Marvin and Joyce Norin bonded over their mutual love of outdoor sports. [Herald-Tribune staff photo / Dan Wagner]

A love story (or two) for Valentine’s Day

For Valentine’s Day, we surveyed couples in different stages of their relationships, as well as at different stages in life, to see what relationship advice they had to offer. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that love is different for everyone … and yet some things never change:

A new relationship in the twilight of life

Jayne Forstenzer, 95, and Bernard Farber, 103, met at Aviva: A Campus for Senior Living, where they bonded over music and theater. [Herald-Tribune staff photo / Dan Wagner]

Jayne Forstenzer, 95, and Bernard Farber, 103, met at Aviva: A Campus for Senior Living, where they bonded over music and theater. [Herald-Tribune staff photo / Dan Wagner]

Bernard Farber and Jayne Forstenzer hold hands and giggle like school children as they walk the hallway at Aviva’s independent living facility in Sarasota. At 103 and 95, respectively, they grip each other tightly as they stroll, using each other as much for balance as they do for comfort.

Their bond may seem like it was forged ages ago, but the two have been dating only for “a few months.” Forstenzer scrunches her nose at the word “dating.”

“I’m not sure I would call what we’re doing dating,” she said with a laugh. “Well, I don’t think he likes me — it’s just convenient.”

“She’s very argumentative,” Farber, the quieter of the two, counters. Then he pauses thoughtfully. “She’s very kind and she would like to help me all the time.”

“He’s steady,” Forstenzer nods when asked what she likes about Farber. “And he’s interesting and affirmative — I like the affirmativeness.”

Forstenzer moved to Aviva two years ago, and Farber has lived there since its opening in 1993. The couple couldn’t remember exactly where they met, but they quickly began eating lunch and going to meetings together. She was a travel agent on Longboat Key; he was a dean of education at a college in Michigan. Both were previously married, but their spouses passed away.

Farber and Forstenzer talk about music and travel. They watch Florida Studio Theatre and Sarasota Orchestra performances. When he stops and loses his train of thought, she’ll fill in the details. As they discuss their lives, they keep their hands clasped, as if not to break apart for a minute.

“We have a mutual understanding,” Forstenzer said. “He lets me go my way and I leave him alone to do his thing, and we meet at dinner time every day.”

A new marriage

Melissa and Aaron Fitzsimmons, 32 and 33, were married last May at Walt Disney World. They met on Photo courtesy of Melissa Fitzsimmons, taken by Misty Miotto

Melissa and Aaron Fitzsimmons, 32 and 33, were married last May at Walt Disney World. They met on Photo courtesy of Melissa Fitzsimmons, taken by Misty Miotto Photography

One post on caught Melissa Fitzsimmons’ attention: “I’m looking for a travel buddy.”

Then 29, she was “doing the dating scene” in Sarasota and not having much luck. But here was Aaron, who had also graduated from the University of Florida and also loved to travel. She shot him a message, because why not?

They made plans for their first date at the St. Armands restaurant Shore. The night turned into one of those fabled first dates, hours passing without either noticing.

“We ended up being out ’till super late and just had the best time,” Fitzsimmons said. “The number one thing that I think both of us picked up on was it was just effortless. There were no pretenses, there was nothing — it just clicked.”

The two tested their relationship through a 10-day cruise, which Fitzsimmons called one of the best ways to get to know someone’s true character. It became clear how serious the relationship was, although she said they both knew where it was going from the beginning.

For their one-year anniversary, Aaron, an amateur race car driver, told Melissa that he had to compete in a race in Sebring on that day. She was happy to support him.

“We put each other’s passions first,” Fitzsimmons said. “I’ve always been so supportive of his hobby, so I was like, ‘Of course, no problem, I’m so excited, let’s go.'”

But after piling in a car to Sebring and spending the night in a hotel, the joke was on her. They were actually headed to her favorite place: Disney World. By that point, she suspected he might propose, but he denied it.

Aaron spent the day surprising her with special Disney opportunities, like a dinner at Cinderella’s castle, and he finally ended the night on a private cruise to watch the fireworks. There he proposed, and revealed that he had secretly driven to Jacksonville in one day to ask her parents’ permission. When she got off the boat, her whole family was waiting.

“It was just perfect,” Fitzsimmons said. “He did the best job. It was just so thoughtful.”

They were married in May, at Disney World, and they compromised on a honeymoon by going to the Grand Prix in Monaco, although Fitzsimmons admitted that wasn’t much of a compromise.

“You have to find someone who balances you out,” Fitzsimmons said. “We’re very opposite in how we handle stress … but we’re just constantly putting the other person first to make sure that we can get through it together.”

A second marriage

Marvin and Joyce Norin bonded over their mutual love of outdoor sports. [Herald-Tribune staff photo / Dan Wagner]

Marvin and Joyce Norin bonded over their mutual love of outdoor sports. [Herald-Tribune staff photo / Dan Wagner]

Marvin and Joyce Norin knew from the start that they had a niche shared interest: cycling. They met on a bicycling trip in Mount Dora, and Joyce first noticed Marvin. She asked him to get ice cream with her. Well, she didn’t so much ask him as tell him.

“We had met before, and I went over and said, ‘Hey, come on, you’re going with me,'” Joyce Norin, 74, said. “I was my old aggressive self. I don’t know if Marvin would have said anything — he’s very laid-back and shy and chooses his words. Me? I run off at the mouth.”

Despite their differences, they dated and spent much of their time cycling, kayaking, canoeing — any outdoor activity they could find. It was the second marriage for both. They met when he was 57 and she was 42.

“I couldn’t keep up to him when we first met,” Joyce said.

At that, Marvin, 89, demurred. “I had done a lot of endurance spots before we met, and she hadn’t,” he said.

They dated for four years, making the trek between their homes in Englewood and Longboat Key, until they made a “mutual decision” to get married. They’ve been married now for 26 years, but each year brings with it changes.

Four years ago, Marvin had a stroke, causing them both to move to Aviva and making it difficult for him to do the physical activity he loved so much. Now Joyce has learned to alter their relationship, and the things she used to love to do with Marvin she now does alone.

“I’m just learning to separate myself from Marvin, because we’ve been together every day all these years, doing everything together,” Joyce said. “I have to do and go, because I have a ton of energy.”

A lifelong marriage

For Joe and Gloria Matthews, it was that rumored “love at first sight.” The scene was 1949 in Indianapolis; Joe was attending the local all-boys school and Gloria the girls school. A mutual friend told Joe, in glowing words, that he had to meet Gloria: “You guys are meant for each other,” he told Joe.

“I guess he was right,” Joe Matthews, 83, said. “It was kind of love at first sight. We just fell in love, and we got married right after high school. That was kind of risky, but we loved each other and it worked out great.”

Joe and Gloria were married at 18 and 17, respectively, and they’ve now been married 65 years. They have five children, 23 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren. Joe spent his life working for the postal service in Indianapolis and Gloria was a stay-at-home mom.

“We have a wonderful family,” Joe Matthews said. “We have a large family and at Christmas we all get together — there’s usually around 75 or so there.”

Although Joe and Gloria still live in Indianapolis part time, they spend October through May in Sarasota for the warmer weather and have done so for the last 22 years. Gloria now has dementia, so Joe tells their story for her.

Their key: Don’t go to bed angry. In fact, if you can, don’t fight.

“Get along together,” Matthews said. “Don’t fight over anything. You can talk it out, but don’t go to bed without giving her a kiss or letting her know that everything is fine.”

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Elizabeth Djinis

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