Carol and Andy

November 30th, 2010

I have a soft spot in my heart for gnomes.

So when I saw this photo of Carol and Andy in their Halloween attire, I knew there was a love story beneath those pointy red hats. I’m sure I would’ve felt the same, had I seen their costumes from years past – as Marge and Homer Simpson, and as the Indiana Jones who didn’t make it out of the snake pit in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and his dream date, Medusa.

In a way, they’ve become ambassadors for the nontraditional love story.

That’s the best kind of story, after all.

Even dressed as civilians, Carol and Andy are wildly entertaining.

It might have to do with the fact that Carol is a successful food writer and Andy gets to make DreamWorks movies for a living. They’re both wonderfully intelligent, ambitious and like to think outside the box.

They also bring stinky cheese into movie theatres, tell really bad jokes and love Monty Python.

Doing all this for 13 years has undoubtedly kept their marriage fun. The other important part of the equation comes from the fact that they were friends for three years before they ever dated.

“When we first met,” Carol says, “there’s no way I would’ve known I was looking at my husband. There was something special about him I couldn’t explain, but it took me a few years to figure out what it was!”

Though they worked in the same office on the University of Memphis campus and hung out on occasion, it seems both these intelligent people were relatively clueless when it came to how perfect they were for each other.

At least the cat knew.

Carol’s cat, aptly named Kismet, rubbed his teeth on Andy’s hand the first time they met.

“That’s the ultimate compliment,” Carol reveals. “He was usually afraid of everyone. But he was a perceptive soul. He figured it out before I did.”

A year after Kismet’s stamp of approval, the two finally got together. Carol remembers it vividly.

“One night, we got together to do something and ended up sitting and talking. It was past midnight. Finally both of us were sort of feeling it and we just got our nerve up. It was really kind of scary.”

There was, mostly, the fear of losing a friend if the romantic part of things didn’t pan out. But the rewards seemed far greater than the risks. They had seen each other in bad moods. They were both writers. They had the same sense of humor. And, conveniently, they both really enjoyed each other’s company. The fear they’d run out of things to talk about certainly wasn’t there.

They had been dating six months when Andy got a job at CNN in Atlanta. Carol was working in Memphis, which was about six hours away. The two maintained a long distance relationship for two years.

When Andy got a job in California to work in visual effects and animation, he had already been thinking about marriage. He didn’t want to move to California without Carol. The two were married on October 4, 1997.

How did he know she was the one?

“Sometimes you date people who don’t get you all the way,” says Andy. “Like maybe 50 percent. And the other half they think they can change or ignore. Carol seemed to get me. Like 80 or 90 percent, and the rest she was okay with. Beyond that, when you’re friends with someone that long and they know you and you know them, you feel really strong in the relationship — like you got each other’s backs. I knew L.A. was one of the scariest places to make a living, and I knew I wanted my best friend with me.”

What about her?

“I do think being friends was really very helpful for us,” she admits. “I look at others who met and immediately started dating, and it wouldn’t have been right for me. I wouldn’t have wanted to meet him any other way.

“I dated all the wrong guys for years. When Andy came along, I realized he was worth whatever I needed to do. He was the right one.”

Even today, Carol still can’t wait to get Andy’s take on things. She probably already knows what he’ll say, but she still likes to ask. And, at parties, when someone says something, all they have to do is look at each other and they’ll know what the other is thinking. It’s like they have their own language.

Often, it’s a language impossible to translate to anyone on the outside.

“I’m the only one who will laugh at Carol’s puns,” Andy chuckles. “I really do love her sense of humor, and the easy banter we have. We entertain each other with the silliest stuff – particularly in church. There are a few hymns where we heard the lyrics wrong, or we make up our own. We are always laughing our way through things. It makes it easier.”

As Carol says, life is serious enough.

“Besides,” she adds, “he smells better than stinky cheese. Every time he opens the fridge, I say, ‘Oh god, what did you do?’

