do this? How are we going to do that? We would put the kids to bed and we would just hang out. We would just do at home date nights. And I remember thinking some kids grow up and they hear their parents yelling downstairs. And I think it was a nice thing for my kids that they would hear us laughing. We would wake them up from laughing on a random Wednesday night. We'd be drinking wine and just laughing so hard. And I think the biggest tip man for any relationship, this is just the freaking key. My husband started this. He has always been so good about finding my faults charming and pointing out the positive flip side. Let me give you an example.

That's so sweet. He is a neat freak. He is one of those people who slowly starts to lose his mind. If the house is messy, I can't clean. It's not for me. Allison, I haven't vacuumed in probably 12 years. It's not for me. It's not for me. That's impressive. Other people, we have housekeeper. Even when we were broke, I always have house. We have to, I'm special needs I have to have. That's like my special needs service. We have to have housekeepers. Yeah, I can't do any of that. I can't clean or anything sweep. No, no. And so obviously that could be a massive tension point that Joe was, he was, we didn't have any traditional division of labor, whatever. We didn't have hangups about that, but it was like, I'm constantly pregnant and having babies. So yeah, it just makes sense for him to be the one out making money and whatever.

So he would come home from a long day of work, just slogging it out. The house would be a disaster. And I did have a lot of kids, but the cereal box that spilled at 9:00 AM I probably could have gotten that cleaned up. He would walk in Allison, his take would be like iconic. That's so iconic. He's like, you're just such a queen. You can't clean. He's like, well, we have to get housekeepers and put it on the credit card because you're just too much of a queen to clean. Is there a better husband move ever?

Allison Wojtowecz (23:05):
I am just going to take your dating course after this. Manifest one of those.

Jen Fulwiler (23:10):
And I have to admit I wasn't that way. I would take his faults and I would be critical. Like, well, I don't like it. And then I realized, well, why don't I show him the same grace that he's showing me? And so I tried to do the same thing. When he would do something that really was against my love language or that I didn't like, I'd be like, oh, I iconic, iconic, incredible.

And I swear, if you only take one thing away from anything I've ever said in relationship advice, see your partner, your spouse, whatever, see their faults as iconic. Find that flip side of there's something cool here. The flip side of this is something cool. And Joe would say, he's like, I just think it's so cool that you're such a writer. At the time, writing was my, I wasn't in standup yet. And he said, you're just such a writer. You've got that brain that's always thinking of these incredible ideas. Who could expect a person with a brain like that to sweep? 

Allison Wojtowecz (24:38):
So artistic

Jen Fulwiler (24:40):
And I was like, yeah, artistic, not autistic, which is probably, I really am. I think I'm a little bit on that spectrum too. But that is the greatest gift that you could ever give your spouse to see the iconic side of their faults. And honestly, that's the single secret to our 20 year marriage...

Allison Wojtowecz (24:59):
Being able to find joy in each other's faults.

Jen Fulwiler (25:01):
Yeah. And just think it's cool. Be more impressed with them because of the fault. I could have been like, why is my husband out with the neighbor? But I was like, he was voted most popular at his school. That's so cool.

Allison Wojtowecz (25:13):
I mean, it just sounds like you guys have always been really good team players too. It's always been us versus the world, not us versus each other.

Jen Fulwiler (25:21):
Yeah. Well, so we are both only children. We do not have siblings. His mom was estranged from her side of the family. His dad was estranged from his side of the family. My dad is an only child and my mom has some siblings, but they live on the east coast. They live very far away from us. I love them. I love my cousins and aunts and uncles, but I see them once every two years if that. So it is quite literally us against the world. And we really feel that, especially now that his dad, his mom and my dad have all passed away. So it very much feels like us against the world. And that definitely informs our relationship as well.

Allison Wojtowecz (25:59):
Yeah, that's awesome.​

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