February is the month of love. Three Region couples share their love story and advice on making a marriage work.

When the Time is Right

In 2010, when they met at a church event at Purdue University Northwest, Chelsea was 18 and Jonny was 19. At one point during the youth group event, participants were encouraged to greet those around them. Jonny Zajac had been admiring the girl in front of him. When she turned around, he said, “Hi. My name is Jonny. You have a cute haircut.

“I thought she was really cool,” Zajac said. “I added her on Facebook, and a few months go by and I'm talking to one of my best friends and I mention her. It turned out they knew each other and were childhood friends. He got in touch with her and we hung out. It turned out she played guitar and had a beautiful voice, so I was falling in love with her right away.” 

He got her number. They talked casually and hung out in groups.

He planned a bonfire and invited about 60 friends. “I text and ask if she’d like to come over for a bonfire. She responded with, ‘Can I bring my boyfriend?’”

Zajac's heart sank. It turned out a former boyfriend had asked Chelsea out earlier that day. Zajac told her to bring her boyfriend and secretly fumed as he was introduced to him. It was more than three years before Jonny and Chelsea spoke again. 

Still friends on Facebook, Jonny noticed a post on Chelsea’s wall that her car had broken down not far from where he lived. Seeing it as his second chance, he messaged her and offered to come to the rescue. They went out the next night and learned that neither was dating anyone else. 

Before long, he was approaching her father to ask for Chelsea’s hand in marriage.

It was their faith and music that Chelsea said connected them.

“He was kind of rough around the edges, but there was this soft side you only got to see if you got really close to him. He has a lot of friends. He’s the greatest person I ever met and the best friend you could ever ask for. His personality is very attractive because of how much he cares about other people.”

Both said marriage has been a big adjustment; neither had lived with a partner before.

Although just newlyweds, they have wise advice. “Enjoy your marriage and don’t have so many expectations. Enjoy them for who they are and who you fell in love with,” Chelsea said.

“The most important thing in marriage is selflessness,” Jonny said. “It’s meant for companionship and for you to take care of someone.”

Long Distance Love

When Tori Castellano, of Portage, set out on a girlfriends vacation in Cancun, Mexico, in 2001, little did she know her life would be changing forever. She never thought that a cute waiter she’d meet on her trip would become her soulmate.

While doing a bar tour with her girlfriend, they went to stop No. 1 and the first thing she noticed as soon as she walked in the door was a waiter on stage dancing to the song “YMCA.” “He was so cute and his smile lit up the room,” Tori said. “I kept trying to get his attention and finally he came up and introduced himself to me.”

Gildo was just what she needed — a fun distraction who was also a gentleman. “I saw her sitting at a table with that gorgeous smile of hers that I could see across the room. I had to go and say hello to her,” he said.

“He was really good-looking and extremely polite,” Tori said.

“We made plans to meet up when his shift ended at the last stop on our bar tour,” Tori said. “We reconnected later that night and spent the entire night into the morning, drinking, dancing and talking. We spent each day of my vacation together after that. ... When I came back home, we started this long-distance friendship through emails, chats and calls and that turned into a relationship.”

A couple of months later, Tori traveled back to Mexico see Gildo.

“That is when we knew we were crazy in love and wanted to be married," she said.

Over the next year, they started the long process for Gildo to immigrate to the U.S. The couple married on Valentine’s Day in 2002.

“It was really hard to have a long-distance relationship. Plus, we didn’t know if his immigration would be approved. It was very stressful and very lonely,” Tori said. “When you’re longing to be with someone, but there is no physical way to be together, it’s hard. This was pre-Skype and before Facebook.”

After 15 years of marriage, they attribute their dedication to family as part of the reason that their marriage has remained so strong. They have two children together; a 14-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son. “We put each other first and the same things are important to us,” Tori said.

Gildo also stepped into the role of being a stepfather to Tori’s 8-year-old son, which brought some challenges. “Family is so important to him and right away he wanted to do his best in that role,” she said. “It wasn’t easy. It took time for both of them to adjust.”

Some of the best advice Gildo could give to other couples is to “stay honest and loyal with each other. Support each other and work equally around the house.”

Tori notes that working toward both being happy is important. “Your partner wants to make you happy, but they need to know how,” she said. “Always tell your partner what you need from them.”

Don’t Give Up

Fresh off his discharge from the U.S. Navy on May 10, 1946, Bob Smith, 20, was headed to Richard’s Florist at 115th and Michigan in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood to pick up flowers for his mother’s birthday. On his way, he got a glimpse in a window that made him do a double take. He found himself on the wrong side of the street passing a dry cleaning business, and through the glass, he could see “the prettiest girl in Roseland” working behind the counter.

Bob went home and dug up some clothes to take into the dry cleaner and met Dolores. And he kept going back and bringing clothes to be cleaned. And then hanging around until closing time. And then asking if he could walk her home. Delores was just 17 and heading into her senior year of high school.

Their first date was at Riverview Amusement Park with a group of couples from Bob’s neighborhood. They spent the next year having fun together and dancing all over the place — Venetian Hall on Kensington Avenue, the KP Hall at 110th and Michigan, sometimes Turner Hall or the YMCA. Almost every Friday, Saturday and Sunday was spent dancing.

“They’d have 10 cent dance nights,” Dolores said. “And you could ride the streetcar for 6 cents or his dad was nice enough to let us borrow his car to go on a date.”

The couple married on Jan. 31, 1948, and just celebrated 69 years of marriage. Their first of 10 children (five boys and five girls) was born the following year and they settled in Dolton about a decade later. The couple now reside in the small community of Goodenow, Illinois, just south of Crete.

“You wouldn’t be able to have 10 kids today. How could you afford to feed them?” asked Dolores.

“It was tough, even though I made a good amount, I had to keep them all in clothes and shoes,” Bob added.

But sticking it out no matter what is what the Smiths do.

“Some people may think it’s easy to be married, but it’s not an easy road to go down. You’re two different people from two different backgrounds, with two different sets of standards who were raised differently. It’s a matter of adjustment,” Dolores said. “If you’re set in what you want and the other doesn’t want to change their mind, you hit a roadblock — but someone has to give in. I may grumble about it a bit, but it’s all about compromise. And it takes patience.”

Bob said it’s really about not giving up. “There’s a lot of give and take. You’ve got to compromise. People give up too easy these days.”

“Don’t give up right away,” Dolores said. “Find ways to make it work. If you fell in love, you saw something there. You’re not perfect, so don’t expect him to be.”

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