Love Stories

How did you fall in love?

That’s a question worth dwelling on. Girls at least — perhaps boys, too, though they’ll never tell — grow up dreaming of how they’ll fall in love.

Most of us eventually achieve our own love story, some of us many times over.

Common as the love story is, it never grows stale.

An aging couple joins me at the table at a bed and breakfast, and, before our coffee cups are drained, she’s reported their love story, with him adding Amens!

Their second-time-around story, I’ve learned in years of collecting love stories, is their unique variation on a common theme. Cupid loves to travel the road not taken. Couples who once upon a time went their separate ways think there’s no better story than how they retraced their steps to twine their paths. 

I, too, love their stories. But I also love stories of love at first sight. Real life can be as romantic as a 1950s’ movie.

A neighbor drinks a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve, and soon I know that she and he fell in love at first sight in an Italian pensione. 

The time is the summer of 1985. The place is Naples, Italy. She, in her 20s, is an anthropology student beginning a summer of fieldwork.

He, in his 30s, is traveling with an artist friend, touring museums throughout Italy. In Naples, the young man and his mentor will see a show of the painter Caravaggio, the tempestuous Italian genius who died in 1610.

If fate has brought them to the same pensione, human intervention brings them together. She is invited by her hostess, the signora, to meet two American travelers. They chat over coffee, and she begs to join them for dinner. Is she bold? Is there a spark?

Her reason, or so she says, is purely practical: “Having been in Naples a few days already, I learned I could not go out to eat on my own without attracting unwanted attention.”

From that night onward, they are inseparable. They ferry to island paradises, Capri and Ischia, and dally under the sun and in the water. They try Pompeii, but it is closed. They visit museums, but Caravaggio’s women are less beautiful than she.

His agenda gives them but five days together. It is enough.

“By Tuesday night, he asked me to marry him, and I said yes,” she says.

They have lived happily ever after, marrying (another story) and raising two sons in a village on Chesapeake Bay. She still wears the small gold band they bought that Wednesday morning in Naples in promise of their love.

Whatever their love story, people love to tell it — under the right circumstances.

Valentine’s Day gives us exactly the right circumstance. Find a love story. That was the task assigned to Bay Weekly writers this Valentine’s Day. Here are the stories they discovered.

–Sandra Olivetti Martin

Matt and Ashleigh Wyble

In a condo in Arnold, 26-year-old Champion realtor Matt Wyble does the dishes, while 25-year-old wife Ashleigh, who works for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, plays with Chloe, their Jack Russell-fox terrier mix, and Roofus, their seven-year old bunny. 

Tonight, Matt has chosen to “relax first.”

“I chose Virginia Tech because I wanted to marry a southern girl,” recalls Matt Wyble. “I didn’t know that I’d find a Southern High School girl,” where his wife Ashleigh had gone to school. 

“When we first moved in together after we married, splitting up the household chores was one of the things we had to learn how to do,” Matt recalled.

Now, two years into their happy marriage, one rule is this: He who cooks, cooks, and she who doesn’t, cleans up. The cook relaxes second, the cleaner first.

The couple settled in Chesapeake Country, where each grew up — but nearly five hours from where they first met in 2003, in Blacksburg, Virginia, as freshmen at Virginia Tech, united by one of those strange twists of fate.

“Before I left for school, my grandmother Meme [Elizabeth Wyble] asked me what kind of person I pictured myself marrying,” Matt recalls. “I told her that I chose Virginia Tech because I wanted to marry a southern girl. What I didn’t know then was that I’d find a Southern High School girl.”

The link between the Southern High girl and the Severna Park High boy was Ashleigh’s roommate Virginia, whose mother played tennis with Matt’s mother. Of course, the mothers agreed, their children had to exchange email addresses. On the first day of school, Virginia and Ashleigh arranged to meet Matt and his roommates on campus. Matt and Ashleigh hit it off.

“We instantly became best friends,” Ashleigh said. Soon they “were spending every day together, and shared all the same friends.”  Friendship complicated their romance. When Matt confessed more-than-friendly feelings, Ashleigh “was afraid to risk losing all of that if we ever broke up.”

Within six weeks, Matt convinced her to take the chance. They’ve never looked back.

