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March 18, 2016 - No Comments!

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THE EVOLUTION 
Michael Oquendo, 43, Miami

Michael Oquendo started testing the online dating waters two years after exiting a “toxic” long-term relationship.

“I met some jerks online,” he says of the experience. “One moment, they tell you one thing, then another the next. There were some nice dates, but they didn’t work out. I was almost giving up.”

On the fence about whether “love is really out there,” he shifted his focus toward things he could control — such as working on himself.

“I was overweight and not happy with myself,” he says. “Then I started losing weight and really loving myself — and that’s when something really started to evolve. I think you have to be sure of who you are. You have to love yourself before anyone else, including your family.”

It was then, when he wasn’t looking for love to complete him, that he met German Ochoa on zoosk.com.

“It’s really true,” he laughs. “Don’t go looking for it. It will come.”

Michael says that German is the most caring person he’s met. He loves Michael for who he is, and they both support and contribute to each other’s growth. And German’s gentle character allows Michael to relax and be his most authentic self.

“He brings me to a place of serenity,” Michael says. “He’s the ying to my yang. He helps me continue to evolve.”

Family is important to both men and, with the encouragement of friends and family, they married in a small ceremony in New York City this January.

Michael adds: “I’m not saying it’s perfect, but the level of respect between both of us is there. He’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Now I truly believe that there’s more good than bad out there.”

March 18, 2016 - No Comments!

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THE LET’S-TAKE-IT-SLOW
Marissa Joy Clark, 30, Oakland, CA

By age 25, Unstuck reader Marissa Joy Clark had been through a series of “tumultuous and emotionally gutting long-term relationships,” including a marriage that ended in divorce.

“I sought validation through my relationships, so I began to feel like an utter failure in love,” she says. “My self-esteem hit rock bottom.”

She realized she could not continue that spiral. “I decided to improve myself from the inside out. I went back to school for marketing, starting taking dance classes, started singing again, meditated.” And she began volunteering her time and talents to friends and community organizations, such as a local hospice. “Before, I was "stuck" at home in relationships that sucked the life energy out of me... There wasn't anything left of me to give.”

She also took small steps toward restoring her faith in men and relationships with some dating online, choosing to meet guys she might have previously rejected as not her type.

“It was at this juncture, when I felt good about me, I felt good about men, and I was positively contributing to my community when I met my current boyfriend,” she says.

For six months, they took it slowly: “We were both very gun-shy. We didn’t crowd each other with suffocating infatuation. No constant texting, phone calls, or emails.”

She believes this is what set the tone for their healthy relationship.

“Because of our drawn-out courtship, we continue to see each other as independent people. It was my insistence on improving myself and seeing myself as a valuable and autonomous person that led to finding someone who holds those same values,” she says. “It really is true: You need to be the person you want to be with before you can be with that person.”

March 18, 2016 - No Comments!

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THE OPEN MIND 
Ian Randolph, 25, London

Ian Randolph almost wrote off Joy before he got a chance to know her. They’d worked in the same office for two years with nary a sideways glance.  

“I had always imagined myself ending up with someone just like me — a tall, blond, intellectual, Ivy League-educated volleyball player,” says Ian, an Unstuck reader who is currently head of cognitive modeling for the fashion portal Handpick, a London start-up.

That was his comfort zone, after all. Women who would reflect back his own self-image and offer uncritical support. 

Then, at the office Christmas party, he had a proper conversation with Joy — a 5’2”, South African, and a former professional soccer player. She quickly began to knock down all his assumptions about the right partner. And, she asked him out.

“I started to realize, This is an incredible woman,” Ian says. “I found more and more things to love about her. She consistently challenges my views, helps me see beyond, to the field of possibilities.”

He also realized that the success of a relationship comes down to deeper things than shared race or background. 

“No one is going to have exactly the same thoughts, interests, pasts,” he says. “The willingness to be able to create together is what matters. With her, my life can mean much more than without her. I’ve chosen an equal partnership.” 

