Extended Encounters: A Series on Long-Term Love. By Lisa Ellex

Extended Encounters: A Series on Long-Term Love. By Lisa Ellex

. 40 min read

Her one-night stand lasted three-decades-long story, but we want to hear YOURS. In her column, Extended Encounters, Lisa Ellex talks to couples who have been together for upwards of thirty years. If you and your partner are among the fortunate few whose relationship has been witness to seven presidential elections, 19 wars, a global pandemic, and Keith Richards falling out of a coconut tree then Lisa would love to hear from you lisaellex@gmail.com

EXTENDED ENCOUNTERS: "Lucy and Tony" By Lisa Ellex

When a squirrel abruptly brought Lucy (a hair salon owner) and Tony (a retired lineman) together, everyone thought they were nuts (pun intended).  After 37 years and some very dark days, the couple still feel the same excitement for each other as they did on that fateful day their worlds (literally) collided.

Lucy and Tony did not meet in the typical way of most couples of their generation. There was no drunken meeting in a singles’ bar, no sweaty dance at a disco, no flirty encounter beside the workplace water cooler, and no awkward blind date. Their introduction was the result of a rush hour car accident that was caused by a squirrel.

Lucy, a youthful and energetic woman in her 60s, is eager to start the story:  “I’m driving my brand new 1986 Toyota Celica home from the dealership and I’m not even five minutes from home when this squirrel comes out of nowhere.  So I slow down to let him pass and – wham! – I get hit hard from behind.”

Without missing a beat, Tony chimes in . “She didn’t slow down.  She stopped short while we were driving about 40 miles an hour.”

Lucy counters. “I absolutely slowed down. I didn’t even have the car for an hour and I was being so gentle with it. Like it was a baby. Tony was just following too close behind me.”

Tony looks at me and shakes his head, continuing with his version: “Next thing I know, this tiny girl jumps out of the car, runs up to my window and starts cursing me out. She called me things that would make you blush. By now, everyone behind me is beeping and yelling. So I said, “Can we at least pull over and–”

Lucy interrupts. “I calmly got out of my car and walked up to Tony’s car and asked him to pull over so we could exchange information. But once we pulled over and Tony got out of his car my knees got weak.  I thought to myself, ‘This is the most gorgeous man I have ever seen.’ But I had to keep it together.  I had to be tough.  After all, it really was his fault for following so close behind me.”

Nearly four decades later, Lucy and Tony cannot come to an agreement on what happened that day.  But one thing they won’t argue about is that theirs was a love at first sight.

Tony continues. “So I’m standing there listening to her carry on about the rule of how I should have been one car length away for every 10 miles of the speed limit.  As I’m looking at her I’m thinking, ‘This woman is adorable. I have to figure out a way to get to know her better but she probably never wants to see my face again.’”

Lucy smiles. “I didn’t even know what I was saying. I was just babbling at this point and trying to cover up that I was so taken by him. But I really was upset about my new car.”

Tony adds, “We exchanged information and phone numbers for insurance.  Lucy was still cursing me out as she was walking to her car. We both drove off and then that night I called her.  I told her I’d be happy to take care of the damages myself so she didn’t have to go through insurance.  I could tell she was starting to soften.”

“Big time,” adds Lucy.

Tony is gloating. “And then I asked if I could take her to dinner.”

Lucy confesses, “He really impressed me by owning up and paying for the damage.”

Tony is adamant.  “I never owned up.”

Lucy continues. “So I said, ‘yes.’ But I’ll tell you a secret. I would have said ‘yes’ even if he didn’t offer to take care of the car.”

Tony’s smile widens. “I picked her up at her parents’ house and we drove into Manhattan to Felidia. It was the first restaurant owned by Lidia Bastianich. Incredible.” 

Lucy recalls, “After dinner, we walked around the city for hours.  It was a gorgeous Spring night.  Then Tony drove me home and we actually sat in his car outside my parents’ house, just talking and talking, until the sun came up. Then my mother walks out of the house in her bathrobe and curlers, comes up to my side of the car and asks us to come in and have breakfast.”

Tony interjects, “It was more like a direct order. (Lucy laughs). I can’t explain it but the second I walked into the house I felt as if I belonged there. Lucy’s father came down the stairs and I was a little nervous because I had kept his daughter out all night but the second I shook his hand I was at ease.  Then the four of us sat down to breakfast and we were talking and laughing like we knew each other forever. I was so comfortable. After breakfast, Lucy walks me to the door and her mother yells out, “Dinner’s at 4 o’clock. Don’t be late.”

Lucy laughs. “He actually came back at 3:45 with pastry and wine and flowers and that was it.  We’ve been together ever since.”

Tony takes Lucy’s hand.  “A year later, we were married.”

Lucy continues, “We were practically still kids. 26 and 27. I was cutting hair and we were living with my parents to save money for a house.”

Tony proudly adds, “We didn’t stay long. When I met Lucy I had just started my job as a lineman and I was making pretty good money.  In less than two years we saved up enough to buy our own home.”

A smile comes to Lucy’s face.  “A year later our daughter came along. We were blessed to have my mom take care of the baby for us all day. I was working in a nearby salon and I loved it but I knew I wanted my own business.  By the time our daughter was in kindergarten I was able to open my own shop. I felt like I was living a fairytale. We had a beautiful daughter, a great life full of great people and we both loved our work. Then the accident happened.

Tony turns somber.  “It was my 35th birthday.  It was a regular day and I had all my protective gear on as usual.  I climbed to the top of a transformer to break a ground lead free and that’s the last thing I remember.”

Lucy is teary.  “When I got to the hospital he wasn’t awake. They told me one leg was broken and in the other leg he tore his ACL.”

Tony puts his arm around Lucy.  “They operated and after a few days they sent me home with lots of prescription opioids.  I rehabbed with PT and the whole process was pretty painful so they told me to keep taking the drugs. And the doctor kept writing the prescriptions. I didn’t realize it but I was hooked. My legs had healed, I went back to work, but I told the doctor I still had pain. He increased my dosage.”

