Love in the real world. Dr. Pamela Ling and Judd Winick met back in 1994 when they were cast alongside five other strangers on MTV’s Real World: San Francisco. Although the duo didn’t make an on-screen love connection — as the show’s producers had hoped — their real-life romance began after the show’s finale.
In a new interview with The New York Times, the duo – who celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary on August 26 – opened up about their lives with two young children.
Winick, now 46, compared his relationship with Ling, now 48, to a grounded Boeing 747 ready for takeoff. “We were in the friend zone because she had a boyfriend and we were on a television show,” Winick noted. But he says waiting for the cameras to stop rolling to begin a relationship was a good choice. “I can’t imagine you’re completely you when you’re on-camera,’’ he said. “It’s when the camera stops that you finally get to assess.”
Winick, who is now a veteran comic-book writer and graphic novelist, loved that Ling was “shockingly nerdy.” When they first started dating, they even shared a mutual fondness for Star Wars films.
“We still love and get obsessive about things together,” Winick told the paper. The couple bonded over shared interests, including musicals such as Rent, and television shows like Project Runway and Game of Thrones.
“Celebrate your common joys,” Ling said of how she and her husband keep their romance alive.
While they are open about their marriage, Winick and Ling have opted to keep their children out of the spotlight. The former reality stars refrain from posting the kids’ photos on social media, and they decided to conceal their son and daughter’s names in their New York Times interview.
Ling, however, is passionate and forthcoming about her professional life. She works as a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, with her focus on studying how tobacco is marketed to young people. She wants to “make trouble for tobacco companies,” with a goal to “help hipsters quit smoking.”
The doctor and her husband are also focused on making an impact as a team. The spouses were moved after their Real World: San Francisco co-star Pedro Zamora died from AIDS complications back in 1994. The couple assists in overseeing the Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship, which awards scholarships to students who are committed to ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
“I only wish we had 10 times the money to give away,” Ling said. She and Winick grew closer when they both traveled to Miami to visit Zamora before he passed away.
The couple faced a trying time when Ling was pregnant, and Winick was busy working on The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, an animated TV series he created. “I was flying down to Burbank three days a week while Pam was up here, still working and pregnant with our son,” he said.
Although it was a stressful period, Winick spent more time with his wife to ensure he was present for the birth of their child. “I didn’t think this TV show was going to be around for 90 years, but this kid will be,” he said.
“The only thing harder than being pregnant and alone is single parenting,” Ling added, explaining that she was sleep-deprived and doesn’t “remember it much.”
Another difficult time in Ling and Winick’s marriage came when Winick was yearning to return to cartooning while writing comics for Marvel and DC. “‘Judd is not always a happy person’ is the kind way to say it,” Ling told the Times. To help her husband through his glum period, Ling encouraged him to watch television. “This is something his parents started when he was a kid,” she explained. “You can’t fight nature. It’s his opiate of choice.”
Winick’s mood began to lift when he wrote and illustrated, Hilo – a New York Times bestselling novel about a boy crashing down from the sky. “He’s still the same Judd, but 30 percent less angry just because the work is a better fit,” Dr. Ling said of her husband’s writing and illustrating.
Even now, after 15 years of marriage, the busy duo struggle to find balance. “Working full-time, seeing patients, doing research, and having a family is virtually an impossible thing to do,” Ling told The New York Times.
“If we fight over anything, we fight that Pam works too hard,” her husband added.
Recently, Ling began singing with the San Francisco Choral Society. She loves to sing, and even took a year off before medical school to pursue a career in music. “I went around New York City and auditioned for really bad bands,” she recalls of her hiatus from college. She was presented the opportunity to sing with a group during a Harvard reunion, and her spark for singing returned. “I realized I love to do this,” she said.
Winick is happy with his wife’s new activity. “Most importantly, Pam is spending time with a non work-related activity,” he shared. “Admit it, you’re a lot happier,” he said to his wife. Ling agreed.
Inspired by his wife’s singing, Winick purchased sheet music for her to play on the couple’s piano. He told The New York Times that tunes from Hamilton and Star Wars are regulars in their household.
Winick and Ling have some tips for maintaining a happy marriage: “Embrace your differences or complementary characteristics,” Ling said encouragingly. “I’m externally motivated, while Judd is internally motivated. I’m left brain, while Judd is right brain. I write science, while Judd writes stories.”
“Communication is key,” Winick concluded. “Know that you’re human. Know that sometimes it isn’t about you; it is the other person. And know that sometimes it is about you.”