And he believes he’s better for it.

“She makes me play the game at a higher level. Seeing where we are now, we’re thinking of going all the way.”

March 18, 2016 - No Comments!

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THE GOING-OUTSIDE-MY-COMFORT-ZONE
Brenda Dargan, 40, Brooklyn

For Brenda Dargan, meeting Shirley made life click into place — after one major adjustment.

It started slow: They were introduced by a mutual friend, and ran into each other repeatedly over several months before either made a move. “The friend who introduced us told me of her interest,” Brenda says. “I began thinking about her a lot. Finally, we exchanged numbers.”

But the attraction was magnetic:  “Cocktails turned into dinner, then we went to another bar and had drinks. We had so much fun, the conversation never ended,” Brenda says. “We had brunch that weekend and began seeing each other regularly.”

However, the fact that Brenda hadn’t come out to her family eventually became a sticking point.

“I would say to myself, ‘When the right person comes along, I’ll tell them,’” Brenda says. “When Shirley came into my life, she was out and her family supported her. And she expected the same from me. She said she wasn’t going back in the closet.”

Though terrified, Brenda realized that she had to step up or risk losing the woman she loved.

“If I hadn’t met her, I might still be in the closet, evading questions about who I’m dating,” she says. “I came out to my parents with her encouragement. It’s the most freeing thing I’ve ever done. She was a real model to me, how she was with her family.”

Brenda adds, “To say that she turned my life upside down is an understatement. She really taught me how to live. She ignites something in me. She has the most amazing smile and a laugh that fills the room. I always want to be the cause of it.”

March 18, 2016 - No Comments!

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THE FRIENDS-FIRST FORMULA
Greg Ferro, 46, Long Island, NY

For Greg and Jennifer, love took its time. They met in grade school and later ran in different circles in the same high school. If they hadn’t worked together at an ice cream parlor the summer he was 17, he never would have gotten to know the person he’d build his life with.

“It wasn’t love at first sight,” Greg says. “We worked together for over a year and were friends before we ever dated. But I knew that my life had just changed. Something told me, Oh my god, this is going to mean something for me.

They dated throughout college and, in their final year, they married and moved into a small basement apartment in Long Island. Young and in love — and still in school — they also faced the challenge of running an adult household. In doing so, they grew together.

“Because we were so young, we weren’t set in our ways,” Greg says. “We learned to cook together. I was a waiter, and I’d bring home little tricks I’d learned in the restaurant to show her. And we would always food shop together, even when we were both working and had crazy schedules.”

Twenty-five years and four children later, food continues to play a central role in their continuity.

“The kitchen is the center of the family in a lot of ways,” Greg says, “and food is a glue that keeps us there. The first time our eldest son came from college, we cooked 10 pounds of potatoes and talked and ate for three hours until they were gone.”

But what they cherish most is their one-on-one time. “Just talking to her and being around her is my favorite thing,” he says. “When I hear something I think is exciting or newsworthy, she’s the first person I tell. And she’s the same with me.”

March 18, 2016 - No Comments!

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THE MODERN FAIRYTALE
David H., 34, Brooklyn

David and Sally were both studying abroad in London when he spotted her sitting on the grass smoking a cigarette and reading a giant version of The Riverside Shakespeare — the same as his. She disappeared before he could talk to her, but later glimpsed her at the Tate Modern. Again, she vanished, but a third chance in a university computer lab was a charm. Their conversation led to drinks, dancing, and stumbling home together. The rest is history.

“Pretty instantly, I just knew,” David says. “We didn’t intend it, didn’t know if we really wanted it, but I had that feeling, and she had that feeling too.”

They discussed their future, and what it would mean to commit so young, with so many paths and individual opportunities still ahead. It was worth it, they decided.