Lucy is fighting tears. “Our perfect, beautiful life was turned upside down. Tony was in denial.  I barely recognized him.  Physically he had lost a ton of weight, emotionally he was absent. This went on for two years. He was even indifferent toward our daughter.  I didn’t want her to see him like that any longer so I put him out.   It was the saddest, most painful thing I ever had to do.”

Tony wipes a tear from Lucy’s cheek. “I thought about drugs and how I would get them, 24/7.  By now I was staying with my brother but it wasn’t long before he had enough of me.  He got me into rehab.  I had great insurance through my job and I stayed in treatment for three months.”

Lucy adds, “We couldn’t even visit the first 30 days. It was killing me. But I had to keep my business going and I had to be strong for our daughter. I just kept my mind on the thought of Tony getting clean.”

Tony speaks softly, now. “It was the worst time of my life. And it was made even worse knowing I had failed my family. It’s like I just pissed on this amazing life we had. When I finally came home, I continued to get help and went back to work. It wasn’t easy because the opioid crisis was new and people didn’t understand what was happening. They thought I was just another junkie. Which, in a sense, I was but with the love and support of Lucy and her family and regular meetings, I got my life back on track and I retired last year.”

Lucy smiles. “We’re so grateful. Not everybody who gets caught up in that gets to live a happy ending.”

Tony: Since I retired, I’ve gone back to school to get my CASAC license (certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor).  It’s been nearly 30 years since these drugs hit the market and lives are still being destroyed by these substances. I want to do my part to make sure that everybody has a second chance.”

Just like that little squirrel who brought them together.

EXTENDED ENCOUNTERS: "Sal and Ken" By Lisa Ellex

Sal, a civil engineer, and Ken, a hairstylist, have been together 28 years, married for 10. Their unconventional meeting has led to a life that is the perfect design of work, play, and community service.

The gift of gab is just one of many gifts possessed by Sal, who represents one half of the couple I am meeting with today. Lively and sometimes brash, Sal speaks with rapid-fire delivery and initiates our conversation. “Since I was born first, I’ll start. Age before beauty, right? First things first. If you plan on writing about our ‘May-December Romance,’ let me set the record straight. It’s a ‘Gay December Romance.’ See, we met on a bitter cold December afternoon in the middle of the blizzard of 1995 when I popped into a gay bookstore to (indicating with finger quotes) ‘warm up’ after spending the afternoon Christmas shopping for my wife and kids. Little did I know I’d meet Kenichi, the love of my life, that day.”

I interrupt Sal. “Kenichi?”

Ken answers. “That’s my given name. My Japanese mother chose it. Kids in school made fun of my name so I always went by “Ken.” Sal is the only one who calls me “Kenichi.”

Sal adds, “And your parents. Your parents call you by your proper name. It’s a beautiful name. It means “wise one.” And that he is. Kenichi never speaks without thinking. He’s the opposite of me, in every way. I just say what’s on my mind. Take it or leave it. Or as Doris Day sang in the movie of the same name (singing), “Love Me Or Leave Me.”

Kinichi laughs, “Don’t tempt me.”

Sal continues. “I was born in 1947 to working class parents. My father owned and operated a machine parts business in New Jersey. My mother did the books. By the time I was 12, I realized I was equally attracted to both boys and girls. I did my best to squelch my same-sex attractions because in that time and place, same-sex dating was completely unacceptable. The day I became sexually active with women was the day I became promiscuous. I loved sex and I couldn’t get enough of it so I assumed I would never marry. I knew someday, somehow, I would have the freedom to explore my attraction to men but until that day came, I slept with an army of women. When I got to college I began dating Barbara, a stunning blonde who lived in my neighborhood. Barbara was super smart which made her all the more attractive to me. I was mad about her. When she asked that we see each other exclusively, I agreed. During Christmas break in freshman year, Barbara told me she was pregnant. My parents insisted we marry, and I was perfectly willing, but I knew I could never be faithful. So, there we were, two college freshmen in 1967 setting up house in the basement apartment of Barbara’s family home. Barbara finished out the year, hiding her belly, and that summer our daughter arrived. Come the fall, we both returned to school while Barbara’s mother cared for our daughter and I worked weekends in my father’s business. I was twenty-years old and providing for my young wife and new baby.”

Ken pops in, “And I wasn’t even born yet!”

Sal continues, “Barbara and I graduated in 1970. I got a job with an engineering firm and worked my way up the ranks and by 1972 we bought our first home.

Ken places his hand on Sal’s forearm, “And I still wasn’t born!”

Sal takes Ken’s hand, cooing, “Honey, you were worth the wait!” Sal turns back to me. “Life was good but I found myself desiring other women again. And the urge for other men was getting stronger. As I mentioned, Barbara was a smart lady. She was also incredibly intuitive. I was really fortunate to have a partner that understood my desires. And I understood hers. Afterall, we were basically two kids thrown together out of duty and mutual respect. But times were changing. The world was changing. We talked about alternate lifestyles and came to an agreement to look the other way if we could conduct our extra-marital activities with discretion. A year later, our second daughter came along.

Kenichi interjects. “And so did I!”

Sal laughs. “Isn’t that wild? My second daughter and my future husband were born just weeks apart!”

Ken places his hand on his husband’s forearm again. “I’m a Brooklyn boy, but my parents met in the Peace Corps while both were training in Hawaii. My mother was from Japan, my father a Black Baptist minister, also born in Brooklyn. They are a living example of what it means to be of service, and they instilled me with that ethic. Sadly, their union – and their life – was not an easy one. Mom was accepted into Dad’s church, but out in the rest of the world they suffered racism and xenophobia. Needless to say, so did I.”

Sal becomes quiet and more serious now. “I think we are just now coming to a place in the world where being ‘different’ – whether it be in the way you look, act, think, or conduct your life – is beginning to be understood. But we’re just scratching the surface.”

