A Six-pack of Valentines

BEST FRIENDS

Lauryn and Alden Spooner met during math class in the 6th grade. She sat in front of him and liked to mess with him, while he, on the other hand, didn’t like her and felt bullied. One day she left a note in his locker asking if he liked her. He responded that he hated her and she should never talk to him again. So she didn’t, until senior year when they were both teacher aides, then friends, prom dates and, since October 2020, husband and wife.

It was a rocky path to the altar, filled with long distance dating and racial challenges. “We have unfortunately been in situations of racial profiling and had hateful things said about us, face to face,” Lauryn says, adding that they learned to have conversations with each other and their families about race. “You really shouldn’t have to explain much beyond the happiness and joy someone brings you when in a healthy, loving relationship, but you soon find that others expect you to explain a lot more just because of the ‘difference’; that is very unfortunate. But at the end of the day we have overcome and grown exponentially from it.”

The couple also learned to let each other grow and pursue their own paths while dating long distance, which made their relationship stronger and healthier. Above all, she is grateful to be married to her best friend, as she says, “there is nothing better than knowing your best friend is at home with you at the end of the day.”

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

Considering Ricki and Bill McMillian were engaged less than two weeks after their first date, while living in distant cities, Ricki says she would call that love at first sight—reinforced by shared values and right timing. They met on a blind date in 1965 when she was a flight attendant in New York City and he was an ensign in the Navy waiting for his ship to be commissioned. A family friend arranged for Bill to escort her to a ship commissioning, and three months later, they were honeymooning in Charleston. “We have been married 56 years in November, although it is hard to believe it has been that long,” Ricki says. “We often say we grew up together and in those years changed into the people we are today.”

Today they share an active life through hobbies like hiking, biking, RV-ing and baking. At 78 and 76 years old, Ricki says they are incredibly fortunate to be in good health. “Life is good and we wish all could be as happy and lucky as we have been,” she shares. But more than luck has sustained this couple through the ups and downs of their relationship, as they always follow one rule: “Respect each other and always say I love you at bedtime, even if it is between gritted teeth!”

PUTTING EACH OTHER FIRST

Take a girl from England and a boy from Chicago who find each other and fall in love in South Korea. They become a couple that’s still ferociously in love 31 years later­—that’s a true love story, Nick Austin says. It’s one that began in 1990 when she was working as a ballet dancer in Korea and Rick Austin was stationed there with the U.S. Army. While she was watching a movie in the barracks with a friend, in walked “the best-looking man I had ever laid my eyes on,” Nick recalls. He immediately asked her out, and she “of course said, ‘no’.” That is, until the next day when his persistence paid off.

The Austins have endured many challenges over the years, including financial and relationship struggles, miscarriages, and long deployments. Many celebrations together were missed because of army life, and the two have had 27 addresses in the last 30 years due to all the military moves.

Despite the hard times, Nick says they’ve had the highest of highs—three beautiful children. Two of their oldest sons have told them, “I just want what you and Mom have.” Nick believes that’s because she and Rick put each other first, love fiercely, and always defend each other. She’s heard many couples say kids are the most important part of the relationship, but “before there were kids it was just the two of you and without the two of you there would be no kids. You have to put each other first. We love our kids so much and they know that. They see that because their parents love each other so much.”

NATURE MEMORIES

Ricky and Betty Ward first met on a blind date with Betty’s sister and her husband during a night of dancing at Magic Music in Waco. The first time Ricky saw Betty getting out of the green Gremlin, he knew she was the one. “We both felt extremely comfortable with each other. He was easy to be around. We enjoyed each other’s company so much,” Betty remembers. “God has brought us together and kept us together all these years.”

They have been married 42 years, with their best memories spent outdoors. Betty remembers their first camping trip with only a red Pinto at Arkansas Petit Jean State Park, where they made Jiffy Pop popcorn over the campfire and slept in the back of the hatchback. Camping evolved from that to a large pop-up camper, and traveling to Colorado to escape the Texas heat became a regular family vacation. Ricky and Betty eventually became cruisers, although Ricky wasn’t sure about cruises at first until he realized on their first cruise to Alaska that he didn’t have to pack and unpack every few days and drive hundreds of miles.

Over the years, the Wards have learned the power of communication in maintaining a healthy marriage. “Learning and knowing when to ask questions or make comments is vital,” Betty says. “Forgiveness goes a long way in a marriage.  It is difficult for some people to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ but it helps tremendously. Holding grudges is a definite no-no.”

And even if neither one feels like it, the couple start and finish each day with a hug. “It helps the day begin on a joyful note,” she says. “It helps us to feel important and loved at the end of a long work day.”

A NERDY ROMANCE

When Eric Mann, a self-described nerd, took a picture of a car covered in nerdy stickers, a Batman steering wheel cover and a Batman cape, he joked to his friend that the car had to belong to his dream girl. “He had no idea that he was 100 percent correct!” says Kelsey Mann, the “dream girl.”

The two were working at Vans at the Round Rock Outlet Mall and officially met when he volunteered to walk her to her car after she got off work one evening. “I thought it was weird that he offered so quickly,” she recalls. “I didn’t realize it was because he thought I was cute and wanted to get to know me.” Though neither was looking for a romantic relationship, they quickly became friends and fell in love; bonding over nerdy things like video games and comics. “It was so funny that neither of us wanted a relationship and both tumbled straight into the one we would be in forever,” Kelsey shares. “It’s so special to get to come home to your favorite person every day and just share life with them.”

After being together four years and married three months, she says the key to their relationship is communication and emotional vulnerability. “We talk about everything! We’re both so open and honest it hurts, and we try to always check up on each other to make sure the other person is comfortable and feels secure and loved.”

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