The Different Types of Love: Sarissa Rodriguez-Schwartz & Josh Schwartz
In this series, we explore the different forms and facets of love that exist in this world. Some may be more straightforward, while others can’t be easily defined. But love holds no boundaries and the celebration of the human heart should be captured with richness, colour and dimension.
Sarissa Rodriguez-Schwartz, 32, Restaurant and Nightlife Owner & Joshua Schwartz, 47, Restaurant and Nightlife Owner
SARISSA: We first met at a job interview. I applied to be a bartender and he interviewed me. I felt that he was intimidating, because during the interview process, he had flown in from Miami to interview around 50 people for a new place that he was opening. I was one of the last to be interviewed and probably waited for 4 hours. I even missed my nephew’s Little League game, so finally when it was my turn, I wanted to get out of there. I don’t think he asked me a lot of questions, so I thought: What is the point of all this? Maybe he hired someone already. But at the same time, I was really excited to work for him because in this business (especially in New York), not a lot people are ‘good’ and know what they’re doing. I got the sense that he did, so I wanted to learn from him.
JOSH: As the story goes, I was living in Miami and was helping some friends open up a place back East. I told them to do a first round of interviews, take polaroids and write down notes, so that when I fly in, it would be quicker and I can narrow down the candidates. The day before the interviews, I was going through all the CVs and stopped when I saw Sarissa’s polaroid. My first impression was how beautiful she was. I remember reading her background and thinking to myself: This girl is so smart and she went to a good college to study business management… why does she want to bartend? [laughs] Anyway, I was kinda excited and intrigued to meet her. And when I met her, she gave off a vibe of approachability (usually when someone is this beautiful, they tend not to be approachable). I had to find a way to hire her.
I assume that she got the job. Thereafter, how did that segue into dating? Sometimes dating at work can be tricky.
JOSH: Yes. We did keep it a secret for a while. We were very cautious. Yet, the more that I got to know her and work with her, I knew that she was special—and she was someone I was really interested in. It was complicated because I’m older than her by 15 years, plus the fact that I was her boss, but I had feelings for her. And I sensed that the feeling was mutual too. So I would try to plan outings with the team and there was an incident when she didn’t come… and I thought this stinks, but as I was leaving, we passed each other on the street and she actually showed up. Damn, I should have stayed a little longer. We had an ongoing harmless flirtation. One time we went out after work, and at that point, we both felt something, so it naturally progressed from there.
SARISSA: Everybody found out and they were like, “You guys are so obvious.” [laughs] I definitely agree with Josh. Working in this business is fun and it becomes a part of your social life and you become family too. But I wanted to keep a level of professionalism. I know that we both did… it wasn’t something like, “Yay! Let’s date and work together at the same time.”
JOSH: We were very casual at the beginning and I remember Sarissa saying to me one time: “Listen, I am going to give you two weeks to make a decision if you want to take this seriously or not.” Later that night or the next morning I called her and said, ‘Okay, let’s get serious.’ After that, our relationship moved very quickly. We went on vacation together…
SARISSA: Like a week later.
Tell me about your first official date.
SARISSA: We went to a sushi restaurant in White Plains.
JOSH: White Plains is her hometown, and I’m from Manhattan. Initially, she said to me, “There is this really cool Spanish restaurant that we should go to.” When we went there, they renovated it and the vibe was horrible. In all honesty, I think both of us were kinda nervous. Obviously, we had gotten together before that… but it was after work…with drinks…
SARISSA: Yeah. We were sober and had to sit down for an actual date. If it didn’t work out, I had to look for another job.
JOSH: [laughs] It was a lot of pressure.
SARISSA: I remember going to MAC get a new lipstick. And on our date, I saw the woman who sold me the lipstick. I was really excited to wear it. This was 10 years ago by the way.
JOSH: So we left the Spanish restaurant and went to a sushi restaurant (with a big bar scene) instead. When we sat down and started talking, I felt a sense of ease about everything. It was so easy to talk to her and I knew at that moment that everything was right. Later that night, we ran into her ex-boyfriend’s best friend at the bar.