Ken continues. “Feeling that my parents’ lives were difficult enough, I didn’t dare come out to them until I was 25-years-old. With their struggles of a biracial marriage and raising a biracial son, the last thing I wanted to do was throw ‘gay’ into the mix.”

Sal adds, “I disagreed, and constantly encouraged Kenichi to talk to his parents, feeling that no one could better understand ‘being different’ than his parents.”

Ken concurs, “He was right.”

Sal smiles. “Thank you, darling.” Ken returns the smile and loops his arm through Sal’s as Sal continues. “One thing we did agreed on: when the day came for me to meet his parents, we wouldn’t breathe a word about the bookstore. Unlike me, Kenichi never went there to cruise.”

Ken confirms, “I was too shy and afraid to cruise. And I didn’t go to gay bars for fear of being seen coming out of one. My father’s congregation was enormous. People came to his church from all the boroughs and so there were few places I could go that people didn’t recognize me. While visiting colleges during my senior year of high school, I happened to find this bookstore. I decided to check it out and from that day on it became the place where I did my gay socializing. I’d chit chat with other gay boys, see what they’re wearing, hear what music they’re listening to. Yes, I’d even buy some magazines but as far as the naughty things that went on there, I didn’t participate.”

Sal teases, “You were such a good boy.”

Ken says, “I was saving myself for the right man.”

Sal teases, “And you hit the jackpot, didn’t you?” Sal gets serious. “My cruising ended right there in that dingy little store the moment I laid eyes on Kenichi. Cliché as it sounds, when I saw Kenichi, I knew I was seeing my future. We chatted – yes, we talked – for two hours in that store! And with the snow coming down it was really quite romantic.”

Ken adds, “We exchanged numbers. Sal called me in the morning. We would meet a few times a week at a diner and spend hours just talking and talking. When the spring came, we’d go for long walks in the park. We became true friends. A good deal of our time together was spent with Sal offering career counseling. When we met, I had just started cosmetology school and I wasn’t sure I made the right decision. Though I did love beauty, I basically enrolled as a way to connect with the gay community.”

Sal’s sincere admiration of Ken is apparent. “I really felt for Kenichi. My career path was easier in that I knew what I wanted to do early on. I worked hard and made a good life for my wife and kids. I was very fortunate. Kenichi doubted himself but I believed in him. I knew he had a gift. If not for hair, then for people. He has his father’s gift of connecting with the people. But as it turns out, he is equally gifted at creating beauty everywhere he goes; in his shop, in his clients, in our home, in everywhere and everything he touches.”

Ken accepts Sal’s compliment with modesty and mutual admiration. “Now I can’t imagine doing anything else. I adore my work and my life. And I owe a great deal to Sal. He encouraged me, he financed my business, and he built my shop.”

Sal is humbled. “I can’t take the credit for Kenichi’s success. He is a great talent and operates one of the most successful salons in our area. He’ll never tell you this, but he has a long list of clients who he works on for little or no money. And once a month, he goes into our local shelter and offers shampoos and cuts.”

Ken elaborates. “Every human being deserves to live with dignity, no matter what their circumstances. My parents taught me that and when Sal came along he reinforced that idea. Maybe it’s because they’re from the same generation, but I began to see similarities between Sal and my parents and I knew they would get along.”

Sal adds, “I was extremely excited about meeting them. “

Ken laughs, nervously. “And I was a wreck. I told my parents I was bringing home a friend for dinner. I didn’t say anything else. To my surprise, he and my dad hit it off right away. Mom was reserved, but that’s her nature. She only speaks when she has something important to say.”

Sal agrees. “Kenichi’s mom is a class act, not to mention a great cook. I was invited back for dinner the following week and before I knew it, we were having dinner at Kenichi’s home at least once a week. It was like four friends. We never spoke about anything of a romantic nature.”

Ken adds, “I’m sure they knew from day one. I’m certain my mother did.”

At this point in the conversation, I’m compelled to ask Sal how he managed a courtship with Ken while maintaining a marriage.

Sal offers, “As I said earlier, my wife and I always practiced discretion. Barbara and I had been living very separate lives since the girls were in college, but I was never emotionally involved with anyone until meeting Kenichi. I knew early on that I wanted to live a life with him, but didn’t want to tell my family until I met Kenichi‘s parents and had their blessing. One night at dinner in Kenichi’s home, I told his parents that I was considering divorcing my wife. When Kenichi‘s dad asked why, I explained that Barbara and I had a great love and respect for each other but had been living separate lives for quite some time. And then I told him that I was in love with Kenichi and wanted to spend my life with him. I promised to take care of him for all my days.”

Ken gets teary. “My parents accepted the announcement with grace and love, but they feared that my alternative lifestyle would make my life difficult. Thanks to Sal, it’s been anything but.”

Sal continues, “I gave my wife the house. She had always loved it and needless to say, was deserving of it. My daughters were already living on their own. They accepted the divorce and welcomed Kenichi with open arms. I’m one lucky man, I guess. As far as my new life, I wanted neutral ground, meaning, not to live on territory where Kenichi or I had history. We bought a house in upper New York, just 45 minutes from Manhattan. We started life anew; new friends, new business, new restaurants, new surroundings, new experiences.”

Ken: “I worked in a fabulous shop for two years before opening my own shop. Over those two years, Sal and I planned the new space. He made a business model for me, something I knew nothing about. We found a storefront, Sal made the architectural drawings, and I had the time of my life picking our materials and decor. We’re about to celebrate 25 years in business. When we’re not working, we travel as much as our businesses allow, entertain, do as much community service as we can, and make improvements to our home.”

Sal proudly states, “I call it ‘The Love Shack’ because it’s truly a house built on love. One of my most precious memories was our first Christmas there. Everyone came. Barbara, the girls, Kenichi’s family, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. I’ve never felt such love.”

Ken demures, “We are truly blessed.”

