Neil Patrick Harris and husband David Burtka are quite literally two peas in a pod. “We have the same shoe size, body size, height and weight,” Harris told Out magazine in 2012, adding that they share a wardrobe. “We’re both Gemini. We both like the idea of family — not a nuclear family, but a social family.”
But just as much as they’re similar, they’re also quite opposite in how they operate. Harris explained he’s “very introspective — thinker, rather than the doer. I tend to weigh options before making decisions, and David is the polar opposite of that.”
It’s both their commonalities and differences that have made Harris (best known for his stints on TV shows Doogie Howser, M.D. and How I Met Your Mother and as a four-time Tonys host) and Burtka (a cookbook author, chef and actor) such a perfect match — and a stable Hollywood couple, who went on their first date on April Fool’s Day of 2004.
Commemorating occasion in 2021, they swapped Instagram posts, with Harris calling Burtka “my top priority, my constant inspiration, my baby daddy, and my best friend,” and Burtka returning the love with, “You have given me the life I have dreamed of. I am constantly amazed at your parenting skills, how hard you work to provide for our family, how much we still laugh, that we haven’t lost ‘it’ in the romantic department and most importantly that we are still madly in love.”
But the couple, who are now parents to fraternal twins, daughter Harper Grace and son Gideon Scott, would have never met if it weren’t for a chance encounter on the streets of New York City.
Burtka was in a relationship when they met
Despite having been billed a teen heartthrob, gracing the covers of teen magazines in the ’90s, Harris didn’t always feel lucky in love. “I remember being in my mid-twenties, lying in bed thinking, I’ve never taken a shower with anyone before; I’ve never had any kind of long-term relationship. I remember thinking that the rest of my life would be solo,” he admitted to Out. “I wasn’t weepy when I thought that — it was just a realization that I had gone this long being self-sufficient.” In fact, he was more than just sufficient. Harris had been earning ardent praise as the Master of Ceremony in Sam Mendes’ version of Cabaret on Broadway in 2003.
During that time, he ran into his friend Kate on the street, who happened to be with Burtka (who was coincidentally in another Mendes production at the time, Gypsy). Harris assumed he was Kate’s boyfriend, remembering Burtka as a “brooding, James Dean–type guy in a leather jacket who gave me the head nod and then turned away,” Harris said. After all, Burtka was already in a long-distance relationship.
They first hung out at an ‘American Idol’ party
Harris was respectful but also didn’t want to give up hope. “I didn’t want to be that guy who was creating some sort of romantic interference,” he told Out. “So I was always around when he was around, hoping the stars would align.”
Their first real hangout was when Kate invited him to an American Idol viewing party. “I just stammered around him,” Harris remembers. “I couldn’t take my eyes off him.”
They eventually started hanging out as friends. “I thought he was adorable…with these amazing blue eyes that are just hypnotizing to me,” Burtka said. Eventually he broke up with his boyfriend and he and Harris went on their first date the following week to the movies to see Angelina Jolie’s Taking Lives.
One essential topic that came up on that first date: kids. “If he hadn’t wanted kids, I don’t think we’d be together,” Burtka added. “I always thought that family was the most important thing in life, and no matter what I do, whether being a chef or an actor or a dancer, being a dad is what I do best.”
They moved in together just months after they started dating
From that first date, the two started seeing more of one another. “We started hanging out every single night, and after three months, it was just non-stop,” Burtka remembered, with Harris adding, “Once we started talking, we never stopped.”
They soon moved in together, simply because it seemed convenient. “We thought if we were both going to be paying $5,000 a month to use someone else’s sheets and towels, we might as well do it together,” Harris told the publication of the moving into a “roomy and reasonably priced” place in Harlem that a woman had lived in for more than four decades.
Heading back to L.A. to pack up, their cross-country drive to their new home in New York City symbolized the merging of their lives. They started by loading up the moving truck with the foundation of each of their lives they had in storage, before stopping in Harris’ hometown of Albuquerque to pick up some things and then to Michigan, where Burtka’s family is, to get his family’s piano. “We went slowly across America, filling up this truck, and by the time we got to New York, we had a new life full of furniture,” Harris said.
They’re honest about their ups and downs
With that new life also came a new level of trust between each other — which included complete openness, even when it wasn’t the easy way to go. “I initially fell for David harder than he fell for me,” Harris admitted. “I remember saying, ‘I think I love you,’ and he was like, ‘That’s really nice,’ which is not necessarily what you want to hear. But I appreciated his honesty in not jumping the gun and saying something because he felt obliged to.”
Burtka says that the first three years were like a “honeymoon period” and then they eventually settled into a vibe. “It becomes more comfortable, but it becomes a necessity — something you can’t give up, like an addict,” he said.
And like any couple, they have their disagreements. “Our fights last five minutes, then we’re over it,” Burtka said. “[Since] we’re both Gemini — we have a good twin and a bad twin, and the four of us get along really well!”
Burtka proposed on the street corner they met followed by a proposal by Harris on Valentine’s Day
One day a few years into their relationship, the two were on their way to an event outside of New York City in a limo, when Burtka insisted on stopping. It turned out they were at the street corner where they had their first chance encounter. “He got on one knee and proposed, and I was so freaked out by it that I said, ‘Yes,’ but I didn’t know what it meant,” Harris said. “Then I got the ring and loved it, and a year later, on Valentine’s Day, I proposed to him in Santa Monica.”
At the time, gay marriage hadn’t been legalized in New York, but they didn’t let that hold back their plans to start a family. “We both agreed that if we wanted to have kids, we didn’t want to do it super late in the game,” Harris said. “We wanted our parents to enjoy the process and to be young and vibrant enough to throw a ball with them, or to chase them around without using a walker.” On October 12, 2010, that dream came true, as they welcomed Gideon and Harper via surrogate.
The pair got married in Italy in September 2014
As the family continued to grow, with both parents sharing updates on their social media, June 2011 became a historic time. “It PASSED! Marriage equality in NY!! Yes!! Progress!! Thank you everyone who worked so hard on this!! A historic night!” Harris tweeted. The next day, he got more personal, tweeting: “David and I did propose to each other, but over five years ago! We’ve been wearing engagement rings for ages, waiting for an available date.”
While raising their kids definitely kept their hands full, it wasn’t until three years later, on September 6, 2014, that the couple of 10 years finally got married in a small ceremony in Italy with just 45 guests, including Kelly Ripa and Elton John, who also performed at the reception.
The ceremony was officiated by How I Met Your Mother director and producer Pam Fryman as the men both wore custom Tom Ford tuxedos, People reported. Fireworks and magic were part of the festivities that were held at a castle, Ripa shared on her show. She also revealed that both of the Butka-Harris kids had essential roles, with Gideon — who wore a top hat and tux — stepping into the position of “orange boy” who handed out oranges as he walked down the aisle.
Harris says the secret to their relationship is ‘perseverance’
Nowadays, the couple continues to raise their family together, not shy to have their kids appear in holiday-themed Instagram posts or even alongside them in commercials. After all, they’re all about giving Harper and Gideon as many experiences as they can.
“I feel like our life is just a bunch of blank pages in a big book and we’re trying to fill them up as best we can, so I hope it will be a good read,” Harris told Parents. And they continue to work through the challenges together. “The secret to a relationship is just perseverance, you know?” he told Entertainment Tonight. “It’s not always pretty…but he’s pretty, so it makes it easy.”
But more than anything, it’s about continuing to intertwine their lives in every way. “We talk on the phone at least eight times a day and text at least 25 times a day,” Burtka told Out. “We are, in a way, very codependent. He’s my lifeline, in an amazing way. Without him, I can’t breathe.”