SARISSA: That was probably why he was giving you dirty looks all night. But we had a really good time, and that was the first and last time we did sake bombs. Oh, he planned another date on our first date, but then he cancelled.
JOSH: On purpose.
JOSH: To feign less interest.
SARISSA: I think he thought about it and didn’t want to appear too eager.
JOSH: Seemed weird on the first date to ask someone to go on another date. Let’s be cooler about it [laughs].
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for love?
SARISSA: Ummm… move to Singapore? [laughs] I know that he feels differently, but when we moved here together—that was insane. We were only dating, never lived together before and we got on a plane. For me, that was a bigger commitment than marriage. When we got married, I was like, okay, now we have a piece of paper.
You guys came to Singapore to help open Pangaea right?
JOSH: Yeah. I worked with the group previously. When I met Sarissa, I knew that eventually I would be moving to Singapore. The project kept getting delayed because of Marina Bay Sands. I was supposed to move 6 months after we met, but it ended up being a year and a half. Very early into our relationship, I said to her, ‘So listen, I am going to move to Singapore. Wanna come?’ First, she said, “Where’s Singapore? [laughs] Then she said, “Yeah, sure.”
Can you describe the moment you knew you loved him?
JOSH: She is still waiting for that moment [laughs].
SARISSA: It was very, very early on.
JOSH: I knew when it was for me.
JOSH: When we went to Puerto Rico. During our early days of dating, I took her on a trip there. She told her parents that she was going with a group of friends, and I had to pretend to be different people in the background [laughs]. One night, after dinner, we were just chatting and I remember thinking that I was falling in love with her.
SARISSA: Wow. For me, it was probably when you cancelled our second date [laughs].
SARISSA: It was hard when we moved to Singapore initially. I wasn’t happy, the culture shock was a lot to handle, and I had to also get my life in order. A month later, he said to me, “How about you go home for 3 weeks?” But I didn’t want to—because home is where he is.
JOSH: Even though we were dating and had serious feelings for each other in New York, it was more volatile and young in terms of a relationship. But when we moved to Singapore, everything became very serious. It was our first time living together and our first time being work partners, so that probably cemented our love.
How long did you date before you got married?
SARISSA: 5 years.
What’s the most romantic thing that you have done for each other?
JOSH: Neither of us is into grand romantic gestures. These days, it’s more the little things or touching gestures that are romantic to me. Even when we got engaged, I was going back and forth if I should do something big, but that’s not really us. Growing up in my industry, I can’t tell you how many Valentine’s Days I spent working and I have seen so many people propose and do these grand gestures of love, which takes the lustre off it.
SARISSA: Maybe me throwing you a surprise party…
JOSH: Yeah. Things like that are the touching little gestures. I was married previously and got a divorce, so when I met Sarissa, I told her I was never getting married again. To make the decision of asking her to marry me, was a very romantic gesture on my part.
SARISSA: It was his 45th birthday.
JOSH: I don’t like to shine a spotlight on myself, and throw a party. I’ve never been that kind of person who goes, “It’s my birthday week!” I do remember throwing her an ’80s birthday party.
SARISSA: He superimposed our faces on ’80s movie posters.
How long have you been married?
SARISSA: 4 years, since 2014.
Is there something that still surprises you about each other?
JOSH: I learn from Sarissa every day. I always tell my staff the day you stop learning about this industry, quit. You should be constantly learning all the time and that should make you want to love your job, otherwise things get boring. I feel that way about our relationship because I am always learning from her. One of the most amazing things about her is that she’s such a curious person. For example, we could be watching TV and something comes on and she will ask, “What was the catalyst for the Bolshevik Revolution?” Before I know it, she will be spending the rest of the night researching and learning about it. She’s constantly consuming information and ends up teaching me about so many things.
SARISSA: I learn from Josh, too. For me, it’s about laughing and learning. I am surprised that he makes me laugh every day. I still don’t think he is corny yet. [laughs]
What do you do that annoys him?
SARISSA: I am more of an internal, quiet person. And Josh is not. We grew up in very different households. I am an only child, so a lot of my time was spent alone—being with myself and my thoughts. That’s how I cope with things. Josh grew up with two very talkative women. Sometimes I would prefer not talking and I think he gets annoyed by that, right?