Indeed, they are. Sal was right. This is not just a “May-December” romance. In fact, there’s no noticeable chasm of any kind between these two. They are a perfect working, loving, family unit.

In his typical nonsense style, Sal wraps up our interview. “Well, girlie, it’s Monday, and around here that’s date night because it’s the only day Kenichi’s shop is closed. We’ve got dinner reservations to keep.”

I say goodbye to Sal and Ken with a full heart, hopeful that – step-by-step – we are all getting closer to living in a world where no matter our differences, love is love.

EXTENDED ENCOUNTERS: "Leo and Loretta" By Lisa Ellex

Having just celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, Leo, a copywriter, and Loretta, a retired physical therapist, share the story of their lifelong friendship and the near fatal accident that helped to sow their seeds of love.

“There’s someone for everyone,” Loretta tells me. “That’s what my grandmother would always say. But who would have guessed that my someone was living just down the hall from me?”

With a beaming smile and twinkling eyes, Leo chimes in from his wheelchair. He is not one to succumb to adversity. “We lived in the same apartment building from birth. We attended the same grammar school, shared the same friends, went to the same church, played on the same streets, went to the same community center. Even our parents and grandparents were friends. It was a close knit neighborhood. It was a perfect little world.”

Loretta offers, “Leo doesn’t like to dwell on the negative aspects of the accident– or the negative aspects of anything, for that matter.”

Leo shares the details of that fateful morning. “Our neighborhood pool always opened the day after school closed. That was a big deal for us city kids. But it was an extra special day because it kicked off the summer before 8th grade, and from that day on we’d be the big kids in school. Loretta and the other kids in our building and I walked to the community center together like we always did. As crazy as it sounds, what sticks out in my mind is what a gorgeous day it was. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I still remember walking to the pool and thinking that the light was a certain way I had never seen before. It was as if my senses were heightened.”

“It started out as the perfect day,” Loretta adds.

Leo continues, “Once we got to the pool, the custom was to line up at the diving board for the first running dive of the season. We’d be so excited that we’d race to form a line. We just couldn’t wait to hit the water.”

Loretta adds, “The girls would all sit on the side of the pool and watch the boys. Some would dive straight in, some would try to be fancy or silly.”

Leo explains, “I had made that dive hundreds of times over the last few years so what happened really made no sense. The last thing I remember is thinking how high up the board sent me before hitting the water.”

Loretta recalls, “I remember the unusually loud sound the board made when it sprang down and back up. Then Leo disappeared into the pool and didn’t come up. It was chaos. Lifeguards, ambulances, police, everything. I ran back to our building in my bathing suit to get his parents. We took a cab to the hospital. Leo was there a week before we all fully understood what had happened to him.”

Leo is practical. “Long story short: it was a spinal cord injury, but not complete. I could move my arms but not my hands or legs.”

Loretta interjects, “He won’t say ‘quadriplegic.’”

Leo playfully shushes Loretta. “It was amazing how the entire neighborhood rallied. Neighbors brought home-cooked meals because they knew my mother was caring for me round-the-clock. Everyone contributed something. Family members, friends, people from my dad’s job, local store owners all did whatever they could.”

Loretta adds, “The nuns from our school kept him in their daily prayers. Each Sunday mass had a dedication to him. And the little old ladies of the neighborhood said a rosary for him every day.”

Leo recalls, “That summer, the neighborhood kids were in and out of my house. Most out of concern, some out of curiosity. Once school started, the kids would come after 3:00. They brought me candy, comic books, and would watch TV with me. Teachers came to keep me up to speed with my class work. But my favorite part of the day is when Loretta came.”

Loretta smiles. “Leo would help me with my homework. Can you imagine?

Leo is sentimental. “And Loretta would sing songs from the radio with me. She didn't know it but she was the brightest light in my life.”

Though it’s been over 50 years, Loretta still gets a bit emotional. “I just couldn't get over how brave Leo was. He never felt sorry for himself. He just worked hard rehabilitating, both at home and at a facility. He never, ever showed despair.”

“Who had time for despair?” Leo says. “When no one was around, I spent every moment training my body, brain, and spinal cord to work together again. But things changed a bit the following year when everyone went off to high school. The visits became few and far between. Except for Loretta.”

Loretta tries to lighten the moment. “I joke that I had no choice because I had to walk past his apartment to get to mine! Most days I brought him a treat and because he couldn’t feed himself, I’d feed it to him.”

Leo shares, “I would take extra small bites and chew really slowly so that Loretta would be close to me longer. But in time, with lots of physical therapy – and lots of prayers – I began to move my hands.”

Loretta says, “And that was life-changing because in time he was able to use a wheelchair.”

Leo jokes, “I thought about not telling anyone that I could use my hands again, because I wanted Loretta to keep feeding me.”

Loretta smiles and shakes her head. “We grew close over my high school years. We talked about all kinds of things. As much as Leo says he needed me, he was an anchor in my life.”

Leo lowers his head. “And then she left for college.”

Loretta continues. “College was challenging, but I made a point to write to Leo as often as I could.”

“I’d write back,” says Leo. And that was a challenge, because I didn’t have the fine motor skills down. I didn’t tell Loretta for years but sometimes it took an entire day to write a two-page letter.”

Loretta admits, “I still have every single one.”

Leo laughs. “You’d better.”

Loretta reveals. “And I always looked forward to seeing him on break.”

“You only missed one that time you went off to have a wild spring break affair,” Leo teases, then turns serious. “People don’t believe me, but I was happy for her.”

Loretta gently touches Leo’s face and he slowly places his hand on hers. Then she shares how their experience influenced her career path. “After graduation, I got an internship as a physical therapist at a hospital in our neighborhood. The following year they offered me a job. Out there in the world, I realized there was no one I cared for as much as I did Leo. The conversations and ideas we shared could not be had with anyone else.”

Leo jokes again, “I knew if I waited long enough, she’d come around. Besides, where would I go?”

