Lena Corazon

Flights of Fancy

Celebrating Valentine’s Day with Real Life Love Stories

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and because I am a die-hard hopeless romantic, I thought I’d dedicate today’s post to love, that most noble sentiment.

I dabble with romance in my writing, and a good romance book or film can always boost my spirits. But as much as I enjoy the love stories that Hollywood and my favorite novelists can create, it’s the love stories from real life that affect me the most.

Cupid by Michelangelo, Musee du Louvre

Cupid and Psyche | Image via Wikipedia

I didn’t always feel this way, but after my first (and, to date, last) relationship ended, I found myself looking at love in a completely different light. If there’s anything that I’ve learned, it’s that maintaining a relationship is really damn hard… but that it’s worth the effort, if the person you’re with is also willing to put in the work.

My parents on their wedding day, July 1986

The older I get, the more I come to admire and understand the nuance of my parents’ relationship. As a child, I idolized their love story, the tale of a man and a woman from two different parts of the world meeting by chance in San Francisco, falling in love, getting married, and having a couple of kids.

I spent a lot of time looking at my atlas back in the day, tracing myself an imaginary line from the Philippines, where my dad was born and raised, to San Francisco, where he and his family moved when he was 15; from Ohio, where my mom was born, to Los Angeles, where she grew up, and up the coast to SF, where she moved in her early 20s. Add in the fact that my mom claims to have day-dreamed of marrying “a boy from an island” when she was 5, and you have the recipe for little Lena thinking that her parents’ relationship was written in the stars.

My parents worked in the same office in San Francisco, where dad was the chauffeur for the company president. As my mom tells the story, all of the ladies in the office had crushes on him, including all the fancy-pants executive secretaries… but somehow, he fell for her, the lowly receptionist. It almost reads like a romance novel: the plain Jane who wins the cute guy over all the other ladies. It was a story that I loved.

And yet, I knew very well the darker side of their relationship. Both of my parents came to their relationship saddled with their fair share of baggage, emotional and otherwise. To top it off, my dad had a nasty addiction to drugs and alcohol, which contributed to the fights and arguments, the cycle of making up, breaking up, and making up again.

The early years of their relationship were turbulent, and those problems only continued after they married and I was born. In my early memories, it was just my mom and me — dad was off elsewhere, carousing with the guys, too busy getting drunk and high to come home. And I even remember the day when everything changed, the terrible fight when my mom called the cops and had my dad arrested because his temper got so out of hand.

This is a story that, for so many reasons, shouldn’t have a happy ending. It’s a story that should have ended with a divorce… but it didn’t. Mom decided that she wasn’t going to take it anymore, kicked dad out the house, and told him he couldn’t come back till he was clean. And my dad hit rock bottom, decided that his life, his job, and his family were more important than anything else, and came back to us. My little sister was born shortly afterwards, when I was 5, and slowly but surely, we became a family.

The whole family together, Christmas 2010

Watching my parents grow together over the years has taught me that love is never easy, that it requires constant maintenance and cultivation, like a garden that must be tended each season in order for fruit to ripen and flowers to bloom. They have their ups and downs, the occasional argument and misunderstanding, but they are on solid ground with one another.

Now that my sister and I are both grown and more or less living on our own, it’s exciting for me to seem them enter a new phase in their relationship: two empty nesters who go out on impromptu dates, who have been together long enough to overcome some of the hardest challenges in their relationship and who now know each other so very well.

I think my proudest moment came last summer, when I watched them renew their vows for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Their story is still in the process of being written, but it is one that reminds me that real life love is rarely as simple or straightforward as in the movies.

My parents on their 25th wedding anniversary, July 2011

I remember them today, especially because they have another anniversary coming up — the 28th anniversary of their first date, which, in a strange twist of coincidence, falls on February 18th, my 25th birthday. Congrats, Mom and Dad!


Because I am a music fiend, I had to give you all a couple of my favorite love songs to go along with today’s theme of “real life love stories.” These two, in my mind, capture the poignancy and uncertainty of love.

The first song, “Kissing You” by Des’ree, will be familiar to any of you who have seen the 1997 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Baz Luhrman and starring Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s bittersweet and beautiful, and Des’ree’s voice never fails to send chills down my spine.

The second comes from John Legend’s first album, Get Lifted. No matter how many times I hear this song, I’ll never get sick of it. John Legend tells the story of the love that “ordinary people” face, one that is far more complex and nuanced than any Hollywood fairy tale can portray.

What are your favorite “real life” love stories? Any romantic songs that you can’t stop listening to?

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  1. Oh Miss Lena, I have so much to say! Firstly, well done for hitting valentines days head on…I have been trying to ignore all the cards in the shops and emails from Amazon with gift ideas! Bah!

    Secondly, you parents story is amazing. Such rough times and such amazing times. How beautiful is your mum! You are right, real life stories are what keep the hopeless romantic part of me alive.

