February has arrived! And with it, red hearts begin to adorn windows and chocolate-filled boxes line store shelves. Valentine’s Day is trumpeted as a day to celebrate relationships and the importance of that special someone! It’s wonderful to have a holiday based on this—but what about the other 364 days of the year?
Often we see relationships in small instances, a snapshot on Instagram of the perfect date night or the moments captured on the June wedding day, dinners and honeymoons—in our minds we picture an assortment of dreamy imagery showcasing a life full of romance.
But there are challenges from reoccurring illness to the anxiety of waiting to see if that perfect job will open up, helping to add to the next house payment. And in many cases, children come along and often turn worlds upside down too!
Love may be universal, but the adventures can be varied in a kaleidoscope of unique experiences. There’s conquering doubts between cultures and societal norms, breaking traditions and creating new ones. There’s aging together and discovering new ways a relationship evolves.
Love is more than one snapshot or moment–it’s a journey where people walk together, hold each other, and sometimes carry one another. It’s a beautiful dance between people that sometimes looks like a mesmerizing waltz, while other times feels more like a few stumbles. It’s real. It’s genuine. And it’s a process.
Here are four couples that opened up about their Valentine’s tales.
Paul and Dolores
“There I was at eleven years old, a cheerleader for the elementary basketball team. There he was, twelve years old, a spectator. He kept glancing at me. Little did I know that he went home that night and told his mom he saw the girl he would marry.”
Paul and Dolores were married nine years after that fateful interaction at a school sporting event. But before then, the journey had to break a few societal molds. In a little town in western, Pennyslvania, Paul lived in the area where all the immigrants resided. They were coal miners and mostly separated from the uptown society. Dolores was part of the upper class—those who didn’t too often blend with the immigrant class. She was Protestant. He was Catholic. So when they fell for each other it created an upheaval in the rural town. They broke barriers and decided that their love had to speak for itself—conquering the doubts and critiques of their environment in order to grow even stronger together. Their families came together and they all learned that love wasn’t dictated by societal class at all—it was so much more than that.
For 30 years Paul pastored various churches throughout Ohio, and Dolores was always by his side helping with programs, providing support, and being a creative force for youth enrichment.
Now both 79, Paul and Dolores reflect on aging together, growing together, and creating a legacy of their own. With three children, 10 grandchildren, and two great-grandsons, they remark on how much has happened because two people fell in love at a basketball game.
“Of course there were some potholes along the way, but we know that when our paths came together and we found one another, it was really the beginning of a beautiful journey, a journey of two hearts beating as one.”
On their 55th wedding anniversary, they opened each other’s cards. It was the same exact card, purchased in different places. Both were signed “Love You Forever.” And they vow to do just that.
Chad and Isabelle
“We didn’t go into marriage with any assumptions because we knew things would be different for us, we knew some things would be difficult, we needed to communicate more often about things others may not have to.”
Chad was working in Burkina Faso, in West Africa, for Mennonite Missions Conference on a four-year commitment in the late 90s. That’s where he met Isabelle. She lived in the same apartment compound as he did during his stay. When they met, there was a chemistry neither of them could deny, and they began to grow closer.
After Chad returned to the U.S. in January 1999, Isabelle visited that following summer to see if the relationship would survive all the transitions that would eventually have to happen. Isabelle didn’t know English at the time, and they knew there would be moments of difficulty: two cultures merging into one–all while beginning the first steps of a relationship together. The challenges seemed daunting, but they decided to take the plunge!
Chad jokes that they had to be married “four times”. Initially, Chad had to go through all the village elders in Burkina Faso to gain their permission to marry Isabelle and give small symbolic gifts to those he met. They ate six meals that day, visiting everyone! Then, the second marriage was a civil ceremony about six months after the village elders gave their blessing. A third, religious church wedding was a week after that. Then, finally, a fourth wedding was a reception for those in the U.S. and a small gathering with church family in the States. After 16 years of marriage, two children, and Isabelle’s new catering business start-up, Chad notes what keeps their relationship fresh.