As it turns out, Leo went pretty far. It took six years, but he earned a degree in English through an accredited home-study program.

Loretta shares, “Once I started earning a salary, I found my own place in the neighborhood. As exciting as it was, I felt pulled toward Leo. Though he never divulged how he felt about me, I took a chance and shared my true feelings with him.”

Leo beams. “What can I say? I’m irresistible.”

The couple set a wedding date and spent the next several months working with a contractor to make Loretta’s apartment handicap “friendly” (handicap accessible wasn’t so widespread in the 1980s) and, once again, the community came together to help.

“The wedding was a blast,” adds Leo, “and the best part was being able to feed my bride a big, fat piece of wedding cake. I even ‘carried’ Loretta over the threshold as she sat on my lap and I wheeled her into our marital home. And I know what you’re thinking. Everybody always wants to know if we ‘do it.’” As Loretta rolls her eyes, Leo boasts, “We most certainly do.”

Leo offers his phone to show me a photo of their two grown children who both work in the medical profession. “All my life I’ve been surrounded with love -- from Loretta, from family, friends, even strangers. It’s love that got me through and put me where I am today. I’m one lucky guy.”

EXTENDED ENCOUNTERS: “Nadya and Bohdan." By Lisa Ellex

In her series exploring the magic in long-term relationships, Lisa Ellex speaks to a couple of 42 years on their “no bullshit” policy, and what else keeps them happily fishing together.

“I want to spend time with him.”

In reflecting on the life partner choices of myself and many of my friends, I have formulated my very own social theory. I refer to it as “The Pancake Theory”. Next time you make pancakes, notice how the first one doesn’t turn out quite as well as the ones to follow. This is a fact of my own scientific research.

There are, however, a fortunate few whose first pancake turned out fine. In fact, it turned out extremely fine. It’s worth finding out how. So I asked Nadya and Bohdan. She teaches yoga and meditation, he is an electrical engineer. Each morning before her husband’s commute, Nadya wakes at 4 a.m. so that she and Bohdan can “chat, laugh, and sip coffee together” until she sees him off to the 4:30 a.m. bus and readies for her own work day. When I marveled at her sacrificing sleep for this selfless act of love, Nadya responded, “I want to spend time with him.”

They first met 42 years ago in a youth group of a Ukrainian church. For the first seven years, Nadya thought of Bohdan as “just one of the guys” and they enjoyed a relationship as close friends. Then came the night of the Halloween party. Bohdan attended with a blind date. Nadya showed up solo.

“Bohdan’s date was not having me at all. After some time she asked, ‘Are you going to be here for the rest of the night?’ I said, ‘We’re all friends here,’ and with that, I turned to Bohdan and said, ‘I'm going down to the ladies room. Those stairs are dangerous for someone who's had a few drinks.’ Without missing a beat, he asked, ‘Would you like me to walk you?’ So we went downstairs and, like a gentleman, he waited for me. When I exited the ladies’ room, he smoothly backed me into the wall. I started talking, babbling, out of nerves. He put his hand over my mouth, not touching it, and said, ‘Shhh. There is no need for words,’ and planted our first kiss.

After college, I embarked on my career in television and it was really taking off. Suddenly, Bohdan saw this ‘girl’ from the youth group in a whole different light and it was a lot for him to handle. One night we were on the phone and he asked, ‘Why do you want to date me? Your life is so exciting and you know all these people.’ I said, ‘Because you’re nice.’ Bohdan manifested at a time in my life when I was surrounded with people who didn’t know who they were. I thought I would live a single life but when he came along with his kind and authentic heart, he broke through.”

Of Nadya, Bohdan says, “She’s the most dynamic woman I have ever met. As we were dating and becoming more (emotionally) intimate, I realized there were a lot more facets to Nadya than just the obvious. And it helped that we had a deeper connection by meeting through the youth group. When I was going through personal struggles in my academic life, she saw me through the stresses of it. But I really knew it would work when I discovered she liked fishing. Though we spent most of our dates fishing, it wasn’t about fishing. It was about being together and spending time in a natural setting. I felt a shift happen.”

Peeking in on this union so chock full of blessings, I wondered which aspect of their relationship they cherish most. Bohdan quickly responded.

“Honesty. How we communicate and how we resolve issues. Without that, it’s hard to have a marriage. There is no hiding anything from Nadya. She always knows if something is wrong.”

Nadya continues. “There is no bullshit with us. We say anything to each other and do not hide our feelings, not hold back. We’ll talk about whatever it is and come up with strategies. But what I cherish most is our connection. Whether we are separated or together, we are each other’s home base. That the universe has gifted me with this man is beyond my comprehension.”

Take me back to The Crush Letter No 97

EXTENDED ENCOUNTERS. "Robert and Bobbi and Kira" By Lisa Ellex

When a man who identifies as a woman meets a cis-gendered woman who loves women, a thirty-year love story begins.

On December 1, 1952, five-year-old Robert sat down at the kitchen table and read the front page of his father’s The New York Daily News. The headline read, "Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty,” reporting that the newly named “Christine Jorgensen” had become the recipient of the first "sex change" operation in the United States. What was more remarkable than the fact that this five-year-old boy had the ability to read was that he comprehended the piece and made a wish that, one day, he would follow in Jorgensen’s path. Early in 2022, at the age of 75, Robert’s wish came true when he completed a long and difficult journey that led to the gender affirmation surgery that made him “Bobbi.”

Despite the permissiveness of the ‘70s decade, Robert suppressed his female identity, married his college girlfriend, and started a family. With his talent as a cabinet maker, he supported his wife and two children. Though he was a strong and muscular man who easily handled the physical demands of his craft, he always felt lithe and feminine. When his children went off to college, Robert confessed to his wife that he was attracted to other women. She asked for a separation. When he added that he identified as a woman, she asked for a divorce.

