Names: Refika & Rudi
Relationship status: Married
Been together since: 2005
Our story began in December 2005. Actually, the universe had apparently started working for us before that but I had no idea!
It had become a regular annual event to have dinner with our salsa group every December. That year we were running late. I kept urging them to arrange it. We finally got it organized at my dear friend’s home as usual.
I was the last one to arrive. When I entered the house, I noticed another foreigner sitting next to our Belgian friend Dirk at the end of the long dinner table.
‘Great,’ I thought. ‘Another blue-eyed foreigner.’
I couldn’t speak English very well. Not being able to speak a foreign language had been one of my only challenges. Dirk had joined our group 3 years ago. My conversations with him couldn’t go further than a few sentences. It was going to be a long night!
I could see the foreigner watching me throughout the night and sensed that Dirk had filled him in about me. He was actually rather cute. I remember sighing and wishing that I could have been able to hold a conversation with him. He was trying to talk and thankfully my friends were translating for us.
I started playing tag between the kitchen and the dining room. My insufficient language skills had me all embarrassed. When I heard where he worked I was even more embarrassed. He had come to the hospital where I worked about a month ago for business and entered the operating room.
I remember it very clearly. He was the manager of the company that supplied the equipment and tools to the hospital. He had just moved to Turkey and was visiting his largest client. I was trying not to cause any commotion as my patient was trying to sleep. I hadn’t said ‘hello’ and I wasn’t going to say ‘goodbye’. The other doctor was attending to him anyhow. We had surgical masks on so we could only see each others’ eyes anyway. I kept trying to avoid his.
But I couldn’t anymore! That’s destiny for you.
We were at least 10 people in that dinner party and he wanted to talk to me and only me. Towards the end of the night I discovered that he lived just a few minutes away from me. ‘What a shame,’ I thought, ‘and we live so close to each other.’
I didn’t think we would ever see each other again. And even if we did what would we talk about anyway?! He asked me for my business card. I gave him the one with my work email and phone number on. I thought he might have wanted it for business purposes. I was wrong!
I finally got an email from Rudi 10 days later. I couldn’t believe it! He wanted to have a coffee with me and see Istanbul through the eyes of a local! I wanted to be sure of what he was exactly saying so I asked a friend who spoke English.
Then I promptly started to panic. How was I to speak to him? He had set the date for the date. He asked me for my personal number. Talking on the phone would be the hardest thing to do. I had no way out – I gave him the number.
Funny, but I was actually going to have some time to learn English. I quickly went out and bought a book on basic English. And I started to study. I was 40 years old and had tried so many times to learn English but nothing had ever given me this much motivation!
He was going to go on a skiing trip shortly. “I am looking forward to seeing you,” he said. I couldn’t say, “So am I!” I was too shy.
He called me when he returned, the day before we were to meet. I only understood about 10% of what he had said. Just to be sure, I said, “I will pick you up at 3 tomorrow,” and the next day I went to pick him up, dictionary in hand. I had made dinner reservations in a restaurant for later.
That day was going to be a big test for me. I had never spoken to a foreigner for longer than half an hour before that. But that day my dictionary and I were to guide him around Istanbul!
Time just flew and before I knew it, it was midnight! I thought at one point he had said that he wanted to cook for me the next day but I couldn’t be sure. The guys I knew would never ask for a date the very next day. It’s the ‘let’s not spoil the girl’ tactic. I asked him again. Yes, he really was inviting me over!
I dropped him home that night. As I was leaving, he gave me a little kiss. I was shocked and ran home like Cinderella, not looking behind me even once. It felt like a dream come true!
We met the next day, and the day after and the day after. He never stood me up. This man was very different to the ones I had known. He was not like Turkish men, he knew exactly what he wanted.
During the first week of our relationship, I started taking language lessons. We had started with body language and upgraded to broken English. When he proposed a year and a half later all my friends were very impressed.
Everything was actually very easy. He appeared just when I decided I wasn’t going to get married. I never wondered where this would go. Marriage was the last thing on my mind. When you let things go, they have a habit of finding you. I never believed it when people said that.
To be quite honest, when you meet ‘The One’ you actually know it. Never during our relationship did we ever have any doubts about each other. I never wondered where I stood or if he would call me. Love and respect were always the most important things.
After he proposed, Rudi found out that he would be posted to Paris. Everyone expected this to end but, au contraire, Rudi just speeded things up.
We were married in 4 months.
He lived in Paris and I in Istanbul. He came to visit every other week.
Three months later we found out that we were pregnant. An unplanned pregnancy at the age of 42 seemed like another miracle to me.
I moved to Paris when I was 7 months pregnant. That’s where I gave birth to our daughter. I then stopped taking English lessons and started learning French. Four years later we moved to Brussels. I am now learning Flemish!
One husband, three languages! I think this is my mission in life!
What advice do you have for anyone who is looking for love?
My advice to those looking for love: love yourself first. Then write down on paper what kind of man you wish to have. Be very detailed then forget about ever writing it. He will come to you.
What advice do you have for couples going through a hard time?
In a relationship if you cannot solve a problem, you must accept it. It is futile to try to change it.
There will be times that you get mad at each other. Instead of talking in the heat of the moment, wait a while to cool off. After a while you will see that you are not that mad really.
I guess it is an advantage to not speak the same language sometimes: you are not able to express exactly what you are thinking. Don’t ever let the children come between you, you are what you need to work on.
Learn to listen.
I think these are the secrets to a good marriage.
The toughest time for me was giving birth in a foreign country. I really felt the absence of my friends and family. My husband was the only person who was there for me. He was always there for me.
(Written by Refika)
Read more stories of these categories: Different backgrounds, Long distance love