“One thing that I think is important, especially once you’re married for a while, is to take time to have a date night to go out together. Do stuff, just the two of you, regardless of how busy you are and your schedules. You need to find time for one another.”
Their loved spanned cultures and countries, and continues to grow here in the States.
Agung and Hani
“Relationships do not come from the sky above us, we both have to maintain, we have to water them with ‘organic fertilizer’: Eat, Pray, Fair Trade and Love.”
Agung was the village boy, Hani the city girl. Two individuals who weren’t supposed to come together in Indonesian society. But fate had a different path.
Both Hani and Agung attended Faculty of Law Udayana University, in Denpasar, Indonesia. Agung studied traditional law while Hani focused on Constitutional law. They both joined a social justice club, and that’s where they finally met, their paths crossing for a moment. The steps to falling in love began.
Agung’s father was killed in 1965 as part of an anti-communist coup. Ever since, his family had been labeled a “communist family”. The stigma haunted them as they tried to pick up the pieces of their lives. This too, became a challenge when wanting to prove himself to Hani’s family. Agung had to inform them of his family’s history. But he was able to show his true love for Hani—and sway her parents’ approval to his favor.
It was a learning process for them both—balancing Agung’s family dynamic with Hani’s more structured upbringing. Being from two distinct places in Indonesian society proved to be a challenge. But they focused on how their differences could make them stronger and help shape a different society through their relationship success.
They got married, became a symbol of strength in the face of adversity, and shook the foundational caste system in place.
Now 23 years of marriage and two kids later, Agung and Hani run Mitra Bali—a fair trade organization specializing in handicrafts. Agung handles the mission and public relations responsibilities while Hani ensures the business and communications aspects are going smoothly.
They’re a team, both in marriage and in their goals to prove fair trade success. In the midst of challenge they grew, and in the face of societal impossibility they broke free.
“Trust and respect.” It’s what Agung shares as keys to their relationship success. While they continue to push for social justice, they do it together, with this as their foundation.
Mark and Giselle
“You need to think about each other and how they will feel. Being aware is how you show them you care.”
It was 2011 and Giselle was a senior in high school. Mark, two years older, was attending a community college in Maryland. They had many mutual friends but never met—until that chilly December night.
They were introduced at a friend’s party. Giselle was going through a difficult time with a recent breakup and she found Mark’s sense of humor both funny and comforting. They hit it off right away. The next day Mark sent Giselle a message on Facebook asking for a date. It was the first real date she’d ever been on and she remembers it fondly. They ventured to Baltimore Inner Harbor, drank pumpkin spice lattes, and watched a holiday laser light show over the water.
They were young, and some people had doubts, but they knew it was the right thing to do. They could feel it.
Two years later, during that season’s light show, Mark proposed to Giselle. With lots of planning, family gathering, and many celebrations, they were married on May 23, 2015.
Giselle noted how the young newlyweds focus on relationship success.
“In a relationship you’re constantly growing and changing but you just go through things together and deal with things together. I have insecurities sometimes and Mark has anxiety but it’s not like they are things we have to overcome. You know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and treat each other and everyday life accordingly.”
Having just moved to Connecticut, they are figuring out this new road together. They each work and look forward to growing their careers, growing their love, and accomplishing the bright future that lies before them. They eventually want to move back towards Maryland and start a family down the line.
“To have a successful relationship you must be communicative, realistic, kind, and aware. It’s extremely important to be aware. Over time we become comfortable, tired and distracted. We may not be able to read each other’s minds but you should know what makes your partner’s heart a little happier,” says Giselle.
They vow to enjoy the big moments and “all the days in between” on their journey together. Their young love is beginning to blossom into the journey stretching out before them. And they’re ready.
We’re all writing our love stories as we go—exploring adventures with those we hold close. Sometimes it may be complicated, but it’s full of incredible moments that are collected for years to come. It’s a process of growth, enrichment, and cultivation. Not always easy, but always worth it.
Love may not always be the perfect Instagram photo or flashy romantic dinner. Solving problems, communicating, being there for one another, and sharing encouragement are all unseen foundations to a happy journey together too. Take in all the moments and create your own story. The pages are waiting to be filled.