Robert spent the next year as a single person, continuing his craft, supporting his children, and exploring his sexuality. He experimented with male lovers, but that only served to reinforce his preference for women. Late in 1992, Robert was called upon by Habitat for Humanity to help build and repair homes for displaced victims of the recent Nor’easter. It was there that he spotted Kira moving sheetrock.

BOBBI: The moment I saw Kira, I froze dead in my tracks. I was convinced that right here, in the chaos of the storm’s aftermath, this magical mermaid had washed ashore to me.

KIRA: I was focused on moving this huge piece of sheetrock when I felt someone staring at me. I turned and there was this beautiful being smiling at me.

BOBBI: I was mesmerized. I couldn’t even speak to ask if she needed help. Our crew was just about to break for meal and I somehow formed the words to ask if she’d have lunch with me. I had no idea if she was involved or not, yet somehow I felt I knew everything about her. I mean, I just knew her.

KIRA: And I felt the same about Bobbi. I didn’t see a burly man that afternoon, I simply saw a beautiful soul. This may sound strange but it was the exact feeling I had on the day I laid eyes on my first born. I saw this pure and glistening soul.

During that first meal, Robert learned that Kira, also a parent of two grown children, had recently divorced after confessing to her husband that she, too, was attracted to other women. When Robert divulged that he was seeking gender affirmation surgery, Kira didn’t flinch.

KIRA: I was intrigued. I thought, “How brave is this person?” and I knew this was someone I wanted to walk through life with.

BOBBI: I spent a lifetime trying to find how to refer to myself. I was certain I was a woman who loved women, but I presented as this fit and brawny man. Since I was a small boy, I knew I would one day make the transition, but until that day came, the real me – the me inside – was invisible. I felt I was suffocating inside someone else’s body and living a lifetime of not being seen. Kira was the first person to see me as I saw myself.

KIRA: I knew all too well what it was like to be invisible. I lived a life keeping the real Kira in hiding. Perhaps I had less of a struggle than Bobbi because I was a cisgendered woman and that’s exactly how the world saw me, but I endured tremendous pain that was caused by living a lie and hiding my desire.

BOBBI: We made a vow that there would be no more hiding. We actually incorporated that vow into our wedding vows. On New Year’s Eve, 1992 – exactly two weeks after our first meeting – we married. Though we had absolutely no reservations about our decision, we were concerned about how to tell our kids.

KIRA: Getting married seemed like the most natural thing to do. I mean, I went home with Robert the day we met. We spent every night, every waking moment together. We talked round-the-clock. We would fall asleep, talking in each other’s arms, and when we woke up we would pick up the conversation where it fell off. I had no hesitation whatsoever when Robert proposed. The restoration of that storm-devastated neighborhood was a metaphor for how we restored our lives. And thirty years later, both the neighborhood and our relationship are still standing.

BOBBI: And flourishing!

KIRA: The difficult part for us was meeting each other’s kids. Bobbi was still presenting as a man at that point and so my kids had a hard time accepting what appeared to be “another man” and were confused after being told by their father that their mom was a lesbian.

BOBBI: We really did put a lot of thought into explaining our relationship. But how, in 1993, do you explain to college kids that their mom, a lesbian, is married to a man who identifies as a woman?

KIRA: My ex-husband didn’t want me around the kids. They were grown at this point but he poisoned them with his own insecurities. He told them that me and Bobbi were “freaks.” He made them feel bad about who they were in relation to who I was. My daughter was understanding. My son had a hard time. It was painful. Then there was being shut out by some relatives.

BOBBI: For a minute we even considered not telling anyone that we married but we vowed to live a life of truth. My kids were equally confused but more accepting, somehow. They were even supportive of my transition.

Along their thirty-year journey, Bobbi and Kira lost friends, made friends, and worked in their respective careers. A few years after marrying, they found a church that accepted them for their true selves.

BOBBI: The congregation is a safe, loving, and socially-minded place. They were very supportive of our life choices and even asked us to speak to the congregation about our story. When I began the psychological and hormone therapy, they listened each week as I updated them on my progress and my challenges.

KIRA: After a lifetime of having people turn their backs on us, the fellowship was an oasis. Since Robert’s transition to Bobbi, they even welcomed her singing in the female section of the choir!

I asked Bobbi why she waited so long to have the surgery.

BOBBI: Finances were a factor. So was the chemical aspect of the transition. We both believe in holistic medicine and holistic therapies and the hormone therapy really frightened me. It was also helpful that in more recent years, insurance companies began to cover more of the costs.

I asked Kira how, if she was attracted to women, did she live for nearly 30 years with a person who presented as male.

KIRA: It’s an essence. The same essence that drew me in. Until Bobbi fully transitioned, people saw a man. I always saw a feminine being. I saw Bobbi inside Robert from the day we met. Even now, as the surgical and chemical process is complete and Bobbi is clearly what society considers to appear female, all I see is her spirit; the spirit I fell in love with.

BOBBI: If we could all see each other in that way, the world would be a different place. Wouldn’t it?

EXTENDED ENCOUNTERS. "Andrea Robbins Rimberg and David Rimberg." By Lisa Ellex

Together 54 years, Andrea and David are a vibrant and active couple in their mid-70s. She’s an artist, he’s an environmental health and safety consultant with a Ph.D. in Engineering.

After more than five decades of togetherness, tell me about the summer romance that turned into a lifetime of love.

Andrea: It was Memorial Day Weekend 1968. Brighton Beach, Bay 2, in Brooklyn.

David: We had mutual friends. Andie was sitting on a blanket with Shari and we were introduced.

Andrea: Shari was two-years-old. David began putting sand in her pail. What he didn't know was that I also had two little boys who were visiting with their grandmother!

David: Andie and I connected and started dating and the love started to appear.

Andrea: Three years later on Memorial Day weekend, we got married!

David: It was pretty radical for a single guy to be attracted to a woman with three kids.

