I met a couple 12 years ago that shocked me with their love story.
I was a newlywed and on my honeymoon when I met them. Chris and I were sitting on the beach of our hotel in Bora Bora.
I’m pretty chatty and that night I started talking to a couple at the table next to us. Chris is originally from New York and they were from Queens so we started chatting about the Yankees, New York weather, how Chris had moved to California, how we met and had just gotten married.
They were celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. They were so happy, having so much fun and so in love. They were in Bora Bora to renew their wedding vows in a traditional Tahitian wedding ceremony. It was just the two of them, no family or friends. (I remember thinking I wished I had done a destination wedding.)
They started talking to us newlyweds – who knew nothing about marriage – about their love story. At the time, I was shocked by their story. Not about the struggles they had been through that they shared with us. I had seen worse in my parents marriage. But by how in love they still were despite those struggles. I was never more inspired by love in my life. Even today their story has inspired me more than anything else I have ever read or anything a therapist has ever said.
They shared how 10 years ago they would have never thought they would be renewing their vows in Bora Bora. That they would have never thought they would still be married. 10 years ago he had an affair. Not a one-night stand kind of thing but a full blown affair and she left him. And he lost everything. When I tell you what he did to get her back some of you will think he lost his mind (like I did when they told us this story).
He risked everything to get her back. He swallowed his pride BIG time. He didn’t care what anyone else thought. He used all of his paid vacation time and then took an unpaid leave of absence from work. Every day for months he drove over to her house (which had been their house) and sat outside of it in his car all day long. He said he wouldn’t bother her. He would see her walk by and he wouldn’t even try to talk to her. He would just sit there all day, day-after-day, to show her how much he still cared, to show her that he wasn’t giving up on them. I’m not sure this tactic would work with me (I would have probably called the cops, lol) but it worked for them.
The point is he didn’t quit. He didn’t give up. he was willing to risk everything, to get rejected day-after-day without knowing if she would ever forgive him. and eventually she did decide to forgive him. She did decide she didn’t want to give up either.
I don’t know what caused the affair but I can only imagine that it was a combination of things that happened, a combination of life struggles that got in the way of their relationship, their connection (stuff we all deal with). But what I do know is that they chose to work through those issues, they chose to start a new relationship.
Esther Perel is a very inspiring relationship expert. Her talks and her books Mating in Captivity and The State of Affairs provide amazing insight into Coupled life. She talks about how staying together is not in fashion today, how it’s never been easier to cheat, and how it’s never been easier to quit on your relationship. How we can’t even tell our friends about our relationship problems because we risk hearing them say “dump ’em”.
How the new shame and stigma today is staying when others think you should leave.
Esther Perel offers a different perspective, a new challenge. She talks about how cheating doesn’t have to be the end. How it can actually be the beginning of an entirely new relationship. Instead of changing partners, she challenges us to keep having new relationships with the same person.
I know what you’re thinking, because I have thought it too. “I would never forgive. That would be the end.” I’d put all his clothes in his car and set it on fire like Angela Basset did in Waiting to Exhale.
But today, looking back on 12 years of marriage – thinking about the ups and the downs and how we’ve both contributed to those, hearing stories from other couples and inspiring advice from experts, like Esther Perel, has opened my eyes to a new possibility, a different perspective.
I’m not saying everyone who has been cheated on should forgive their partner.
In my non-expert opinion there are two different types of cheaters: (1) The ones who just don’t believe in and/or practice monogamy and (2) the ones who have lost connection in their relationship. This article is for the latter.
I think cheating is often just a symptom of other bigger problems in the relationship. That most of the time it has nothing to do with the third person. The decision to forgive likely has so many factors, probably the most important of which boil down to (1) are both people willing to work at making it better, willing to choose to stay together and (2) is there any love left, even a little bit?
I know it’s possible. Because I saw it. I saw a a couple who had been through hell and they were stronger for it, happier for it, more in love then the two newlyweds they met in Bora Bora. Struggles can bring you closer together too, it had brought them closer.
I wish I knew where they were today. Now that I am 12 years into marriage and understand more about it we could have another real conversation. But we never spoke to them again after that night.
However, two days later we caught a glimpse of them renewing their vows on the beach.
We saw him heading over to the beach in a traditional canoe. He was standing up in the canoe bare-chested with Tahitian tattoos painted on him wearing pareu (sarong) tied at the waist, a feathered headdress and holding what looked like from afar was a spear. The canoe was paddled by bare-chested Tahitian men wearing pareus toward his wife. He looked like like a warrior going into battle. I don’t have any photos from that day. This is the closest comparison I could find.
His wife was waiting on the beach dressed in an all-white pareu tied in a halter style, wearing a flower crown and a leis. She was waiting on the beach with what looked like a small tribe of Tahitian women all dressed in pareus and a priest wearing a dramatic red robe and a crazy cool feathered headdress (for those of you familiar with the word “peacocking” that’s the best way I can describe it).
We could hear a Tahitian love song playing. We could not hear the vows they recited but I read that after the ceremony there is a giving of Tahitian names. The priest bestows upon the couple traditional Tahitian names, known only to them – how cool, right?!
I can still see him standing up in the canoe that day. Bare-chested, tattooed, looking determined with a spear in his hand. That’s what marriage is all about, it’s a battle for love.
I had never thought about renewing my vows before that day. Wait, that’s not true, actually I had thought about it and decided I wouldn’t do it (I didn’t like wedding planning at all, it was stressful and everything is way too expensive).
But seeing them that day changed my mind.
I remember thinking that I wanted to renew my vows in exactly the same way, just the two of us, in a traditional Tahitian ceremony. And when I looked up photos of the hotel to include here it definitely made me want to go back.
I’m not sure if we’ll actually end up doing it but I can only imagine what it must feel like to say I want to marry you again (after so many years, so many ups and downs), I want to go into battle with you again for the next 20+ years. After everything we’ve been through I still choose you.