Love's road to happiness

By Annemarie Quill

With Valentine's Day around the corner, Annemarie Quill meets three couples whose love has lasted the distance.

Bronwynne Sanders is 20 years older than her husband, Tony. They have been together 15 years, and met when he was just 20 and a friend of her son's. Now 55 and 35 respectively, they live in Papamoa with their four cats, 10 pomeranians, a rottweiler and they breed dogs.

At 35, my marriage had just ended.

I met Tony through my son, Daniel. They were friends. Daniel has since told me that he wanted to give Tony to me as a birthday present, as he thought I needed cheering up.

Our first date was to see Men in Black at the cinema. I went with Tony, Daniel and a group of his friends. It was just a friendship at first, and I thought it would just be that. But it started to be more.

Tony loved coming to my house. He liked my food - still does. It's true what they say: the way to a man's heart is his stomach. So for six months we dated. But then I ended it. It was me that was worried about the age difference. It was never an issue for him. But we did get a lot of flak for it - some from my friends, some from his family.

Bronwynne Sanders with her husband Tony and their pomeranians. Photo: Mark McKeown

My ex called me a cradle snatcher. But after six weeks apart, Tony came to me and told me he didn't care what other people thought. It was me he wanted to be with and that was all that mattered. He moved in with me and has been here since.

My three sons have always been accepting of our relationship - whatever makes mum happy. I now have 12 grandchildren and to them Tony is the grandfather figure; they call him Uncle Tony.

After 15 years together people who know us accept that we are in this for the long haul. Even my ex has become friends.

We talked about marriage on and off at the beginning but I was always against it. But 18 months ago I had major surgery. I nearly died. Tony asked me again and I said yes. I think I was still under the anaesthetic. He got a special ring made for me out of my mother's jewellery. So we got married in 2010.

When we go out people do sometimes remark on our age, especially if Tony has a shave - he looks younger.

Strangers in shops might refer to him as my son. It doesn't bother me. Mostly, people look at our height difference - he is 2.03m and I am short.

Tony and I never argue. We share the same ideals. I have never worried that he will go off with a younger woman. I have worried he would go off with an older woman.

It was never going to be possible for us to have children. I would have liked to have a child with Tony but I had a hysterectomy before I met him. I asked him at the beginning if it was going to be an issue and he said no.

He does have a 15-year-old son he had from a fling he had before he met me. We see him.

My sons consider Tony part of the family. And we have the dogs and cats. They are our babies.

We are very happy.

Long-distance love

Charlie Helliwell and her boyfriend, Mat Woofe, both 26, have been together for almost two years but have not been in the same city for the last 15 months. He was in Wellington while she worked in Tauranga as breakfast host for Classic Hits. Now he has a dream job in Melbourne, Charlie has decided to join him so finally they can be together - even if it means leaving her job and friends in Tauranga.

I was living in Wellington two years ago and Mat was a flatmate of my best friend. We started going out together and had only been seeing each other a few months when the radio station I was working for closed down. I got offered a great job in Tauranga. It did mean leaving Mat, but I would have never asked him to come with me to Tauranga.

We didn't have a conversation about it at the time, so we both thought of it as: "Let's just see if it works. If it doesn't last, it's not meant to be, and if it does, it is." We didn't want to put pressure on the relationship.

Charlie Helliwell and Mat Woofe will be together again very soon. Photo: Mark McKeown

We both had jobs in sectors where it is hard to find good positions - Mat is a swimming coach. Even though we lived in different cities, we spoke and texted every day. We both got up early so we were in contact then.

It was hard sometimes as I did miss having someone there just to talk to about the everyday things that happen. It was hard to have real conversations. If someone is there, you go home and tell them about your day. There is only so much you can reply to a text asking you how your day is going. Most of the time I said "great" even if it wasn't.

What we did learn from living apart is that both of us really wanted the relationship to work.

I was surprised at the effort a guy could put in, always calling, and that impressed me.