Andrea: My therapist said, “He should see a therapist.” So, for 7 years during the 1970s, we were in therapy, separately. All the years in therapy were beneficial but I felt it was a fad. My friend Clair's husband had just completed EST (Erhard Seminars Training was a form of large group awareness training and part of the Human Potential Movement) so I took the training. It opened a world of possibility I never got in therapy. I asked David to do it. He joined, kicking and screaming.

David: One of the stories I tell about EST training is about my unwillingness to pay for it.

Andrea: I said, “Don’t worry. I’ll find the money.”

David: So, we went to the movies and I felt something on the floor. I reached down and it was $300 – the exact price of the training! I said, “There has to be something to this.” It’s been part of my life since. We were always aligned with these self-development activities and coursework. Andie even became a seminar leader.

Andrea: EST was beneficial; a physical and emotional transformation. It’s nothing religious or spiritual. It’s about your gut.

How important are support, respect, and appreciation for each other’s individual interests and numerous accomplishments?

David: During our courtship in 1968 I was just graduating with a master’s degree and working for The Atomic Energy Commission. Their focus was on studying the effects of radioactive material on the public and workers. I went into uranium mines to examine laborers getting exposed to uranium dust. That began my career. I moved on to become a professor of environmental health and safety at Hunter College and wrote two books in the mid-70s on municipal solid waste and waste utilization from power plants. I then went into my own business with a contract with the US Navy and worked on the ventilation systems of submarines USS Greenling and USS Skipjack.

Andrea: And I got to go on the Greenling! By the time David was going for his doctorate, all the kids were in school. It was my turn. I studied sculpting and eventually won awards for my pieces and became a member of the National Arts Club where my piece, Remember When God Was A Woman, is in their permanent collection. I also had a little gallery in Nyack, New York. On my 50th birthday, David opened up a whole other world to me when he gave me a three-month cooking course at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School.

David: Andie is an artful cook.

Andrea: I love to cook. David loves to eat.

David: At that point, we said, “What do we want to do with the rest of our lives?” We liked to entertain and cook so we considered the catering business and started operating a poolside grill in Long Island. We decided it wasn’t lucrative and so I returned to my environmental work. I became more involved with safety in construction. I worked on the demolition of The Colosseum and construction of the Time Warner building, the renovation of Madison Square Garden, and various hotels. After 9/11, I studied the fallout from the Towers. My thesis work had to do with air filtration and so with Covid, we began studying HEPA filtration.

You are both highly-accomplished individuals. What qualities of your partner do you most admire?

Andrea: David is a very sweet, kind, and gentleman. He’s got, heart. And he tolerates me.

David: And she tolerates me. Andie is very cheerful and enthusiastic. I love the way she loves me.

To what do you attribute the success of your 54-year relationship?

David: We appreciate each other. I appreciate her gusto and vibrancy.

Andrea: Good communication skills. And a lot of courses and therapy together.

In your opinion, why do marriages fail?

Andrea: Because people don’t communicate. They don’t work on themselves.

David: A lack of sincere communication. I have a theme: I listen. I interpret. I formulate. And then I talk. Andie is much more reactive than I am. When she is carrying on, I ask her to let me finish because I need to deliver my information before I get a response. Sometimes when there’s too much of an immediate response it's frustrating and we’ll have a fight.

Andrea: I have no control. It's there and it comes out.

David: But we always make up.

Just how do you let go of the anger?

Andrea: Let it be. The rage won’t be there.

David: One of the things we learned in EST is the term: “Get off it.”

Andrea: Look at what triggers you. What gets you on it?

David: The EST training allowed us to diminish the “on it” time to five or ten minutes. I learned that if I’m angry or upset, there is still an underlying love in this space. I will approach Andrea and she will approach me and we will hug. We’ll have a “do over” and we’ll both be willing to get off it. We don’t sweat the small stuff.

Andrea: And we have great sex.
To view Andrea’s work, visit: http://www.sohointheburg.com/AboutAndrea.html

EXTENDED ENCOUNTERS: “Emma and Eve.” By Lisa Ellex

In her series exploring the magic in long-term relationships, Lisa Ellex speaks to Emma, a retired school administrator, and Eve, a retired police dispatcher–and the 57-year- a relationship they fought for.

Of all the couples I know, Emma and Eve have been together the longest. After having to remain silent for decades, they now speak openly. Their tale is one of bravery, love, and commitment. When I asked how they met, Emma answered quickly.

“We were in the right place at the wrong time.”

That “right place” was a beach at the Jersey Shore. The “wrong time” was 1963.

Eve elaborates. “We were both young brides living on opposite ends of New Jersey. It was a common thing for women and their kids to spend summers in a beach rental and their husbands would visit on weekends. Our husbands just happened to rent houses for us in the same town.”

Emma recalls the morning they met.

“I was getting my three-year-old twins settled for a day on the beach when I noticed this young mother feeding her baby on the blanket next to us. She had that “new mom” look on her face. My heart went out to her and we started chatting.”

Eve continues. “It was my first day alone at the shore with this new baby and I was
already exhausted and lonely. Emma was a godsend.”

Emma recalls, “I invited Eve over for dinner. She arrived with her baby and the best potato salad I’ve ever had in my life.”

Eve quips, “Back then some people got turned on by Chanel No. 5, but Emma got
turned on by my potato salad.”

Emma: “After dinner, I put the twins to sleep and we stayed out on the deck talking ‘til midnight while her baby slept in the stroller beside her. We arranged to meet on the beach in the morning and met every morning thereafter.”

Eve: “The summer was flying by. I knew I was falling in love. What I felt for Emma I never felt for my own husband. And yes, I knew I had an eye for girls but of course, I squashed all those feelings and did what society expected of me.”

Emma: “And society expected us to marry men, raise the kids, clean the house, cook the meals, and look like a model while doing it all. It was overwhelming.”

Eve: I was distraught over the idea of the summer ending. I did my best to hide my
feelings, knowing I had to return to my “straight” life. The night before we left we
exchanged phone numbers. Back home, I couldn’t eat or sleep. A week later, Emma called. We arranged to get together. I left the baby with my mother and we met at a department store.

