This year we celebrate Valentine’s Day a year into a global pandemic. While many of us have been physically closer with our partners than ever before, this doesn’t always mean emotional closeness, and the pandemic has been particularly trying on relationships.
Feeling the endlessness of what has been a bleak and relentless year, we turned to the NBC Out community, asking longtime LGBTQ couples to shine a light for us and give us guidance on what it means — and what it takes — to thrive together, even when external forces wreak havoc on our internal lives.
Here are just a few of the many beautiful love stories that were submitted, including some from couples who shared how they encountered challenges over the years and turned them into new opportunities to love each other.
Lucas and Trellis
Reedsville, West Virginia | 16 years together
Lucas Tatham and Trellis Smith met on a rainy day in New Orleans in 2004. They met through a work project, and after a brief initial interaction, Trellis offered to walk Lucas to his car, under his umbrella. Lucas agreed — even though he had an umbrella in his black briefcase.
“I figured if he let me walk him down the street with an umbrella when he already had one, he must like me, too,” Trellis said, laughing.
“When I met Trellis, I knew he was something significant,” Lucas said. “I knew really quickly he was special.”
They moved in together just six months before Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, a tragedy that upended their lives, their respective businesses and their plans for the future. With their shared home flooded, Lucas moved back to his hometown in West Virginia. Trellis, a born and raised New Orleanian, debated whether to follow.
“There were a lot of tearful late-night phone calls,” Lucas said. “We knew there was something there between us. We just didn’t know how it was going to work out.”
“It took about a year just to figure things out in my head and say, ‘This is an opportunity to create a new home, with new traditions and a new life,’” Trellis said, adding that Lucas just “felt like home.”
The pair have lived together in West Virginia since 2007. They have two children and run the family business, a garden center that now includes a guesthouse, a café and a chapel for inclusive weddings. They started hosting weddings after their own venue told them — the week of their wedding — that it would not accommodate a gay couple. They moved the event to their guesthouse and promptly made an offer on an old chapel adjacent to their property.
“We thought, if it works out and someone else needs to get married, we will have a place for them. And we’ll accept anyone who wants to celebrate love and tie the knot,” Lucas said.
By the time they returned from their honeymoon, their offer was accepted.
Marianne and Vicki
Buxton, England | 43 years together
Marianne and Vicki Oakes went to different high schools in adjacent English towns and were both 15 when they met. Though they were young, they were looking for the same thing.
“We both wanted our independence and our own lives,” Marianne said. “It wasn’t just a physical attraction; it was a common need to build a life.”
By the time they were 18, they’d bought a house. By 20, they were married, and by 24, they had two children. Before they were married, at 19, Marianne came out to Vicki as transgender.
“I sat down with her and said, ‘This is how it is for me. I’ve got these feelings.’ I didn’t know where it was going to go,” she said. “I was on my own with this. Back then there was no education.”
Marianne said Vicki embraced who she is, and that has not changed in all their decades together. “The times where I’ve felt insecure, she’s always had that arm around me, saying, ‘I believe in you,’” she said.
Marianne is now a counselor for trans people around the world, and she said sharing her love story has become part of her mission, especially when she thinks about trans youth.
“There’s a narrative that trans people can’t find love,” she said. “That narrative and that myth keeps us frightened and from being seen. We can find love. Perpetuating the myth must stop.”
In addition to their two grown children, Marianne and Vicki have one grandson and another on the way.
“When we come together as a couple, magic happens,” Marianne said.
Dion and Tony
Prince George’s County, Maryland | 23 years together
Dion Spencer was a drum major in the high school marching band, and Tony Watson was interested. It was the 1990s, in Washington, D.C., and a mutual friend introduced them at a parade.
“Once I saw him, I was like, 'Maybe he is the one,' but I didn’t know it was going to be forever,” Tony said.
They were young at the time, and the world was not as kind to queer kids, so they made a private, isolated world for themselves.
“We created a bubble for ourselves, and we only brought people into the bubble who loved us and respected us,” Dion said. Over time, the bubble grew to include friends and family.
Dion proposed in 2016 at a surprise party for Tony that was billed as a birthday party. At first, Tony was confused when everyone at the party quieted down.“I’m thinking, 'Maybe strippers are coming out?'” he recalled, laughingly. But then, he was delighted. Video of the proposal hit social media.
“When we posted to social media, we were like, ‘It’s out there now. The same way I see you with your wife, you’re going to see me with my husband,’” Dion said. “We relished in that moment for a while.”
They were married in 2017, and, with the launch of their YouTube channel in 2020, their bubble expanded to include the world.