“It reminds me of a time we were at the farmers market, and bought some potent cheese. We went to see a movie next door. We smelled something, and kept thinking the person in front of us hadn’t taken a bath. The man next to me got up and left during the climax in the movie, because he couldn’t take it. As we were leaving, we realized it was the cheese. We had completely forgotten. We had a good laugh about that the rest of the day. We enjoy the whole ‘whoops, oh well’ part of life.”

All jokes aside, they’ve certainly had their share of ups and downs in their 13 years of marriage, but Carol credits the deep respect she has for Andy for helping her make it through.

“The silent passive aggressive thing doesn’t work in this household,” she says. “When one of us is upset, we don’t get in each other’s face. If we need to cool off, we’re really respectful of that. It’s good to have that space to try to process and articulate what it is that’s upsetting us, and then we can talk it through.”

One particular challenge involved Carol’s experience in culinary school. She woke up every morning in tears, but Andy told her to keep going. That kind of cheerleading and support, Carol says, made a big difference in her ability to power through.

When Andy took a writing workshop in Seattle for six weeks, Carol supported him through the entire process. Even though they didn’t get to talk or have quality time together, she gave him the space he needed to pursue his dreams.

“A lot of people would not dream of going on a trip abroad without their spouse or partner,” Carol observes. “We’re so excited for each other to have these life and career enriching opportunities that we really don’t mind if one of us gets to go out of town–or out of the country–without the other. It doesn’t mean we don’t miss each other. We’ve worked hard for these opportunities, and we want each other to enjoy the benefits.”

Still, the two enjoy a benefit far greater than travel perks — the strength of their relationship. There is some solid stuff holding this duo together. They really like each other. That counts for a lot.

“Andy is the most interesting person I’ve ever met,” Carol says with a smile. “You can plunk him down in a bookstore and he will read anything he can grab and come up with the most interesting things to talk about. His mind astonishes me.

“Sometimes, I’ll just look over at him and pat him on the arm or leg and say, ‘I just love being married to you.’ He has such a good heart. I haven’t met very many people who have that sort of heart. There is a genuineness and sweetness there. He’s one in a million.”


Date Girl and Match

November 23rd, 2010

This is a weird story for me to write.

Not weird, weird, but weird in the sense that I never imagined this would happen. I never thought I’d be writing a story about a girl I didn’t know, but whose life I read about on the internet.

Many years ago, when I was writing a blog about my dating misadventures, I received regular comments from someone named Date Girl, who had a blog with the same name. She, too, was writing about her journey through the dating world. It was mostly about how frustrating it all was, and how she finally realized she was fed up with all the drama, and wanted to find a partner. I could relate to her travails. We were bonded in our singledom.

One day recently, I thought about her. I wondered how her journey was going, so I visited her blog again. I was amazed to read about her upcoming wedding! Apparently, while on the dating roller coaster, she jumped off long enough to meet someone who didn’t cause her nausea, and she fell in love.

Date Girl was now Married Girl.

I emailed her immediately, asking to interview her for my new blog about successful, lasting love – a stark departure from my former life of catch and release.

She agreed, and so did her now-husband, Match.

When they first started dating, he was oft referred to as Match on her blog, and now I understand why.

They met on

But this is not an endorsement for online dating. It’s just how they met. It’s how many couples meet, but it’s not often the vehicle through which couples stay together.

But Match and Date Girl beat the odds. Even after a super-quick courtship that saw them living together after a month.

Though they’re both young, they are very real, and they’re honest about their stories – both before and after they knew each other. They talk about the lovely parts, but also the struggles and challenges that show up in day-to-day life.

Their answers, just like their personalities, are really cute. So I’m going to let them do the talking.

How did you know this was it?

Match: How about the first conversation? We weren’t even dating. We talked on the phone for an hour and half. I just knew.