Emma: I left the twins with a sitter. We went shopping and out to lunch. After two vodka stingers, I confessed my feelings to Eve.

Eve: It was the happiest day of my life. I felt like a dark veil was lifted. We met twice a month. It was bliss.

Emma: Until the day it all came crashing down. I take all the blame. I suggested we go to my house. In a cliche moment, my husband came home early and found us in bed. Our lives changed forever. My husband saw a lawyer the next day. Not only did he sue me for adultery but because same-sex sexual activity was illegal in New Jersey, I lost custody of the twins and was forced to leave our home.

Eve: It was a scary and painful time. And I was terrified to tell my husband for fear I’d lose custody of my son, too. His reaction was the exact opposite of Emma’s husband's reaction. The next day he packed a suitcase and was gone. Left us without a dime. He sold the house out from under me. Emma and I found an apartment and jobs. She worked days and I worked nights and together we raised my son.

Emma: The pain and isolation was unbearable -- our friends, our families. We couldn’t talk to our priests because we were shunned by the church and the therapy we needed wasn’t readily available. For years we had to hide it from our employers. All we had was each other. The separation from my kids got to me bad. I started abusing alcohol. It was hell on Eve. I got into a program and got straightened out. In time, I got visitation of my kids.

When I ask how their relationship endured these unbearable strains, Emma gives Eve all the credit.

“She’s a remarkably positive person. She’s just so patient and full of love and support. It’s her love that got us through. She never gave up on me or on our difficult situation. Not for a minute.”

Eve: “Why would I? As far as I’m concerned, the day Emma found me on that beach was like a rescue. It’s like she saved me from drowning. There may have been sharks and undertow to navigate but she got me to shore. She is, and will always be, my beacon.”

Extended Encounters. By Lisa Ellex

Columnist Lisa Ellex launches a new series on long-term relationships by looking inward at her own need for connection ... and then outward at an octogenarian couple (with an assist from her dog).

I am a long-hauler. I always have been. I find the intimacy and intricacy of commitment to be extremely seductive.

My first marriage spanned ten years. A good time was had by all. After my divorce, I enjoyed a domestic partnership that ended after thirteen years. Then came a year-long tryst with a younger gentleman (those sort of things seldom last) that served as respite before my next long-termer (six years, with the last two spent in combative cohabitation). And then came COVID.

“I don’t care WHAT my husband does,” said my friend, Trixie. “I’m staying married. I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend the rest of my life swiping left and right.” Trixie and I are of the generation of those who were young and dating in the midst of the AIDS crisis. We were well-schooled in safe sex, yet we wondered just how safe dating was in the pre-vaccine era. Who were all these virus-braving lovers? Weren’t they quarantined like the rest of us?

One month into my breakup, I caught myself talking to the honeydew melon I was obsessively washing. I had become Tom Hanks in Castaway. I fully accepted the fact that I needed some form of human interaction and, like it or not, would need to begin dating. But how?

To clear my head, I took my dog on yet another marathon pandemic walk and noticed a frail octogenarian couple approaching. Though the woman seemed to be the sturdier of the two, it was clear they were holding each other up and if one would let go, the other would tumble. They walked with baby steps, and as they drew near I could see the man’s eyes light up as he looked down at my dog. I could hear a muffled chuckle through his mask. I could tell he wanted to pet my dog—to make that connection—but the couple knew they had to keep a “safe” distance. Besides, should he bend far down enough to reach my dog, he would topple for certain.

The couple became a regular sighting on my walks. Each time I saw how the old man looked at my dog, it broke my heart. And each time I saw how the couple looked at each other, it broke my heart in a different way. Would I never again know this exquisite connection?

One night after a weekly Zoom game with friends, a good-looking gentleman asked that I not disconnect so that we could have a “Zoomy Call”. Puzzled, I paused. He continued, “You know -- a booty call over Zoom.” I politely declined and logged off, cursing myself for ever leaving my first husband.

My daughter phoned, concerned. “You’ve got to put yourself out there, Mom!”

“Put myself out WHERE?” I asked. “Have you looked outside? There’s no one out there!”

“Let me make you a Tinder profile.”

“Absolutely not!” I shrieked, thinking about Trixie’s “swipe” comment. It wasn’t until one stormy night when I couldn’t get a WiFi connection and I called Alexa a “bitch” that I realized I was not doing well. I rarely knew what day of the week it was and I could not have felt less connected.

Trixie phoned. She had arranged an outdoor blind date for me. Ugh. I went. He brought a gift. That was sweet. I would even say our masked encounter had an air of mystery, until he began shouting, insisting he could not be heard through his face covering. Here’s a little dating tip: Unless your date is into BDSM, never holler, “So, do you wanna do it with our masks on?”.

During those dark and lonely days, I feared I would go mad if one more person called to ask, “So who are you quarantining with?” Such an arrangement was as distant as two-hour commuter flights to Mars, or the day we discover that there really is an afterlife. So, I took my dog for another walk. Down the block, I spotted the octogenarian couple. Once they were near I bent down, lifted my dog, and offered him to the old man.

His muffled chuckle turned to a laugh. He patted my dog on the head and a tear rolled down into his light blue surgical mask. His wife looked at me, nodded, and they continued on their way. I watched them from behind, arm in arm, taking one tiny step after the other, envious they will never, ever have to swipe left or right.

Have you and your partner been blessed with an extended encounter of at least 25 years? If you’d like to tell me about it, reach out to me at Lisa@primecrush.com and your story could be told here.

And if you love Lisa's writing, then take another dip into it with her series on Sexual Debut Stories, Quiver

The Crush Letter
The Crush Letter is a weekly newsletter curated by Dish Stanley on everything love & connection - friendship, romance, self-love, sex. If you’d like to take a look at some of our best stories go to Read Us. Want the Dish?


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