Her one-night stand lasted a 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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: “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 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.”
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
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