DG: Same for me. I think it was the first time we instant messaged, even. I just knew this guy was different. The first time we met, it was like I was seeing an old friend. We snuggled up together like we’d been together for years.

Were you ever scared of commitment?

Match: Yeah, I’ve been scared of commitment before. It was because I knew they weren’t the right person for me. When I met DG, I felt privileged just to be dating her. I was completely committed.

DG: Yes, most definitely in the past. I’ve had some bad relationships, and no one I could ever really visualize a future with. I always saw the end of the relationship looming before me. When I met Match, for the first time I could actually picture a future, and couldn’t see an end in sight.

Did you grow up wanting to get married?

Match: Little boys don’t really think about that kind of stuff. I just knew I wanted to get married someday. I thought it was a normal thing for people to do in their life and I wanted to have it eventually, but I didn’t fantasize about it or anything.

DG: I wasn’t like most little girls. I didn’t really picture a wedding day until I was older. By then I was kind of jaded and wondered if marriage was something I was ever going to have. I think the string of broken hearts really made me feel jaded. That, and I was a child of divorce, and I knew if I were ever to get married, there was no way I’d get a divorce. It had to be permanent for me, so I didn’t want any doubts. I wanted to marry my best friend, and there was no way I was going to settle for less than that.

How do you view marriage now, if it’s different than the way you used to view it?

Match: It takes a lot of work to have a good, happy, successful relationship. I view marriage now in a way as a privilege, but also a job. You have to want the responsibility. You have to want to dedicate yourself. You need to want the responsibility of being a part of something that’s more than just yourself.

DG: Now I see that it really is possible for me to have this kind of happiness. I found exactly what I was looking for. Sometimes it’s a job, but I look forward to the work. I love that our relationship grows and matures with us.

What sort of idea have you had of love? Has it changed throughout the years?

Match: Back then I thought you dedicate yourself strictly to them. As I grew, my perspective on love grew into realizing that it is kind of an exchange. You want to find someone who helps you grow as much as you help them grow. As I grew, my perspective on love grew. I realized that me being happy in the relationship is just as important as them being happy. I used to just try to make them happy, but I never made sure of what I wanted.

DG: I used to think love was messy and full of tears and heartache. I had such drama-filled relationships in the past, that I began to think it was normal. I’m so glad I was wrong. Sure, Match and I get into arguments just like any other couple, but never that up and down drama of my earlier relationships.

What’s your relationship personality?

Match: We’re total goofballs!

DG: We have these funny noises we make, especially this one sound I make, “eemmerr.” I have no idea how it started, but now it’s kind of like our call signal. When I come home I say it, and vice versa. It’s completely goofy, but it’s just so us. One time, we got dressed up in our pajamas and walked downtown to a local bar and I sang karaoke. I love that Match doesn’t care what anyone else thinks, and was totally fine with looking silly in public with me.

What’s good about your life together?

Match: The highlight of my day is laying down in bed next to her. When she snuggles into my pit (armpit) and we fall asleep.

DG: I think the fact that we’re just happy to come home to each other. I still get those little butterflies in my stomach sometimes when I’m driving home because I know he’ll be there and I can’t wait to see him. One of my favorite things that he does is when we go to bed and curl up together, he’ll open up his arm and say, “Come here, get in my pit.” Then I’ll snuggle up and fall asleep with my head on his chest.

What do you think you bring to the relationship? What does your partner bring to the table that you don’t?

Match: I’m very logical in my thinking. “We’ll see” is one of my go-to phrases when DG gets excited. DG is just a very happy person. It keeps me happy. Sometimes I think I dwell on things or think about things too seriously. She reminds me that there’s more to life than stressing about the small stuff.

DG: I definitely bring the positive, happy go lucky side to our relationship. I think I’m a bit more of a dreamer. I think Match keeps me grounded.

Tell me how you remained committed to making it work, despite some of life’s inevitable challenges.