JOSH: Yeah, that’s accurate. Do you want me to go through a list? [laughs] Or just one thing? Look, if Sarissa could, she would live like a divorced man. She would eat tuna out of a can, leave dishes in the sink, or leave milk out for a day. Those kinds of things annoy me. On a deeper level, I wear my emotions on my sleeve; I am much more open and communicative about my feelings, while she isn’t. So, she can say the same about me in terms of what annoys her, because if we have an argument, I need to talk about it and resolve it at that very second. If you look at more stereotypical roles, she actually acts more like the man because she doesn’t want to talk [laughs]. The more that happens, it builds up a fight. I don’t know how to walk away and talk about it later. I have to resolve it immediately.
SARISSA: Even the day-to-day stuff, whenever I am in the car or on an aeroplane (any form of transportation), I just want to shut off and think, and have some quiet time. But he always wants to have a constant conversation.
Do you recall your most vulnerable moment in your marriage?
JOSH: It was right around the one-year anniversary of our marriage. We went through a really hard time and were considering if we should stay together or not. There were a lot of factors in play. I was previously married to a person whom I dated for 9 years, then we got married for one year to the day. So, this one-year hump was a weird thing that I had in my head. I almost felt like I was self-sabotaging my current marriage. It scared me because what would happen if we get past that one-year mark? I had never been there before. At that time, we also weren’t happy with the work that we were doing, which added to it. We weren’t even communicating as friends.
How do you get past that?
JOSH: I really tried and made an effort. I pushed her to see it differently. Had I been okay to let our marriage go, we would have separated at that time. We even said to each other, ‘Let’s give it a few months and see if we can change things.” And we did.
SARISSA: It also coincided with us being happier at what we were doing professionally.
JOSH: That’s the struggle working together and being business partners. It matters if you are happy at work because it affects our entire life. When you have a partner who works in a different industry, you can have a bad day at work and they can help to lift you up. But when you’re both going down with the ship, no one is going to throw you a life vest.
Why didn’t your previous marriage work out?
JOSH: I was a very immature person at that time. I was a very bad boyfriend to her for 9 years and I wasn’t faithful. When we got married, I decided to be faithful. But so much damage had been done to the relationship—by that point, she was gone. A year into our marriage, I found out she was pregnant with someone else. We don’t talk anymore, obviously.
SARISSA: You were in your 20s.
In what situations do you feel most afraid or insecure?
SARISSA: I do get afraid that eventually I will outlive him because of our age gap. We are so wrapped up with each other. He’s a witness to my life, and if he’s not around, nobody is ever going to understand me. Another thing is, a lot of people don’t understand what we have sacrificed—we don’t have a normal marriage. Sometimes I am not sure if we are normal or we are better or worse than other people in terms of work-life balance.
JOSH: I completely concur with that. Because we work with the same people, we can spend 45 minutes talking about somebody and we both know that person. If I worked in an office, and I got home from work and said, ‘Can you believe what Joe did today?’ She has no context on who Joe is. It’s not like we talk about work all the time… but at least we have the same frame of reference for everything. In terms of being insecure, I’m much more emotional and touchy-feely, and Sarissa’s not, but I have learned to understand and appreciate her. And I know that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love me. But there are times, when it makes me a little insecure. Then I stop acting the way I feel I should act, and it makes more insecure because I’m wondering if she knows that I still love her. It becomes an insecurity circle.
What would you consider unforgivable in your marriage and why?
SARISSA: I don’t know.
JOSH: Okay, that’s cool [laughs].
SARISSA: I would like to say infidelity.
JOSH: The reality is human beings are human beings. It’s more emotional infidelity, if that makes sense. There is something about giving your heart to somebody that I don’t think I can get past, ever. That’s unforgivable—like an ongoing infidelity. Not a mistake that happened.
Some people can forgive.
JOSH: I think it is really hard to work past that, in all honesty. I have seen people try to but any fight or argument comes back to that. As much as people try to work on it, when infidelity happens, it is probably a sign that you should move on.
