Sometimes love begins with multiple challenges. Our anonymous story is about a lovely couple who were over 40 and 60 when they met.
They were separated via jobs, culture and countries but joined via the heart. Great obstacles were on the way to their union.
In this struggle between love and circumstance, guess which emerged victorious?
Read on for this touching story of making the impossible possible with love.
Names: Howard & Zeliha *
Been together since: 1996
Howard: I am from the States and was a visiting lecturer at a University in Sweden for master’s students. There was a particular Turkish doctorate student, Ali, and although he wasn’t officially in my class, he would sit in on my lessons as he was doing his PhD on the topic I used to lecture in.
He went back to Turkey and we went our separate ways. Little did I know this gentleman would play a pivotal role in my destiny.
One day, I got an email from him asking me if I would like to come to Turkey for a presentation as there was a big international conference in the city planners’ academy in Istanbul.
That’s how our story started.
The first time I noticed her was during the conference. She was working at the academy and helping out. My first thought had been, ‘What an attractive lady.’
During the dinner event that evening Ali crept up behind me, pointed across the table at Zeliha and said, “She’s single.” See, I was newly divorced and, although I didn’t know it at the time, so was she. Thankfully, Ali was aware of both our situations.
Zeliha: I first noticed him during the tea break at the conference. I was working at the academy and coupled with the fact that I am Turkish and welcoming by nature, I felt it was my duty as a hostess to be nice to our guests.
When I first saw him, I didn’t actually quite register what I was seeing as my mind was so busy with many things that were going on in my life at the time, many of them not the most pleasant ones. I had just gotten divorced a few months ago and had so many challenging issues to deal with.
We were introduced. Later on, he asked me to join him for a drink. My first reaction was to refuse as I needed to get home. Then my Turkish hospitality kicked in again and I figured it was rude, as well as a little mean, to turn him down: He was coming from a long way away and all he wanted was a drink. So I went along.
We ended up having drinks the first night. The next night, we went out again and it ended up being a night of dinner and some dancing too. The day after we caught up yet again and I took him on a little touristic city tour. That was his last day. Then he left.
Howard: At that point I felt quite sorry. I thought I probably wouldn’t see her again. I made sure to stay in touch. This was 1996 so it wasn’t quite so simple back then.
Zeliha: He sent me a thank you card. I sent him one back. He then sent me some videos of my colleagues – that was quite a treat back then. He kept doing little things like that.
One day he told me he was traveling to Qatar and that he would ‘drop by’ Turkey on his way back to Sweden, as if it as just a little stop away. He asked me to book a hotel for him to stay in.
During his stay we discovered that we had very much in common. Our conversations were deep and easily flowing.
I was meanwhile still working at the academy and he was traveling a lot for work.
On another occasion, he was going to be ‘close’ again to Turkey (he was going to the Ukraine) and decided he would make a ‘pit stop’ one more time to see me.
We got closer and the frequency of our trips increased. I had meanwhile retired and he invited me to his country to meet his mother, to see his way of living. She was a wonderful woman and we got along brilliantly.
We then took many other trips abroad enjoying our time together. Being retired was a plus; it was easier to schedule our meetings.
Howard: We actually covered quite a few continents those 3 years before getting married.
Zeliha: Between meeting and marriage though, we did hit a glitch. Heading into our second year, I got a little hazy and hesitant and thought I should give up this relationship.
We had to keep commuting between all these countries, but that wasn’t really the problem.
I was over 40 and he was over 60 when we met, but that wasn’t the problem either. Although this was a very valid concern for Howard’s mother, I really felt absolutely no age gap between us. His side of the family was very happy for us, including his kids, who were loving and generous enough to share their father and be glad that he had found someone.
The issue was from some members from my side of the family. They were rather traditional and I knew they would have a really hard time accepting things, especially someone who was not of the same country. I knew this would particularly be a problem to the one that mattered the most: my brother who was in his twenties at the time.
When I did go to visit Howard, it would be done in secret and vice versa. Our relationship was a big secret. The secrecy had started to wear me down. Thus our hiccup for a while.
I started working again in Turkey and also got some time to think about what I wanted to do which led me to some very valuable insights about Howard: He was a man of sterling character. He supported and soothed me – I trusted him endlessly. He was clever, hard working and mature. He protected me without ever smothering me (I hate possessiveness), ensuring that I was all right. He always encouraged me. And a sweet cherry on this cake was that I found him to be physically very attractive (and to this day, I still do).
Our feelings continued to blossom and they were mutual, we saw we were on the same page.
Something had to be done. And so we decided to get married.
Howard: I always wanted it to go somewhere. Fortunately, it did.