Match: How about all my career shit? Basically my career path has been a real thorn in our side. From the fire academy to not having weekends free for a whole year, to working graveyard at the casino, to coming home angry every day from a terrible job, and now to the police academy, being busy all of the time and stressed. My whole employment situation has been tough. Even when I was out of work or between jobs, I’d come home angry and emotional. I’d honestly say that’s been our biggest issue so far. It’s important to both of us that I have a job I enjoy that will help us support a family. Basically Date Girl has helped support us financially and emotionally while I worked towards finding an ideal career.

DG: Yes, the job thing has definitely been our big issue. There was a time when I worried that Match wasn’t ready for the next step. But we talked it out and we each communicated our fears and our goals in life. Really it just boils down to communication. You have to be willing to talk about the tough stuff. You can’t swallow your feelings, you’ve got to let the other person know how you feel. Our challenges have been financial stress and career stress. But there was never a doubt that we loved each other, so it made those other problems insignificant.

What are some of the things you love most about your partner and why?

Match: I just love how happy and good she is. She’d do anything for her friends. She always brings me up, never brings me down. Even when she’s sad, I just want to help her and make her feel happy again. She’s smart, good sense of humor, funny. Basically just an incredible personality. Oh, and she’s hot!

DG: His affection, his honesty, the way he’ll turn and give me a little hug and kiss the top of my head when we’re at the grocery store or doing something else mundane. He’s completely dedicated and he doesn’t give up when he puts his mind to something. He makes me laugh. He’s smart, and we have real conversations. He challenges me. He’s also incredibly sexy and has a really cute butt!

What have you learned about love and compromise?

Match: No one ever really wins. Even making dinner doesn’t come without a compromise. You cook, I’ll do the dishes. I think compromise is probably the heart and soul of a good relationship. Right there with communication. A good relationship will never survive if it’s always one sided. It has to come evenly from both sides.

DG: I’ve learned, besides compromising, that I don’t have to change who I am for my partner. In the past I always felt like I had to change who I was, and with Match I can be completely me.

The moral of this story?

That once-jaded girl I met online so many years ago has one thing to say to the non-believers. She wants us to know that love is real, and it’s out there.

“When I first started my blog I didn’t really believe in love,” she admits. “And just look at how life turned out.”


Bob and Tony

November 16th, 2010

I owe a lot to Twix bars.

In Junior High, they quickly taught me the importance of proper dental hygiene while wearing braces.

During my 20s, they brought me together with Bob and Tony.

When I was writing a home recipe column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I got a special note from Bob, who submitted his homemade Twix bar recipe.

After our interview, which was only by phone, I was so smitten by him, that I happily accepted his invitation to keep in touch. When the holidays rolled around, he invited me to his annual holiday party. He would be making Twix bars.

I showed up to a house full of beautiful Asian art, Marilyn Monroe ornaments and two lovely people, all set to welcome me into their lives.

Bob and Tony have been together for 26 years.

They met during a suitable partner screening interview Bob was having at a local coffee shop. Tony was “hired” almost immediately.

“Everyone I knew was starting to pair up, and I wanted to find a partner,” recalls Bob. “One of my friends suggested I put an ad in the paper. I thought it seemed sleazy to do that, and I was scared. I didn’t know how to interview someone, or what to expect. I didn’t want someone I wasn’t interested in to come to my home, so I screened people at a coffeehouse. Tony happened to be number three.

“I interviewed someone after him, and I only thought about Tony. He’s a man of substance. I also liked that he was Italian. I always wanted an Italian man. I am fair and blonde, and wanted a man with an olive complexion and black hair. I called him and invited him for dinner. I decided to fix pasta, since he’s Italian. I made mostaccioli. About seven years ago, I asked him about that first night, and what he thought about my dinner. Turns out, he never liked it. He said it was peasant food!”