“I knew it was love when, even after dating for a few weeks, the friendship part of our relationship hadn’t changed at all,” Ashleigh recalls.

“That’s the best part of our marriage, too,” Matt says. “We put our friendship first. It’s really nice to have such a constant as you are learning what a humongous variable the rest of the world is.”

In the home they’ve made together, the dog has fallen asleep as Ashleigh shouts out answers to Wheel of Fortune.

“She’s really good,” Matt says. “We hope to get on Sweetheart’s Week some day.”

–Amy Russell

Belle and Derrick Robinson

Belle had turned men down all night. A single mom working as a hotel manager, she wanted to enjoy her night out at the Pensacola club, Seville Quarter. “But,” she says, “I was not one to be dancing with strange guys.”

She also knew the town was full of Navy men. “My father was in the Air Force for 22 years. I always said I was not going to marry a military man.”

“My father was in the Air Force for 22 years. I always said I was not going to marry a military man,” said Belle Robinson. Yet even with Navy man Derrick’s overseas postings, their love has flourished over 12 years.

Then Derrick asked her to dance. He admitted later he knew she would say yes.

“He was cocky. He knew he looked good, but I liked that about him. He was arrogant in a sincere way, and that’s what caught my attention. I thought, Okay, he’s got some kahunas!

“I called him my white knight. He was preppy, in his Ralph Lauren polo shirt and his ironed creased pants and his hat, and I liked the preppy look. I did not know what his job was. He was well spoken, statuesque and handsome. But we do have this height difference. I am taller, but he liked a woman in heels.”

Their next date was dinner — at the Waffle House. She learned he was in the Navy. But they began seeing each other, and he embraced her young daughter.

Along the way, Belle figured out what she liked about Derrick. “When we met, I liked him because he was cute, but also because we were both over-achievers. Both at the top of our careers, we challenged each other. Our motto is No excuses, just results.”

They were falling in love when he was posted to Japan. For three years.

“During that time,” says Belle, “I moved to North Carolina. He traveled back and forth, and while he was gone we kept in touch. It was more mail and e-mail then, there was no Skype, though one time we had a phone bill of $1,800 — for one call!

“On one of his visits, he made the decision to say, I love you. I got pregnant, and we had a son, but we waited two years for him to return to the states to get married. For the next three and a half years we lived in Seattle, but he was gone about half of that time. His longest tour was seven months — three weeks after I had the twins.”

Based at the Naval Academy four years ago, Derrick, 40, now is stationed in Norfolk. Belle, 38, stayed in Annapolis so her daughter — the eldest of four children from five to 16 — could finish high school.

“Ours is a military love story,” Belle reflects 12 years after they met. “It’s about having a strong foundation. We have our trials and tribulations, we have children from teens to toddlers — you can imagine how my house is — but it comes down to family loyalty and knowing you are going to be there for each other. When he is home, we make it count.”

–Dotty Holcomb Doherty

Monica Lee Silbas and Albert ‘Abby’ Ybarra

Albert ‘Abby’ Ybarra, 59, and Monica Lee Silbas, 51, of North Beach have kept a romantic secret for 23 years. 

They married not once but twice. The first time around, they eloped, telling only Abby’s mom and a few close friends. 

The second ceremony two years later was for the rest of their family and friends their first — and only — wedding. 

Monica and Abby eloped to Vancouver in 1987. A year and a half later, with Monica wearing the same dress adorned this time with a veil, the two repeated the ceremony with friends and family unaware of the earlier wedding.

Abby and Monica had managed to keep their elopement a secret. Until now.

“We had been together a couple years and knew we were going to get married someday,” Abby says. “But Monica’s parents wanted us to have a big wedding, and it just wasn’t the right thing for us then.”

Abby was a struggling actor and Monica was in the army. After basic training, she’d be heading to flight school in Alabama. The couple decided it was time.

Monica’s half-teasing story is that Abby was in a hurry to marry so she wouldn’t run off with some “fly boy.”

Threatened or not — Abby says not — the couple chose to forgo the complications and expense of a big wedding and marry quietly, their way. It was December 1987.

Monica had a few days of scheduled leave, just enough time to get to Vancouver, British Columbia — the closest they could afford to their dream of an “exotic wedding in another country” — to fulfill the three-day residency requirement for a license.

