The Pod Couple
NAPLES, Fla. — It was a rainy evening and Abby Wambach, the soccer star, was staging an intervention from her kitchen. It was an intervention about fun.
“Glennon doesn’t know how to have fun,” Ms. Wambach, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and former captain of the U.S. women’s soccer team, announced. Her wife, the author and activist Glennon Doyle, was curled up on a nearby couch in a pair of tie-dyed sweats.
“I mean, for instance: This weekend I was like, ‘Babe, what are we doing Sunday? What do you want to do for fun?’”
“She literally said, ‘fun,’” Ms. Doyle confirmed.
“She said, ‘Huh. Do you want to clean out the rest of the garage?’”
The couple’s teenagers, Chase, 18, Tish, 15, and Amma, 13, snickered from across the room where they were lounging with the family dogs and Chase’s boyfriend, Julio.
“Glennon, that is a chore. A chore with an outcome,” Ms. Wambach said. “That is not fun.’”
“What is fun, though?” her wife retorted, sounding a bit like Fran Lebowitz. “Like truly, I don’t understand what ‘fun’ is. I understand what ‘rest’ is. I understand what ‘work’ is. I kind of understand what ‘self-care’ is. But this idea of ‘fun’ of which you speak is not something I’ve grasped. So can you define for me what fun is to you?”
This is typical pre-dinner banter for the Doyle-Wambach clan who, like many of us, have spent a lot of time together over the past year, observing — in more detail than perhaps any of us ever wanted — each others’ tics. “We’re not exactly starved for family interaction,” Chase said.
But unlike many of us, when this family began uploading snippets of their domestic disputes on Instagram at the start of the pandemic — when Ms. Doyle’s book tour went remote and Ms. Wambach’s normally busy speaking schedule came to a halt — hundreds of thousands tuned in.
There was a video about dishwasher-loading etiquette, recorded spontaneously on an evening not unlike this one, viewed 664,000 times. (Cheryl Strayed proclaimed that she was “100% Team Abby” on the subject, while the poet Maggie Smith noted that the video, in which Ms. Wambach chides Ms. Doyle for her loading technique, “made my eye twitch.”)
Then there was Ms. Wambach’s disgust over Ms. Doyle’s toothbrush hygiene (“Look at this!” Ms. Wambach says, holding up her wife’s sticky toothpaste tube in horror). Or the couple’s nightly inability to decide on a TV show. Or how on earth two married people can have such different philosophies on whether toilet paper should be put on the toilet paper holder or simply balanced on top of it. “Who cares?!” Ms. Doyle asked, incredulous.
Apparently, a lot of people.
Whether you subscribe to the “honesty gospel” of Ms. Doyle or her latest New York Times best seller, “Untamed”; whether you are a soccer fan, or have followed Ms. Wambach’s fight for equal pay or Ms. Doyle’s humanitarian work, there was something relatable, almost soothing, about seeing these conflicts play out.
Identifying one’s self as “the Abby” or “the Glennon” became a kind of relationship shorthand. Stating you are “looking for the Glennon to my Abby” is a line at least one of the couple’s millions of social media followers has “totally swiped right on,” while some, like Sydney Cuvelier, of Boston, have declared the couple “otp” (short for “one true pairing,” or internet speak for the ideal relationship). Ms. Cuvelier, 24, who recently came out as gay,said she and her therapist discuss them almost weekly.
Abra Said, a 35-year-old designer in Ohio who has read “Untamed” multiple times since it came out (and recently went through a breakup), put it this way: “Sometimes it’s just nice to remember that even Glennon and Abby fight about dishes.”
Embracing Radical Honesty
Ms. Doyle, 45, is seasoned at confronting and considering feelings, on the page and off: her complicated childhood in Burke, Va., her anxiety, her bulimia, her alcoholism, her sobriety, her marriage, her husband’s infidelity, her decision to forgive him, and, ultimately, her evolution from Christian parenting blogger who never really questioned her sexuality to best-selling author who left her husband for a woman.
“I grew up in a family where you weren’t really supposed to express too much,” she said. “So I raised the kids to express all of their feelings, all of the time.”
