The meaning of love: 5 couples who have been married for at least 30 years talk about love, romance and lasting marriage

Couples all over the world will celebrate their love on Valentine's Day tomorrow. The Straits Times executive photojournalist Caroline Chia speaks with five couples who have been married for at least 30 years, and takes them back to the same spot where they previously had a photograph taken. Beyond chocolates, roses and cards, they share their thoughts on love, romance and lasting marriage.

Parents skipped wedding - but finally accept him

He was a Eurasian Catholic while she was a Chinese Buddhist.

Right from the start, Madam Chua Poh Choo's parents objected to their relationship. But Madam Chua, 67, was sure Mr Percival Shepherdson, 69, was the one for her.

They had met in 1974, while they were doing volunteer work to help the underprivileged. Madam Chua was working as a stenographer then and Mr Shepherdson was a senior security officer. She was very impressed by his leadership skills and his generosity towards others.

Mr Shepherdson was drawn to her beautiful smile. And as he got to know her better, he noticed that she got along well with everybody, and that she never seemed to ask for anything in return.


Mr Shepherdson and Madam Chua entering his brother's flat where they held their wedding reception on May 21, 1977, and the couple today (above). The couple met in 1974 while they were doing volunteer work. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF THE SHEPHERDSON FAMILY, CAROLINE CHIA

THE LITTLE THINGS

Arguments are normal. Love is about the little things you do for each other, not big, fancy gestures of romance.

MR PERCIVAL SHEPHERDSON

MAKING IT RIGHT

There is no perfect person. No Mr Right. You have to make it right.

MADAM CHUA POH CHOO

On May 21, 1977, the couple were wed in the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. Madam Chua's parents were not present though her siblings were there.

It was only after she had her first child that the couple's relationship with her parents improved. The couple had two children and Madam Chua's parents finally accepted Mr Shepherdson once they saw how caring and hardworking he was.

"There is no perfect person. No Mr Right. You have to make it right," Madam Chua said.

Mr Shepherdson has this to say to younger couples: "Arguments are normal. Love is about the little things you do for each other, not big, fancy gestures of romance."


Weekly dates, even after 37 years

The precepts for a happy marriage are well known, but hard to follow. Make time for each other. Do not keep anger in your heart.

Mr Ho Cheng Pheng and Madam Lee Lei Hoon have lived by these virtues for so long that their marriage is a model for their friends. The 60-year-olds, who have been married for 37 years, still make an effort to carve out a weekly date.

"Saturday evenings are just for us. No family or friends. Just my husband and me," said Madam Lee, a childcare centre administrator. There is nothing fancy or elaborate for their night out - they most enjoy a long stroll along the park connector.


Mr Ho and Madam Lee on a date at the Singapore Botanic Gardens in 1977 (left); and the couple today. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF THE HO FAMILY, CAROLINE CHIA

As for disagreements, "voice them, but do not let anger take over", Madam Lee said.

When they were younger and struggling to bring up two children on Mr Ho's modest salary from the army, Madam Lee would sometimes find herself upset or angry about something.

KEY TO A HAPPY MARRIAGE

A relationship is about give and take. Do not compare each person's contribution to the family because it cannot be measured.

MR HO CHENG PHENG

MAKING TIME FOR THEMSELVES

Saturday evenings are just for us. No family or friends. Just my husband and me.

MADAM LEE LEI HOON

Instead of picking a fight, she would go for a walk to calm herself down. "When the anger and frustration have subsided, you usually find that there is nothing to fight about," she said.

Mr Ho, now an assistant administrator at the PAP Community Foundation headquarters, said: "A relationship is about give and take. Do not compare each person's contribution to the family because it cannot be measured. And, don't remember the bad things. Always move on from them."


Commitment in an arranged marriage

Mr Gopal Krishnan Nair, 85, was the breadwinner as a court intepreter, while Mrs Sarada Nair, 80, looked after the home and brought up their three children.

Whenever Mrs Nair needed money for the household, Mr Nair would give her some. He never questioned her purchases.

Trust, the couple stressed, was very important.

Arguments are common between husband and wife but couples must not stay bitter, said Mr Nair.

Mrs Nair said she knew that her husband was "a good man" from the very start as he did not drink or smoke.


Mr and Mrs Nair with their first child at the driveway of their home in the 1960s (left), and the couple with Dr Sheela Nair, 55, now. For the couple, trust is very important. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF THE NAIR FAMILY, CAROLINE CHIA

On the day of their first meeting at her home, she remembers looking out of her window and seeing a "tall, fair-skinned man with lots of hair".

MAKING A COMMITMENT

For us, we made a commitment to each other so we do not think of leaving the relationship. That is just how it is.

MR GOPAL KRISHNAN NAIR

THE IMPORTANCE OF SPACE

I don't try to control my husband. It's important to give each other space.

MRS SARADA NAIR

Theirs was an arranged marriage and they divided their roles very precisely.

She laughed and said: "I liked how he looked."