The pair said communication has been crucial in the longevity of their relationship, but they stressed that they’re not perfect.
“We argue like any other couple,” Tony said. “We had to learn to communicate and say what’s on our mind.”
But they said the other key is a simple one: They are happy.
“For me, it was more so the person I wanted to be with,” Dion said. “It’s somebody you don’t let go of. They make you happy every single day. I’m going to ride this thing until the wheels fall off.”
Anne and Lori
San Francisco | 29 years together
Anne Raeff and Lori Ostlund were both looking for something different. They met in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1989, both having moved to a place unlike where they’d grown up. Lori came from a small town in Minnesota, and Anne from New York City, the child of Holocaust refugees. At first, the pair were unsuccessfully set up by a friend, over a lunch where the two argued about critical theory.
“We had an argument, but it was a good kind of argument — an intellectual argument. I was taken with Lori,” Anne said.
Lori did not feel the same, and Anne was “vehemently rebuffed.” But a friendship developed, and when they were living together as friends in Madrid in the early ‘90s, they shared their first kiss. They’ve been together ever since.
The two agreed that one of the keys to their success as a couple is being opposites.
“We have very similar values and beliefs, but we’re very different people. We’ve had tempering effects on each other that have benefited both of us,” Lori said.
“But I think we’re both adventurous, we’re curious, we want to learn about things that aren’t familiar,” Anne added.
A few years ago, Lori felt overwhelmed and angry about the state of the world. She and Anne decided to turn that into something positive, and, knowing LGBTQ-affirming foster homes are in short supply, they applied to be foster parents.
That brought their son, Juztice, into their world. The “brilliant and beautiful” teenager, as the couple described him, is now learning to cook, and when NBC Out was interviewing his moms, he had just made a “long-winded bolognese sauce that took him five hours,” according to Lori. The couple officially became his legal guardians in 2019.
The parents who never considered being parents said they now have their own little world and are loving the new experience.
“I think that throughout our relationship we’ve always known that we both can make big changes,” Lori said. “This was a big change that ended up being a great change.”
Petra and Loraine
Suffolk, England | 49 years together
“Soul mates, friend, lover, all of the above,” Petra Wenham said of Loraine Wenham, her wife for nearly half a century. “Most definitely, it was love at first sight.”
The pair met in London in the 1970s, when they were both in their mid-20s and working at British Telecom. They married within a year of meeting, and now they have two sons and two grandchildren.
Petra described their relationship as a “meeting of the minds,” saying they will discuss things vigorously, and the only thing they don’t really agree on these days is music: Petra has a love for jazz, while Loraine prefers classical.
Petra came out to Loraine as transgender before their wedding, though that wasn’t a word she used until the aughts, which coincided with a period of denial about her gender identity. A serious illness and hospitalization in 2015 led to her confronting her truth, which she shared with Loraine.
“Loraine has been an absolute brick and has supported me all the way, and I took her to most of my gender clinic consultations,” Petra said.
In 2019, the pair traveled to Germany on Petra’s new passport, with all bookings made in her new name. “The thing that worried me most,” Petra said, “was the German language.” They traveled by rail and did what they love: visited new places, experienced new cultures and met new people.
“And we are looking forward to many more happy years together,” Petra said.
Kurt and Rick
Los Angeles | 29 years together
Nearly 30 years ago, Kurt Meyers was at the gym in Santa Monica, California, resting his eyes while he lounged on a weight bench, in between chest press sets. Then, a voice: “Are you going to work out or just lie there?”
The voice belonged to Rick Buhay, and, as Kurt told NBC Out in an email, “I opened my eyes and vision in focus, above my face was this hot, young, Indiana Jones-looking guy peering down at me.”
Apparently, the Indiana Jones lookalike needed an exercise partner. Their first workout together was a bike ride along the ocean that Sunday. Kurt recalled there was “rain for the last few miles, but neither of us cared much as warm, lustful thoughts were racing us home.”
Since that day, the pair said they have rarely been apart. They’ve traveled the world together, from the Mediterranean to Egypt to Brazil. They share a community of loved ones, are known for their handmade cards and offer guidance to couples just starting out. They said, in a jointly written email, that while their story has not been “entirely paved in pink, heart-shaped petals,” they are continually focused on self-work, self-discovery and self-growth. But even amid the difficulties, they said, “another door opens and our love grows further.”
Even through the dark times of the pandemic, the two have stayed positive and still fall asleep holding hands, “with hearts full of gratitude for all that we have.”
To read all the queer love stories sent to NBC Out, visit our Instagram page.