Today, Bob is in charge of desserts, and Tony does all the cooking! While it’s certainly clear the two have set up a comfortable life together, things weren’t so easy in the beginning. There was a bit of house cleaning to do, so to speak.

When they met in 1984, Bob was sure he wanted to be in a relationship. He was even more certain he wanted that relationship to be with a man. He wanted to settle down, have a home and create a life together.

Tony, however, had already done all that – with a woman. He had been married a long time. He had a son, and a bit of trepidation about moving forward. He didn’t really know what to expect. But after hanging out with Bob for just a short while, it was enough for him to jump in with both feet.

“I wanted to make the leap,” Tony admits. “I had dated men before I was married, and the experiences weren’t satisfying to me, so I tried to find a female partner. During my marriage I knew I was attracted to men, but I didn’t cheat on my wife.

“What Bob doesn’t remember is that although we’d never officially met, we had seen one another before. I saw him once at the opera. As soon as we met in the coffee shop, I knew I’d seen him before. He is a very handsome man, and I was attracted to him when our paths crossed all that time ago. I soon felt, after knowing Bob, that I wanted to start a life together.”

They moved in together a month after they met – at Tony’s suggestion!

That was, perhaps, the easy part. There was still the matter of telling Tony’s son, who didn’t know he was gay, about his new life.

“That was the person whose approval I thought it was most important to have,” Tony says. “A few months before this, we had been in New York together. We had seen La Cage Aux Folles, and that’s how I explained to him what my life was like now. He was 15. He had no problems with that.”

Neither did Tony’s brother, who is a priest.

“My mother initially had some problems,” Tony admits, “but my brother said, ‘Why not?’ That became the stamp of approval.”

The real sign of approval, however, was the fact that Bob was the only other person to receive a bequest in Tony’s mother’s will, other than Tony, his son and his brother.

Like most couples, there have always been challenges. There still are. But after such a long time together, the two have learned how to weather the storms. Even more importantly, they know the different things they can bring to the table, and they honor those things in each other.

Bob, for example, is very outgoing and likes to be social. Tony is less so, but admits that Bob has made it possible for the two of them to extend their relationships with others. Bob is an artist, and is passionate about interior design, and Tony is a professor, and is into film and literature.

“I think we balance each other,” says Tony. “I know we have very good friends who are very similar to us in the sense that they have very different personalities and approach things in different ways, but really complement one another.”

Like the Marilyn Monroe ornaments, and menagerie of wicked queen from Snow White and Pinnochio sculptures, which are Bob’s influence, and the Asian art, which belongs to Tony. It makes for a very colorful, and surprisingly complementary, home environment.

And it certainly makes for a colorful life. One tinted with happy colors, with a few swirls of dark blue thrown in, just for balance. The swirls are there to remind us that nothing is ever static. Life is all about swirls and dips.

“It really is about give and take,” Bob adds. “There are times Tony can become irritated with me, and I realize I’m at fault, and have to make amends. We’ve realized that if you get angry, you just can’t do the silent treatment. You have to be open to talking about it. Things he wants to do, we do, and things I want to do, we do.”

Tony has learned that it’s all about patience.

“I do not want any tension or dramatics in my life,” he says. “I just want peace. What I do is try not to respond negatively when I feel that way, but to just count and let it go by. Or sometimes just not acknowledge I’m annoyed. We know one another well enough not to go to those places where there’s trouble. It’s a way to survive in peace.”

Bob tells me they’re really happy and content at this stage in their lives, and they only want it to continue to be successful. The key, he says, is that you’ve got to want a relationship. In wanting that, you work to make it work.

Tony agrees.

“You’ve also got to work at it, he adds. “And not be overcome if you have failure. Move beyond it and keep working. You’ll learn from the failure. You have to be honest with your partner, too. We may not have a marriage contract, but we certainly have a commitment, and we honor that.”

That they honor each other is clear. And that they’ve learned a lot in their years together – enough to remain committed to sticking it out no matter how many swirls dot the landscape of their lives – is what really matters.