Zeliha: My parents were well educated, not ignorant at all. However, they were very traditional.
There was no other way around this, I had to go straight.
So this is how I broke the news to them: I said, “You made me get married the first time around. I was 20 and it was a big mistake – it ended in divorce after many years of unhappiness.
So, just a few things I need to inform you about:
First thing: I’m getting married again.
Second, he’s 19 years older than me.
Third, he has already been married and divorced twice.
Fourth, he’s got three kids.
Lastly, he’s a foreigner.”
They were shocked into silence. I told them that if this was a mistake, it would be my mistake alone and I would deal with it myself. I told them that I wasn’t asking them for permission, I was merely informing them. I was determined, my mind was made up.
They mumbled a few things in shocked acknowledgement, I can’t even remember what they said, but it wasn’t an unpleasant conversation, if you can even call it that.
I had said my piece. I left the room.
They told me some time later that I was old enough and to go ahead if I was sure. I told them I was. Their only request was to not get into any confrontations with the only person who would not be as flexible about this: my brother.
That year we both got married: I married Howard in the States and my brother married his long-term girlfriend in Turkey.
I still can’t say that we are one big, happy family in terms of my brother and my marriage, but I can say that we have managed to make it work within the boundaries of respect and civility.
Howard: We still had a few hiccups along the way. For the first 9 years after getting married, I was still working in Sweden so we were based there. This was a little problematic as Zeliha didn’t have any friends there.
Zeliha: It was a huge transition and it was, frankly, a little depressing. I missed my country, my family, my friends… Saying that, I made the best out of my situation and did many things to keep myself busy and inspired: I taught Turkish, I indulged in all my interests like salsa, aromatherapy, Indian head massage, amongst others. I also volunteered at a shop dedicated to cancer charity. Every 3 months or so I would visit Turkey. This worked for us. We lived like this for almost 10 years.
Howard: I had promised her that when I gave up full time employment we would live in Turkey. And I kept my promise. We moved here in 2009.
This changed the dynamic of our relationship only in a few little ways. Due to the language barrier it is Zeliha who now deals with the practical aspect of housekeeping in terms of dealing with plumbers etc.
Zeliha: On the upside, he makes us breakfast every morning now that he has the time.
What advice do you have for anyone who is looking for love?
Zeliha: First, you need to know your own ambitions. What do u want from life? Once you’ve figured that out, you should look for someone that they can be compatible with.
When people don’t know themselves, they end up with someone who is totally different to them – like my first marriage. We were so ill-suited: He didn’t want to change, improve, read, grow… This translated in with him impeding my personal growth too, like when he didn’t want me to further my studies and get my master’s degree. So knowing yourself is really important.
Howard: I agree. Never cage your partner. Let them pursue their passions and interests and you pursue your own. Then you can exchange stories about them. Never give up your interests for your partner otherwise they will eventually end up resenting you for it.
What advice do you have for couples going through a hard time?
Howard: Keep communicating. We know couples who just clam up. They won’t discuss anything, especially finances, which I have seen to be the cause of so many break ups. If they don’t discuss it, they will get absolutely nowhere. We have no secrets about how much money we both make.
Saying that, I have to add a good thing to do is to take a few hours to calm down when things get heated before discussing sensitive issues. Just like writing angry emails at work: Just wait until the next day before you press that ‘send’ button.
Zeliha: Things could be considered challenges in relationships, such as different backgrounds, living in other countries, age gaps. I would say the glue that keeps everything together is friendship. That’s very important to have between couples.
One other thing I have noticed in my culture is that people don’t go for professional counseling. It is great to talk to family, close friends, immediate circle when times are tough but one really should not hesitate to try professional help if those things don’t seem to be working.
One thing I have learnt about love is…
Howard: Independence is very important. You have to let the other pursue their own interests. Zeliha has an array of hobbies, as do I, and sometimes I still have to travel to do my research and I must say that this probably is also a very important thing that keeps us both together. I still very much admire her artistic abilities.
Zeliha: We definitely enjoy doing many things together but our apart time is also necessary. He works in his study and I do in the garden, he travels, I have my time with my friends, things like that.
I have also learnt to be more patient as this is something that didn’t come naturally to me.
Howard: And when her patience wears thin, my natural patience kicks in. There might be some couples who go through their relationship effortlessly but most couples have to work at it. That’s very important.
Zeliha: Belief, faith and effort – this is the magical combination. Howard is still a very kind, warm and loving husband.
Howard: Those qualities had been long extinguished when we first met. They have since returned.
(Some details may have been changed for privacy. Interview by Bianca)
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Read about our previous couple Cathy & Earle.
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