And her wife? “More into processing relationships — at least our relationship — than anyone I know,” Ms. Doyle said.
Ms. Wambach, 40, describes herself and her wife as “seekers” — the kind of people always looking for a deeper understanding of themselves and the world. And indeed, in this house, phrases like “radical honesty” and “trauma response” roll off the tongue; taking “moral inventory” of their day — a concept they learned in recovery — is something they often do before bed. (Ms. Wambach, who faced a public struggle with alcoholism after her retirement from soccer, is now five years sober; Ms. Doyle is going on two decades.)
“We have nights where we get in bed and I’ll be like, ‘I can’t.’ Like I actually cannot talk anymore,” Ms. Doyle said.
But how could big talkers, these days, resist a podcast?
Announced on Ms. Doyle’s Instagram last week, the podcast, “We Can Do Hard Things” — a mantra Ms. Doyle’s fans will recognize — hovered at the No. 1 slot on Apple even before it debuted Tuesday with an episode on anxiety.
Which Ms. Doyle was feeling intensely when she first met Ms. Wambach in 2016, at a book convention where both were promoting their memoirs. Ms. Wambach’s was called “Forward,” about her life and retirement from soccer; Ms. Doyle’s, “Love Warrior,” was about recommitting to her husband.
When Ms. Wambach walked through the door — strong, seemingly self-assured — “I remembered my wild,” Ms. Doyle would go on to write in “Untamed.”
The couple began corresponding by email. Less than a month later, Ms. Doyle told her husband she was leaving him. Three months after that, Ms. Wambach moved to an apartment in Naples. “I was like, wait, what?!” said Julie Foudy, a former captain of the U.S. women’s soccer team and Ms. Wambach’s longtime friend. But “there’s no gray area with Abby. It’s like, ‘I’m all in or I’m not.’”
They waited until Ms. Doyle’s children felt comfortable, then Ms. Wambach moved in. They were married almost exactly one year after they met.
The couple is preparing to move their brood to Los Angeles this summer; they are investors in a new National Women’s Soccer League team there, and “Untamed” is headed for Hollywood.
But for now, they are in this sprawling house on a canal that connects to the Gulf of Mexico, with a boat outside. Craig Melton, Ms. Doyle’s ex and her children’s father, is just a short drive away; he will move with them to Los Angeles, where they’ve committed to living less than a mile apart. It is a modern blended family — the three share parenting duties — of the kind that their family friend, the musician Brandi Carlile, thinks “more people need to see.”
It wasn’t always this seamless, of course. But Ms. Wambach likes to say that Mr. Melton gave her a gift — which was “permission for his kids to love me.”
She was on her second coffee of the day, in a “Sporty Spice tank top,” as her wife described it, having just returned from a run. In normal times, she is on the road at least a week a month, giving motivational speeches. But for the past year, she has taken on the role of family hype woman, coach, chef, personal trainer, soccer mom and chief technology officer. It’s the longest time she has been in one place since she was 14.
“I love not leaving. I love not having to get on a plane. I love being completely enmeshed with what the kids are doing,” Ms. Wambach said. “For the first time in my life, my central nervous system has completely calmed down.”
She was helping Ms. Doyle set up her microphone to record an episode of the new podcast. Ms. Doyle, putting on her headphones, began shouting into the computer screen.
“See, she yells,” Ms. Wambach said, making her way to the laundry room, where she would set up her microphone next to a pile of clean socks. “Do you need your glasses, honey?” she called back.
‘We’re Obsessed With Processing’
In “Untamed,” Ms. Doyle writes about a slogan she came across in a classroom years ago: “We Can Do Hard Things,” saying that it saved her life. These days, that slogan can be found on T-shirts, posters and coffee mugs. When Joe Biden won the presidency — his team had recruited Ms. Doyle to help reach suburban women — his campaign manager tweeted, “We can do hard things … and you just did!”
Now it is the title of her new podcast, with the goal of helping her followers (or “community,” as the couple likes to say; “followers sounds cult-y,” Ms. Wambach said) forge deeper connections after so much time in isolation.