Her father had arranged the meeting and Mr Nair went with an older friend.

He noticed that unlike other girls, she did not wear any make-up. He even recalls that she was dressed simply in a blouse and skirt, and had a little scar on her right leg.

The couple were married at Sri Krishnan Temple in Waterloo Street within six months, on Sept 2, 1960.

"Our relationship is not like what the young couples have these days," Mr Nair said.

He feels that education and a good economy have changed the dynamics of relationships as people are more knowledgeable and have more options now.

"For us, we made a commitment to each other so we do not think of leaving the relationship. That is just how it is," he said.


The ride to love then, and bus rides across the island now

Mr Basil Clarence Pereira liked his colleague's neat appearance and poise, so he asked her manager for her name. "When I heard she was also a Pereira, I thought, 'Oh no. Don't tell me she's a cousin or a distant relative," the 88-year-old said with a chuckle.

When he found out they were not related, he hatched a plan to get to know her better.

For about a month, Mr Pereira, then 26 years old, would take the same bus from work as Miss Theresa Maureen Pereira and pay for her bus ticket. It was not the bus to his home, but he would make a detour so that he could see her when their work shifts at the Oriental Telephone Company in Hill Street ended.


Mr and Mrs Pereira in 1958 at Siglap Community Centre, where they held their wedding reception, and the couple today (above). They knew each other for four years before tying the knot. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF THE PEREIRA FAMILY, CAROLINE CHIA

The first time he paid for her bus ticket, she ran from the bus stop to the office in tears.

"I did not know who he was. The bus conductor told me that a man had paid for my ticket, so naturally I was afraid. Who knows what he might be up to?" Mrs Pereira, 80, recalled. After all, she was just 17.

The Pereiras eventually became friends and tied the knot on June 12, 1958, four years after they had met. They have two daughters.

SIMILAR SURNAME

When I heard she was also a Pereira, I thought, 'Oh no. Don't tell me she's a cousin or a distant relative.

MR BASIL CLARENCE PEREIRA

UNKNOWN INTENTIONS

I did not know who he was. The bus conductor told me that a man had paid for my ticket, so naturally I was afraid. Who knows what he might be up to?

MRS THERESA MAUREEN PEREIRA

Asked what advice he has for young couples, Mr Pereira said: "Forgive. Do not carry the anger with you. And do not borrow money. Even if it is to buy something to make your wife happy, always spend within your means."

Mrs Pereira said patience and understanding play a big part too. "He is quick-tempered. So when he gets angry, I leave him alone until he has cooled down."

These days, the couple look forward to spending time with their four grandsons and a great-granddaughter. They sometimes also take bus rides across the island.

"Sometimes, we go to Tampines, other times, Woodlands, or wherever we like. Then we 'jalan jalan' (walk) and catch a bus home," said Mr Pereira.


True love overcame family backgrounds

The first time Mr Syed Mohammad Syed Umar Shahab, 84, and Madam Sharifah Naraini Syed Hussein Alsagoff, 78, set eyes on each other, they were smitten.

But there was nothing more they could do than exchange glances.

They were both attending an event by the seaside at Marine Parade but the then 17-year-old was with her family.

Still, it was meant to be, for they met again a few weeks later at a wedding. This time, they spoke and exchanged phone numbers.

But the path of true love was anything but smooth, given how they were from very different backgrounds.

She was from a wealthy family with very strict parents. Their family backgrounds were worlds apart.

Mr Shahab and Madam Alsagoff at the bride's childhood home in Wareham Road, where they held their wedding celebrations in October 1961 (left), and the couple today. They first saw each other at a seaside event in Marine Parade.
Mr Shahab and Madam Alsagoff at the bride's childhood home in Wareham Road, where they held their wedding celebrations in October 1961 (above), and the couple today. They first saw each other at a seaside event in Marine Parade. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF THE SHAHAB FAMILY, CAROLINE CHIA

NO SLEEPING ON DISPUTES

We argue, but before we go to bed, we have to settle the quarrel.

MR SYED MOHAMMAD SYED UMAR SHAHAB

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE

I was willing to wait because he is a good man.

MADAM SHARIFAH NARAINI SYED HUSSEIN ALSAGOFF

Knowing that her parents would not allow them to be together, she dated him secretly for several years.

He recalls how he would ring her home, and hang up. That was his signal for her to answer the next call. She would secretly skip her sewing classes so that the two of them could meet.

It took almost seven years for him to save up enough money working as a meteorologist at the airport to ask for her hand in marriage. "I was willing to wait because he is a good man," she said.

The wedding, a grand affair, lasted five days at the bride's home. Fifty-five years and two children later, the couple are still inseparable.

One of their habits is to never go to sleep angry with each other. "We argue, but before we go to bed, we have to settle the quarrel," he said.

These days, they spend much of their time with family and friends.

And at least once a month, she cooks food they can pack for a picnic on the beach. "We love the sea, as that is where we first met," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2017, with the headline 'The meaning of love'. Print Edition | Subscribe