“People say it will happen when it’s meant to happen, and I was skeptical,” Bob admits. “So I started praying. I told God what I wanted. I wanted someone to call my own, share our families, go on trips together, have a home together.

“I’ve told Tony in the past and I’m sincere. I hope when the time comes, I’m the first to go. I don’t want to be left behind without him. It’s like Camelot – I’ve found THE man in my life, and I’d hate to go on in the world without him. What I have is what I’ve been looking for, and I’ve been blessed by God.”


What Makes Someone Perfect?

November 9th, 2010

I do a lot of writing at tea houses. It’s a great chance to people watch. For someone like me, who is fascinated with the interplay between people in various states of relationship, it’s a wonderful chance to take note of the way a guy acts when trying to woo a girl, or the shameless flirtation a girl employs to show a guy she’s interested.

Today, I watched as a young guy was chatting up a girl next to me. She was trying to inch her way out the door, and he was going on and on about the rain. She was polite, but not interested, and he was TOO interested. When she finally tumbled out the door, his friend indicated that his level of interest was just a bit too much. “Just a tad,” he said, illustrating the degree with his index finger and thumb.

I could only laugh. All too often I’ve been on either side of that scenario. Both sides are equally awkward. With age, I’ve come to learn that awkwardness and difficulty make for strange bedfellows. It should just be. It shouldn’t be easy or happy or organic or fun. It should just BE.

I’m not implying I know what it is that makes people perfect for each other. Is it really chemistry? Shared interests? Divine intervention? Or is it something far less identifiable? Something in the air. Something that happens only if we’re watching, like when we’re crossing the street –  he from east to west, and you, from west to east.

And then, in that moment, in the middle of a crowded street, you just know. And maybe it’s not even close to the fairytale you imagined. He’s not all that handsome, and you don’t get chills up and down your spine. And you’re wearing a craggy old sweatsuit and haven’t washed your hair in three days. But there it is.

That’s the way Haruki Murakami paints it in his story, “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning.” I’ve read it over and over throughout the years, and it strikes me as particularly curious. It’s certainly a very straightforward love story. In fact, it doesn’t even really appear to be a story about love. It’s a story about what is. What might be. What we see. What we miss.

What makes someone perfect? I don’t think it’s the shape of their nose, or the color of their jacket. I don’t think it has anything to do with how many gifts they give you or how many compliments they toss out during dinner. I think it’s something as invisible and indirect as what Murakami implies in this story. I think it’s about silence. And possibility. And timing. And openness. And lack of fear. And faith.

Yes, I think it’s about faith. Faith is perfect. Nothing else need be. Not even love. Love certainly isn’t perfect. But faith in love – that’s 100% perfect.



Maria and Ramiro

November 3rd, 2010

Maria has the sweetest smile.

She’s always walking around the office smiling at everyone – even on rainy days. In fact, if she isn’t smiling, my day always feels a little off center.

Lucky for me, that rarely happens. On average, I’d say Maria smiles 98% of the time.

Now I know why.

Maria has a happy and fulfilling relationship with her husband.

It’s not something I think – it’s something I can see. I can hear it in the way they explain how they met. I see it in the way he saves half his meal for her, or how she nudges his shoulder, then lets out a little giggle when he passes her the plate. I can feel it in the gentle way he plucks pictures from his memory – like how pretty he thought she was the day he first saw her, and how, even though he wouldn’t see her again for two years, he never forgot her face. My favorite part, though, is how he can’t stop smiling when he tells me the story – like it’s just now happening for the first time.

Maria didn’t see him that day in 2002, when he showed up for a church concert. But she did see him in 2004, when he came to a small group she was facilitating for professional single people.

“There she was again!” Ramiro smiles.

Sadly, Maria was seeing someone.