Hosted by Ms. Doyle, the podcast features her sister, Amanda Doyle, as co-host; her wife as frequent guest; daughter Tish singing the opening song; and an episode with Mr. Melton, possibly on parenting, though they are still figuring out what he and his ex-wife want to talk about. (“I really want to talk to him about dating,” Ms. Doyle said. “I’m so curious about that.”)
There is an episode on “Fun,” one on “Sobriety” and another called “5 Fights,” in which Ms. Doyle and Ms. Wambach dissect their most common arguments, including fighting about the way they fight — “the most lesbian thing you can actually fight about,” Ms. Wambach said.
They like to joke that they can do hard things, but that sometimes it’s the easy things they seem hardest. Like Tish returning a phone call, on the actual phone, to her soccer coach — to discuss when she should tell the rest of the team she is moving. “But what if she asks me, like, ‘What do you want to do?’” Tish said, making a face. “Well, what do you want to do?,” Ms. Wambach said. “You have to go inside of yourself and think, ‘What do I want?’”
Or losing track of a full cup of coffee inside the washing machine. “Yeah, we still don’t really understand how that happened,” Ms. Doyle said.
(“When Glennon starts getting into her thoughts, she’s like … ‘What do we call it?’” Ms. Wambach asked. “Under water,” Tish said. “But then she comes back up.”)
Or naps — very controversial in this household.
“Early on in our relationship, I would take a nap. I had to take a nap. I played sports,” Ms. Wambach said. “And she’d come in and she’d look at me like, you’re going to take a nap?! Like, are you sick?”
(Ms. Wambach has not napped recently, she said. “Evidently children are very time-consuming.”)
Or food — one battle in particular. Ms. Wambach asks Ms. Doyle if she would like a milkshake. Ms. Doyle says no. So Ms. Wambach buys one milkshake, for herself. But then Ms. Doyle asks for a sip of that milkshake, or sneaks some from the fridge.
As it happened, they were now ordering lunch. (A grain bowl for Ms. Wambach; a pizza for Ms. Doyle, though, she wanted to be sure she could have a bite of the grain bowl.)
“The thing for me is that I know I want a bite of things, but I don’t want the whole thing,” Ms. Doyle said.
“But I want the whole thing,” Ms. Wambach said, “and not one fry, or not one sip, less.”
Ms. Doyle, who has struggled with eating disorders throughout her life, doesn’t like to waste food but also hates having leftovers in the house. “I don’t trust myself around them,” she said. Ms. Wambach, who grew up the youngest in a family of seven — competing for food, attention, airspace — has the opposite problem. “I’m afraid I’m not going to have enough.”
Later, her wife somewhere else, Ms. Doyle was still ruminating: “I’m telling you, it’s just a weird part of me that’s like, ‘I want you to want me to have a sip more than I want you to want all of your sips,’” she said, laughing.
If you are a person who abides by the belief that it is the small things — the sips — as much as the big things that make a relationship work, then seeing these micro-issues analyzed is quite helpful. “It’s actually encouraged me to try to talk to my own husband about this kind of stuff,” Amanda Doyle said.
But what about the energy expended doing so?
“Here’s the thing: We’re both recovering addicts,” Ms. Wambach said, explaining that recovery has taught them that anything left unsaid can turn into something bigger.
“So we’re obsessed with processing,” Ms. Doyle said.
Luckily for them, there is no shortage of subjects. Take fun — please.
“I guess the closest I can come to ‘fun’ is the feeling of relief,” Ms. Doyle said. “Like, knowing that the thing is done. But I realize that’s not what you’re talking about.”
“No, it’s not,” her wife said.
“So what you’re saying to me is that fun has to be something that is not related to productivity or accomplishment. Right? And what’s fun to you is competition.”
“Which is why I like walking with you into the grocery store and beating you by one step. That’s fun.”
“I will be getting out of my car to go into the grocery store, and the next thing I know Abby’s gone. Why is she gone? Because she’s running ahead of me, so she can beat me into the grocery store. As if I give a crap.”
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