    Finally….that Des’ree song gets me every time!!! Adele is my romantic songbird and also my break up songbird. Love everything by her….Make you feel my love, Someone like you….oh dear, going to have to go and listen to some now!
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  2. What a great story! It is good to know that keeping a relationship going is work. Thanks for sharing!
    Emma Burcart recently posted..What is Beauty?My Profile

  3. Amazing story Lena. I can only imagine how hard it was on all of you going through such rough times. But also such an incredible testament to the love and commitment your parents had to themselves individually and as a couple. How wonderful to have the happily ever after ending.
    My parents “real love” story is my favorite as well. They were the most in love couple I ever knew. Affectionate, loving, tender and committed to one another. Their meeting was a chance encounter as well. My Mom is from the Dominican Republic and she was sent to live in Toronto with an older sister for one year to learn English. She was engaged to a man and was expected to return and get involved in her father’s business once the revolution ended.
    She enrolled in Grade 13 and she said the moment she laid eyes on my father, she knew she would marry him. The rest…is history.
    To anyone who knew them, you’d never know that early in their marriage, my father had a 2-year affair with one woman and multiple flings with others. He had issues. Obviously. When Mom found out, she was 7 months pregnant with me and my brother had just turned a year.
    After much anger and some time, he ended the affairs, promised her he loved her and committed to doing anything to work it out. They moved across the country to the East Coast, enrolled in marriage and individual counselling and fought tooth and nail to reclaim their relationship and their love…and they did!
    When he died in 1991, they were coming up on celebrating 23 years of marriage. I have never, ever seen another couple more committed to the health of a marriage. It’s a wonderful example to know and live by.
    Natalie Hartford recently posted..A palooza of romance: hubby’s top 5My Profile

  4. I think what you said about their story still being in the process of being written is so true! That’s the real part of a relationship–knowing that things will change and making the choices to do so together.
    Thanks so much for sharing your personal story Lena!
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  5. What a beautiful story Lena, but your mom in no plain Jane! Dang, she’s gorgeous (in the family picture I wasn’t sure which one was the mom and which were the kids). Now I see where you get your stunning looks from.

    Your story of their love is one that should be told the world over. Too many people (me included – in the past) think marriage is too easily dismissed. But yours and Natalie’s tales of your parent’s love is amazing. They overcame huge obstacles because the marriage was worth it. Loved reading your story. Thanks for sharing it with us!
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  6. Things sound as though they tough in the early years, but what a great example of how things can work if you’re actually prepared to put the effort in.
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  7. My favorite love story is my own. Like your father, my husband had a drug addiction (marijuana), and it caused a lot of problems between us. We almost broke up a couple of times because of this and some other reasons. But we stuck together. Mostly because of the kids, but later, we realized it was also because of us. Now my husband is a deacon at our church and well respected. He told my mom that he wouldn’t be where he was today if I hadn’t stuck by him. This September, we will celebrate 30 years of marriage. And I think he’s the most wonderful man in the world.
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  8. What an inspiring story, Lena. Ironically, I saw “Romeo & Juliet” after my first break up and bawled my eyes through it. 😉 Gorgeous film and song. Thanks for sharing your parents’ tale with us. My parents love has lasted nearly 40 years. They are my biggest love-inspiration, no question.
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  9. What an inspiring, heartfelt and amazing story, Lena. Relationships are very hard, and both parties have to work to make it worthwhile. But the most awesome outcome is when people grow together, change for the better and show how much they care for each other – just as your parents did. Happy Anniversary to them and Happy Birthday to you.
    Angela Orlowski-Peart recently posted..What’s The Real Problem With The Valentine’s Day?My Profile

  10. That’s beautiful Lena, and so very true. But anything worth having takes effort. Nothing in life is easy. If it came easy than it probably wasn’t worth that much to us in the end, was it? Movies like to show all the sparkly joy and goodness and give people a false perception. That’s probably why so many end up in divorce court these days. It’s sad. But love is like a diamond, with so many faucets and angles from which to sparkle and shine. Sometimes we need to clean that gem up and turn it around so that it can continue to shie. But if the love was true and pure to begin with it should always still be there through all the hard times.

    Love your post Lean.
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  11. I couldn’t agree more – good relationships are built on hard work, on building trust, on trying again, on adjusting and readjusting, comprising, adapting and weathering… and somewhere in that mix pride blossoms, that you have committed so much and worked so hard and it gives you a deep rooted integrity. Not that having fun isn’t important too!

    Your mum looks AMAZING. I can’t believe she’s been married 25 years – she looks gorgeous! Neither of them look like they’ve aged more than about 6 months since the day they got married – hard to believe they have two (gorgeous) grown up girls!
    Meg McNulty recently posted..Being a Jewel of Mythic SplendorMy Profile

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