Sure, it’s tough to find that one special someone to share your life with – some of us spend years searching. The good news is, it’s not impossible. We found a number of happy GLBT couples right here on Long Island who were excited to share their love stories with Living Out readers – just in time for Valentine’s Day. Find out what they say are the keys to their long-term success and read about the interesting dynamics that keep them together.
Margaret Mueller and Carole Olkoski met 23 years ago when Mueller walked into a bar that Carole was tending. Two years later, they had a commitment ceremony and, shortly after same-sex marriage became legal in NY and on the anniversary of their first date, they exchanged wedding vows.
As co-owners of a restaurant, Mueller admits that working together can be challenging, “but after 23 years, I still think she’s the finest woman I ever met.”
According to Mueller, there are several key factors that have made their relationship last. “First is respect. I never say anything I have to take back,” she says. “Second, you have to be able to laugh together. I learned you’re responsible for telling someone what you like, what you want and what you need. They’re not supposed to read your mind. We communicate very well. Then, of course, it all takes work; it’s not easy. Last, we try to clear our schedules and have date night, make time for each other.”
For Jonathan Chenkin, Development Officer for The Long Island GLBT Services Network and Joseph Ferriolo, Senior Program Manager/energy conservation, their story began 20 years ago when the two met at a club on Long Island. “I was watching people on the dance floor, but everyone was blurry because I wasn’t wearing my glasses,” says Chenkin. Convinced that Chenkin was flirting with him, Ferriolo walked over to say hello. “His ego was intact I guess,” jokes Chenkin.
The two, who married once it became legal in NY, say that one of the keys to their success is that they never fight about the same thing twice. “It’s a waste of time,” says Chenkin. “You either work it out or agree to disagree and move on. To fight about a tube of toothpaste for 20 years has no value.”
According to Chenkin, “the single most important factor in the longevity of any relationship is communication. It isn’t having like interests, or common history, or even the same tastes in culture – it’s all about communication. If you can talk to each other, there’s a good chance you can have that opportunity.”
Susan (an international financer) and Helen (a medical assistant) Joannides who exchanged vows in 2013, have been together for six years. After a year-long, online-only relationship, the two decided it was time to finally meet. As Susan explains, “It got to a point where everyone thought we made each other up. Helen met me at my office – I was kind of shy at first, but it was like being with an old friend. It was really comfortable between us. We both felt like we already knew each other, so it wasn’t strange at all. In fact, it was really good.”
While Helen also agrees that communication and laughter are key, she also stresses, “if you found the person you really believe is the one, just work at it. Don’t let it go. You also need to be prepared to compromise. I think that ultimately, life is way too short and when you do find that person, you need to go for it.”
Real-estate agent Steve Mandresh and pharmacist Daniel Fisher successfully turned an online connection into a six-year relationship and finally, two years ago, a marriage. According to Mandresh, marriage wasn’t really something he seriously considered prior to its becoming legal in NY. “Quite frankly, I was just thrilled to have found somebody I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and I thought that was the best I could ever hope for in life. I was thrilled.” After receiving a great deal of support from family and friends, including Fisher’s two grown children from a previous marriage, the two tied the knot in 2012.
According to Mandresh, “We just want each other to be happy and we always put each other first. I think that goes a long way towards any bumps you might hit along the road. Also, we make each other laugh; that’s key. We’re both from the same generation, so when one of us makes a reference to a 60s TV sitcom, the other one gets it right away. I don’t have to explain who Bewitched was.”
He continues, “People ask me if I feel any different being married and I have to say, I kind of do. When I look down at my hand and I see that wedding ring and I know the commitment we made to one another … especially if I’m having a bad day, I think to myself, ‘no matter what, I have Dan in my life forever and ever.’ And I can just deal with anything that comes our way.”
Newlyweds Kerrie O’Neill, Senior Regional Director – Suffolk County for The Long Island GLBT Services Network, and her wife Anya Flannery, have been together for five-plus years, and exchanged vows just five months ago. The two, who actually grew up less than 10 blocks away from one another and attended the same high school, did not actually truly connect until years later on Facebook. Anya surprised Kerrie at work one day after a long phone conversation the night before, and it seemed that the two were destined for a future together.
