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.”