Every marriage goes through different phases. What was something that you had to work on together?
JOSH: When we first met, I was her boss at work, but not in life. So how do I stop being a boss? When we became partners, I had to learn how not to be her boss in front of other people.
SARISSA: There was a lot of shifting of roles and establishing boundaries like telling him that I didn’t appreciate this or maybe tomorrow we can work on this. It was a lot of communication.
JOSH: Yeah, I think we go through things quite often where I don’t always realise the way I say things or come off. We are both sensitive about different things. So I would say to her, ‘You have to tell me if I am doing that.’ And I need to understand her perspective and not be defensive about it. It’s not just in a work setting, but it could be over dinner last night with a group of people where I said something that she felt was off-colour.
As business partners, how do you resolve conflicts or disagreements when they arise?
SARISSA: We resolve an issue by talking about it. Because there is a level of respect for each other and we also have the same goal in mind, we will always want what’s best for the business.
JOSH: Overall, we both understand that the most important thing is the business. We certainly disagree at times, but ultimately, we have the same vision. Sometimes, she wins and sometimes, I win. Most of the time, neither of us wins, but that discussion brings us to a point where something even better comes out of it. In a way, it is a beautiful thing, and by then, it is not a disagreement anymore.
Has working together ever affected your marriage in any way?
JOSH: Yeah, we sacrificed a lot of our personal relationship because of work. It’s so hard to turn that off and have a candle light dinner. We would go on a date and end up critiquing the restaurant, and suddenly, it becomes a work discussion. Having date night is tough.
SARISSA: I don’t know how to identify myself outside of work. I am sure Josh feels the same way because it is very much a part of who we are. Our businesses are extensions of who we are.
JOSH: That’s one of the reasons why our venues are so successful. We really put everything that we have into each venue. It’s so personal to us, and because of that, it’s 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So the problem is how do you turn off that passion that you have for your business and have that with someone else? That’s where we struggle. Going back to what Sarissa said before, I’m not sure if it is right or wrong, or good or bad; I know it makes us successful as a business and as business partners—we have a strong bond—but I don’t know if it is the right thing in a marriage. I am not sure. If I married someone in finance, I would shoot myself or we would be divorced. I don’t know any other way than to be so focused and passionate about my businesses. If someone wasn’t sharing that journey with me, I think they would get bored very quickly.
Who do you think has more power in the relationship?
JOSH: [points to her]
JOSH: In the relationship, yeah.
SARISSA: Good to know.
JOSH: She has more power, for sure. I’m more communicative, so that puts the power in her court a little bit more, right? The best way to win an argument is to not engage and sit there quietly.
What does she do that hurts you the most?
JOSH: I think we both fight dirty and it’s the things that she says to me which imply that I am always like this or that. There is a difference between you were an asshole, what you said was really mean and you’re an asshole, you’re always an asshole. That’s an example of what is most hurtful to me.
What does he do that hurts you the most?
SARISSA: Probably when I feel like he is trying to dominate.
JOSH: Or when you feel like I belittle you. It’s one of those hurdles that we have never been able to get over, because of how our relationship started to where it is right now. I could say something that isn’t a big deal to me, but she might be extra sensitive to it because she doesn’t want me to sound like her boss or someone who knows better.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your married life?
JOSH: Listen, and make an effort to change.
SARISSA: I don’t think I try to change you.
JOSH: That’s not what I mean. Like if you do something that annoys someone or is hurtful to them, but you don’t realise what you’re doing… then try to listen, understand and make an effort to change. You do try to change me and everyone does that.
SARISSA: I don’t see it as changing. It’s about becoming better. There’s this quote which I found interesting: ‘In a marriage, a woman marries a man hoping that he will change. A man marries a woman hoping she never will.’ The biggest lesson is about growing together and helping each other as life partners.
JOSH: People always ask me, “Is it different when you got married?” I think it is, because there is now a sense of trust. You know that you are going to fight. Everyone fights. But in a marriage, you trust the fact that no matter what, you are going to get through it because you made a lifetime commitment to someone.