“We actually got engaged very early on because we knew we were meant to be together,” says O’Neill, “but I did not want to do the whole legal, community wedding until it was legal in New York State. Once marriage equality came to NY, we began making the plans and right before we got married, we got the pre-wedding gift of the repeal of DOMA, legalizing our marriage across the nation.”
Offering advice for newer couples, O’Neill says, “Love! Don’t be afraid to take the risk. Without the risk, expect nothing but mediocrity and no one wants to settle for that. Your parents, family, friends, and loved ones that you’re afraid won’t accept your love very well might surprise you! Ours blew us out of the water.”
Douglas and Scott Sayer met eight years ago while attending an event in NYC. According to Doug, “we just knew we were right for one other. It was love at first sight.” He explains that the two were friends for a year before dating, “because I was nervous about starting a relationship at the time due to a recent breakup.”
Once the relationship went into full bloom, there was no stopping them. They moved in together within a year, bought a home in 2008, exchanged wedding vows in 2011 and, just when things seemed like they couldn’t get any better, adopted a baby girl (Lucy) in 2012. “Communication, personal space/alone time, supporting each other, being able to ask for support when we need it, and a lot of patience,” are what Doug attributes to a successful relationship.
He adds that sometimes there are challenges faced as a GLBT family/couple, such as “public opinion — others’ reaction. We’re lucky that most people we encounter are supportive, or at least tolerant, of GLBT couples. But there is always the risk that someone won’t be. Also, adopting and surrogacy are both highly difficult, emotional, expensive, and time-consuming endeavors. The process and emotional journey can wreak havoc on a relationship. But it is worth it! You can have the life you want with the partner you want. You can make it happen.”
They say that three times a charm – and it couldn’t be truer for Karen Taylor, Director of Education & Outreach, The Long Island GLBT Network and author Laura Antoniou, who exchanged wedding vows three times! The two have been together for 17 years, meeting at a conference in Chicago. They first exchanged vows in 1998 in a Jewish ceremony, again in 2005 in Toronto (where it was legal) and finally, at the end of October 2013, renewed their vows in Israel.
“I think we were destined to be together,” says Antoniou. “I think we’re ‘Beschert’ [a Yiddish term meaning ‘destined to happen’]. I never wanted to be in a long-term relationship. I liked being single, but Karen opened my eyes to something completely different.”
One of the things Taylor says she didn’t initially realize was important to her was that the person she was with had to have some sort of relationship with their family. “That is something that is different, I think, for a lot of GLBT people because we can have complicated relationships with our families,” she says. “Laura and I both do have relationships with our parents.
“I think the number one thing you need to know about the person you are with is that no matter how you feel, whether it’s the best day or the worst day of your life, they are the first person you think of when you want to talk about it, get help, share the joy or find someone to share the burden — Karen is that person for me,” adds Antoniou.
Words of Love
Rev. Deb Viola, LMSW, is what one could call a love expert. As a wedding officiant and owner of Ceremonies of the Heart, she’s had the pleasure of marrying hundreds of Long Island couples — both same-sex and heterosexual — and worked with hundreds more as a pre-marriage and couples counselor. She recently shared some of those tips with Living Out.
What is the secret to maintaining a long-term relationship?
The common core is communication – that’s key. You have to be comfortable with each other to communicate about everything. There really shouldn’t be anything that’s off topic. Also, you have to agree to put the relationship first.
What advice do you give to struggling couples?
When you love somebody, you want to make their life easier. You want to do what you can to make their life happy. You’re kind to them, you want to see them succeed, and you want to support them so that they can grow and be the best person they can be. It’s very simple. There’s no big secret to it.
Do you think same-sex couples face any unique challenges?
Yes, we definitely have additional challenges. Some have issues about not being completely out and struggle with that in different areas of their lives.
There is also a challenge for some when it comes to feeling comfortable in the world with their relationship.
Also, we can have issues with our family’s acceptance of our relationships and marriages. Some couples miss out on having familial support. Sometimes this impacts their decisions to get married in the first place or some do not have their families present at the most important event in their lives. But we have certainly made progress.