“It was a fun week,” Abby says. “In Vancouver we bought Monica’s dress and shoes, ordered a special cake and found a guy to conduct a Cherokee ceremony. We got married on the 40th floor of the Sheraton Hotel with hotel staff as our witnesses. It was beautiful.” 

Eventually Abby’s mom and a handful of close friends were let in on the secret. But everyone else was kept in dark.

“At first we didn’t tell anyone because they’d be really mad that we eloped,” Abby says. “It kind of snowballed from there.”

Monica’s family kept after the couple to get married. 

“Finally we said okay, we’re going to Las Vegas,” Abby says. They figured nobody would want to go to Vegas so they could just go for the weekend, tell everyone they got married and be done with it.

“To our surprise,” he reports, “they said we’re coming with you.”

On May 16, 1989, with about 50 family members and friends in attendance, Abby and Monica were married — again — by The Rev. Rudy at Le Chapel Amour. Monica wore her earlier wedding dress, adding a veil and different jewelry. 

They kept their secret for 20 years. But two years ago, their teenage daughter wondered why in some of her parent’s wedding pictures, her mother’s dress is adorned with red jewelry and her bouquet is red and white while in others she’s wearing a veil and carrying all-white flowers. Both of their children had wondered why their parents made such a big deal about celebrating their engagement every December 23.

“I finally had to fess up to my children,” Monica says. “But we still haven’t told anyone else, not even my mom.” 

That’s a regret she reckons she’s stuck with.

“I didn’t tell my dad before he passed, and because I didn’t tell him, I decided I couldn’t tell my mom. Sometimes you just gotta let that dog lie.”

Living out west, Monica’s family are not Bay Weekly readers. So perhaps their secret is safe.

–Margaret Tearman

Niklas Syk and Katie Dodd

Having just traveled for 24 hours straight halfway around the world, I was in no state to make new friends, much less meet the love of my life. The frigid February temperatures I left behind at home made Western Australia’s 100 degrees feel even hotter as I shed layers of winter clothing. My internal clock was completely upside-down with jet lag. And I hadn’t showered in at least as long as I’d been traveling.

From meeting as housemates in Australia, Nik Syk, 28, and Katie Dodd, 26, have globe-trotted their way to his homeland of Sweden.

Yet meeting Nik — one of my seven housemates during my semester studying abroad — washed away my bad mood. For three hours I listened, intrigued, to his stories of work in a Norwegian fish factory, a 30-hour bus ride through Thailand and other adventures of a well-traveled Swede.

From the beginning, Nik and I spent nearly every moment together, and after a few weeks, it felt like we’d known each other forever. Our four months in Perth were full of laughter and exploration. We lay on the beach for hours; took road trips through the vast Outback in our 1979 Chrysler Magna station wagon; and dressed up in homemade costumes — as the Flintstones, crayons, toga people — for theme nights at the university pub.

In mid-June, our fairy tale came to an end. I had one more year of school in Boston, and Nik had another year finishing his masters in Jönköping, Sweden.

Despite the 3,600 miles between us, we stayed together as we finished our degrees, visiting several times that year.

A year after we left Australia, Nik and I found ourselves once again living by the ocean, this time in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, me waitressing and him setting up umbrellas in the sand. That September, we moved across the Atlantic to London and struggled in a new city to make a life together. Living in a hostel for two months in a room with 12 other people was the first challenge. After seeing dozens of flats and eating a few too many hostel dinners, we found a shared apartment — and jobs to pay for it.

Our stint in London ended after I ran out of visa options, and we aimed for America. But obtaining a work visa for the United States is nearly impossible. So we expanded our borders yet again — this time to Sweden.

Last May, I applied for a partnership visa to Sweden, sending the embassy every record in existence of Nik’s and my relationship, from flight itineraries to leases to photos. Five long months later, during a Skype conversation with Nik, I received my passport in the mail — with the visa tucked inside. I left Chesapeake Country a week later, suitcases full of my heaviest winter sweaters for the bitter cold winters of the north.

It is indeed freezing outside and dark most of the time, but I’m still loving my life in Stockholm with Nik. Our fairy tale continues.

–Katie Dodd