Their choice meant a long-distance relationship after returning to the States to finish college: Sally to New York City, and David to Iowa. After graduation and marriage, it’s required supporting each other through priorities that sometimes differ, and challenging phases.

“We have different approaches that complement each other and also put us odds, and we've had to learn to hold back, listen to each other, and negotiate,” David says. “Adventuring was actually in her wedding vows, and she’s one to say things like, ‘I need to move to Honduras for two years.’ I’m more cautious.”

Fourteen years after their meet-cute —  a period that’s included grad school in New York; David’s recovery from a robbery and assault that left him with a broken jaw; two years in Honduras; and also the culture shock of returning to the States and figuring out next steps — they’ve earned the position of elder statesmen. Friends often request relationship advice and perspective.

“We have a strange mix in our culture,” David says. “The fairy tale lives on — but we also have the expectation that you need what’s right for you, to get what you want. If you’re looking for both, you won’t find either. The fairy tale thing, it doesn’t really exist. When you’re in a long-term relationship, you can’t just have a desire, and have it fulfilled instantly. You give a part of yourself to get it.”

March 18, 2016 - No Comments!

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THE PARTNERSHIP
Carol Coonrod, 67, Washington DC

Someone once told Carol that being in love is a choice. She was skeptical at first, but her 26-year marriage to John has taught her that love really is more choice than chance. It’s a fire you light daily.

“I choose John everyday,” she says. “It can get old or stale, but if you choose the person over and over, you choose them as they are. You choose to love them with their shortcomings. And there’s a wonderfulness about that.”

When they met in 1985, she’d been married once, and he’d been married twice. She was 39, and he was 34. But there was no room for cynicism. They were active people with full lives and a wry but compassionate sense of humor. And both were devoted to a shared cause — ending world hunger through the nonprofit where they were worked.

Their courtship was straightforward: After the final event in a grueling schedule of staging 19 events in 11 days for a book launch, Carol and John “we went out drinking margaritas and fell into bed together.” They’ve never looked back.

Throughout their relationship, work has dominated their life — and that’s been a good thing. Their shared commitment to end hunger unites them in shared values; it also helps put marital disputes into perspective. 

“Issues between us always looked petty compared to the real issues,” she says. “How can you be petty about him leaving his socks out when you’re busy ending hunger? We just never had the energy.”

She adds, “I treasure the fact that we have a partnership. I’m committed to him with my life, and he knows that. I miss him when I’m not with him. But I celebrate the times when I’m not with him because I have time to myself, which I treasure also.”

March 18, 2016 - No Comments!

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THE UNEXPECTED PAIRING
Chad Diehl, 33, Boston

When Chad first met Anri in 2004, he thought she was beautiful and cultured — and “out of my league.” Both PhD candidates in Japanese studies at Columbia, they were more acquaintances than friends. Still, one quality in Anri resonated for him deeply.

“Anri is super kind to everyone she speaks to. She’s always smiling and trying to make people feel comfortable. That’s very attractive. We’re similar in that we both put other people’s feelings first.”

The turning point in their relationship came six years later. They sat next to each other during a department dinner, and Chad casually asked if she had plans later.

“I was going to ask her out for a drink, but she beat me to it by asking me first,” Chad says. “It’s like we asked each other out.”

Walking home that night, he threw caution to the wind and took them both by surprise by kissing her.

“I had liquid courage,” he laughs. “But she kissed me back. And we’ve been together ever since.”

Their odd-couple backgrounds might have been an issue — Chad grew up in working class Montana; Anri’s father works internationally in the arts— but they’ve fallen in love with each other because of their differences.

“We have different perspectives that complement each other,” he says. “She took me to art galleries and I introduced her to rodeos. The fact that she’s adventurous and open-minded about everything made me fall in love with her very quickly.”

He adds, “It’s developed from ‘she’s out of my league,’ to ‘I’m just really lucky to be with such a caring, interesting person, and I just don’t want to mess it up.’”