I never worried what he was getting up to. Anyway, my best friend was still his flatmate so I always knew!

Later on in the relationship we did have a talk about how we could be together. We decided that the turning point would be if one of us got our dream job, the other one would follow.

Mat asked me how I felt if he applied for positions in Australia and I was okay with that. He got a call about a job in Melbourne for the Melbourne Aquatic Centre and it all happened very quickly.

He said he wouldn't take the job if I wasn't coming with him. Pretty instantaneously I said "yes". I knew it was what I wanted. Yes, there was the issue about giving up my job but I knew there would be good opportunities for me in Melbourne, too.

Mat moved there in October and I am going later this month. I don't have a job yet because radio is the sort of thing you have to be there. Mat is not putting pressure on me to find a job straight away.

Everyone is excited for us.

My friends have ribbed me a bit that I am moving for a guy as they know me as being independent. My mum is not really talking about it yet. People have asked us if we considered marriage first but we both feel we need to live in the same city first! Let's just say I wouldn't be going if I didn't think there was a future for us.

Twice the commitment

Murray Guy and wife Marion met and married in their early 20s. After having a daughter together, they separated and divorced. After 16 years apart they rekindled their romance and remarried.

I met Marion in 1971 at a youth group we attended here in Tauranga. Marion was a nurse in training at Tauranga Hospital. We were first married in Opotiki in 1974. Being in our very early 20s, Marion's parents were not without reservations.

We lived in Tauranga when we were first married before moving to Brisbane where we lived for a few years. Nicola, our daughter, was born in Brisbane in 1982.

It was a year after she was born that we separated and Marion came back to New Zealand. I followed a couple of years later. I was not happy about getting divorced but Marion instigated the process so I had little choice really. Looking back, I see I lacked the maturity to put into practice the love felt - and required - to sustain a meaningful marriage. When we signed the divorce papers in 1987 I felt empty.

Murray Guy and his wife Marion met and married, divorced, then married again. Photo: John Borren

We had regular contact, in part due to the unique agreement we had. We even shared the same lawyer. Throughout our 16 years of separation we desperately tried to minimise any negative impact on our daughter, resulting in many hours of shared school activities, recreational and sporting pursuits, and following Nicola's love of horses, a passion shared with Marion.

We both had another partner during our time apart, but when Nicola was due to attend high school, Marion and she moved to Tauranga so she could attend Tauranga Girls' College.

In 2000, friends of ours required a rental home while building. I had recently completed a new home in which I was rattling around. Our daughter suggested her and her mum share my home so that theirs could be rented.

When Marion's tenants were about to move out of her home, we discussed her moving back into her home or getting new tenants. We agreed that we valued our home living arrangement as it was at the time as parents to our daughter occupying separate quarters.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

Our relationship rekindled from there, with us both having grown up somewhat and having a greater understanding of each other. We had been apart for 16 years.

Our second wedding took place in 2001 and was held in St Enoch's in Sixteenth Ave as that is where we first met.

It was a simple ceremony with no white dress and line-up of attendees, but it was probably more significant than the first, given the journey we had travelled.

Nicola was really excited at the idea of us being together as a family and our parents and friends were extremely supportive.

We have never discussed our divorce and the reasons for it.

While I personally regret the divorce, I suspect that it was only through the time of separation that I/we became, albeit unknowingly, better equipped and able to live the rest of our lives as "two in one".

If I had advice for others looking to repair a fragile relationship I would say listen to your heart more and head less, and certainly listen to your heart more than friends, family and lawyers.

Now we are both involved in activities which keep us very busy: me on the council and Marion on the District Health Board as well as a number of other boards.

Our daughter is very much a part of our lives, as are her two boys, Josh, 4, and Dom, 3, (our grandchildren). Our home is their home - we are a family. Life is great and we enjoy being able to get away for weekends or holidays, often with a race car in tow.

As a couple I would describe us as the "near perfect" cocktail!

- Bay of Plenty Times

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