“In that moment, he was really respectful,” she recalls. “He never talked alone to me. He only said hello and goodbye – until I broke up with my boyfriend.”

Ramiro, who was friends with a woman Maria also knew, heard that Maria was now single. And even though this friend (who had a crush on him) was the one to reveal the news, he couldn’t help but exclaim, “That’s excellent news!”

And then the instant messenging fest began.

“I had all the friends from the small group in my messenger list,” she says. “So I added Ramiro in. This friend who told him we broke up, she always said wonderful things about him, how nice he was, how good he is with his family, how he pays attention to details. I always thought that was the kind of person I wanted. But she liked him, so I didn’t try to pry. In the small group we didn’t talk, but got to know each other through messenger. When I saw that he would sign in, it got me happy!”

Not long after, when Ramiro’s female friend realized he had his sights set on someone else, he was able to devote more time to cultivating the relationship he really wanted – the one with Maria.

Still, he didn’t really know he was doing this. Not even when he knew she took the bus all day, and asked if she wanted him to send a driver to pick her up, and when she said yes, he showed up – with chocolate! He didn’t know it when he invited her for coffee, and they talked for hours. And after he dropped her home, he called her, and they talked several more hours!

He didn’t know this because he had sworn off dating. He had a bad relationship he was still nursing. There was no room for more.

But he found himself talking about Maria a lot. He told his mother how pretty she was, how she went to the same church, how she’s a leader, how she dedicates herself to her studies.

And his mother said, simply: “She sounds like the perfect girl for you.”

Suddenly, he realized she was right.

Some days he would wait in his office until 9 p.m. just so he could pick Maria up after her classes. He even surprised her at work with Oreo cheesecake – with a big bottle of milk – because he knew how much she loved milk!

One night at dinner, he said, “I like you. I just wanted you to know that. I would really like it if we were more than friends. You don’t have to answer now, but I thought it was the right thing to tell you, so you know what to expect from me and know I’m not playing games.”

Maria, who had also had some bad experiences with dating, wasn’t thinking of starting anything new.

“I didn’t want to date,” she admits. “But then Ramiro showed up in my life.”

She remembers once, when she accidentally burned him with her coffee, and he told her to kiss him on the cheek, she felt butterflies.

So two months after getting to know each other as friends, Maria and Ramiro tossed aside their fractured hearts, and jumped in with both feet. Four month into their courtship, they were already talking about the future.

“We wanted to lay out our plan for the future,” Ramiro says. “So we started going to counseling at church.”

They’ll be married 5 years next week. And in that time, they have learned so much. Like how love is a choice, not a feeling. And how you want to give things to the person you love without expecting something in return. And how love transforms over time (and how that’s nothing to be afraid of).

“A friend told me long ago that if you want a charming prince, you have to be a charming princess,” Maria says. “You need to be the person you would want to be with. One of the things I love about him is he accepts me as I was, and as I am right now. Other boyfriends wanted my hair a certain way or for me to wear heels, and I was feeling like a trophy and it was not right. Ramiro loved me as I was, in my happiest and worst moments.”

Ramiro has learned a lot, too. Like how not to ask Maria why she’s crying.

“Sometimes I just want to cry,” she says, “and I don’t know why. At the beginning, he though he did something wrong. Then he learned to just hug me and let me cry.”

Ramiro has also learned that if you want big results, you need to have a long-term mindset.

“You have to put effort into a relationship,” he says. “It’s a journey. Many marriages fail because things are wonderful, then they wear off, and the real stuff is there. Finances, decisions, life choices. You have to talk it over, and if there are things that are deal breakers, you better find that out while you’re dating.

“It will never work perfectly. You have to compromise every day, in every thing. You need to talk things out and not make assumptions. There will be rough patches, but you need to have patience.”

I look at the two of them, sitting across from me, sharing their meals as well as their wisdom, and I think that they both have a lot of patience.

Ramiro agrees.

“For what matters, yes.”