This article titled “How we stay together: ‘We’re the middle-aged couple walking down the street holding hands’ ” was written by Alexandra Spring, for theguardian.com on Saturday 10th April 2021 20.00 UTC
Names: Angela Kitzelman and Don Jarmey
Years together: 36
Occupations: public servant and lab technician
“If you can travel together successfully, that is a sign of a strong relationship,” says Don Jarmey. “If you can sit for 41 hours on a bus from Istanbul to Budapest with about 2 metres of snow outside, where the bus stops three times in that 41 hours and you still love each other at the end, then yeah.”
At last count, he and wife Angela have travelled to almost 50 countries in their years together. They’ve had plenty of good and bad experiences – and certainly still love each other.
The Brisbane couple met as teenagers at Toowong high school in the early 80s. Don was the new boy in year 12 and Angela noticed him because he seemed more mature than his peers. “I can vividly remember [thinking], ‘Who is this guy? He is really cute’.” Don noticed her too: “I thought she had great legs,” he says with a laugh.
They were friendly, but drew closer after graduation. So close that Angela had to convince others that they were just friends. That is, until Don made his move. The pair had been out in Fortitude Valley watching a band, when “[he] kissed me and I was like, ‘Whoa, what the hell was that?’” Don shrugs: “I just thought, ‘I really like this woman, I’ll give it a shot, see how it goes’.”
Their relationship morphed quickly into a romantic one. “All of our friends said, ‘It was about time!” I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’” laughs Angela.
They came together easily, she says, because they had much in common. “When you’re 18 and 19, you don’t have any relationship pressures … We liked to laugh, we liked to go out, we liked music, we had friends in common. I was attracted to him, he was attracted to me. When people talk about working at their marriages, I’m like, ‘I don’t know what this work is that you speak of.’” Don agrees: “ We just do.”
They moved in together in Townsville a few years later. It was a happy time, playing music together and with their friends. “We found our Townsville family … through music mostly, and that was really us finding that together,” says Don. They were good at cohabitation and divided chores equally. “We never fought but we had compromises,” says Angela.
Their only life goals were to travel the world. “I feel like we ricochet from this fun thing to another thing,” says Angela “Maybe is that the secret? No goals.”
After 10 years and a stint in London together, they decided it was time to get married. Nothing changed outwardly, but there was a shift in their connection. “It was just a feeling,” says Don. “If you’ve been together for 10 years then you decide to get married, well, that’s an important thing. If you jump into a marriage, you’re still trying to find your way through it. We didn’t have to find our way through it, we knew we were in love,” he says.
After that, they moved back to Brisbane and started trying for a baby. When things weren’t happening, they tried a few rounds of IVF. It was a heartbreaking time: expensive, an emotional rollercoaster and ultimately unsuccessful. “[Don was] really doing it for me, I think,” says Angela. “[Eventually] I said, ‘I don’t want to spend my 30s just constantly forking out money and being miserable’.”
It brought them closer together: “We knew how each other felt,” says Angela “He was so willing to go through this … Then I just went, ‘I can’t, that’s it’.” Don nods: “I was never going to put pressure on Ange to go any further. That would just be stupid.”
When they stopped, they knew they had to seek out a different kind of life for themselves. “[I said] if we’re not going to do this, we need to do something that is going to completely take our minds off this. So that I’m not thinking every month, oh it’s this time. So we packed up our entire house and we went back to London.”
They spent the next year travelling through Europe and the Middle East, then made their way home. Now, along with their busy jobs, they run the annual Neurum Creek folk music festival. They work well together – she comes up with the big ideas while he brings them to life. Angela admits she can be bossy sometimes, but Don doesn’t mind. “I used to argue sometimes with Ange and then I’ve realised, ‘Nah’, because, generally speaking, nine times out of 10 she’s right.”
Angela says she sometimes feels she has to protect Don – from himself. “Someone once said, ‘The thing that you fall in love with in a person is often the thing that drives you mad.’ And I keep that in my head because there’s been times where Don is a giver of himself. He says yes to people, and he looks after people. And he does that a lot. And sometimes there’s been times where I’ve gone, ‘You need to stop. You need to calm down on that.’ And I guess it’s the way that I say it. Because I know how much people love him and how he takes care of people. And I try to remember that, because I’ll say, ‘You can’t just do all that for everybody. They’ve got to take care of themselves.’”
They are still very affectionate with each other. “We’re the middle-aged couple that’s walking down the street holding hands,” Angela says with a laugh. “Always say ‘I love you’ when we leave each other, always give each other a kiss goodbye [and] we talk to each other at least once a day on the phone,” Don says.
In the early days, they did almost everything together but now they have their own interests. “I think that’s a really important thing to have,” says Don. Some things have remained the same though: “Our sense of fun, and our sense of this is a challenge, and looking for new experiences, I think that’s still there,” Angela says. “And how much we enjoy each other’s company.”
And they agree that, while they both enjoy their careers, it’s about having fun together. “My identity is not my work. My identity is so much more than that,” Angela says, “and when we retire, I would hate to be going, ‘Oh well, what do I do now?’”
Don compares them to his parents, who spent the last 20 years of their lives travelling together. “We’re nowhere near retiring yet but we’re living life now, we’re not just working towards retirement. We’re actually living life.”
For Angela, her commitment to Don means always putting him first. “Even though I have the big ideas … You will be absolutely number one in my thoughts,” she says looking at her husband. “I am going to look after you… if anybody comes at you … come at me first.”
Don finds it trickier to put his feelings into words: “It’s not that you get used to each other, it’s just you’re part of each other. As much as we have our independent ways of being, we’re entwined … It’s just such a natural thing.”
So what’s kept them together through everything? “Always respect for each other,” says Don, adding: “Don’t fight [but] if you have fights, work it out. I think some people that do fight, they don’t work it out and that stews up.”
Angela says her love for Don has never changed: “I love him. And I married you because I love you and why would that change?”
We want to hear your stories about staying together. Tell us about you, your partner and your relationship by filling in the form here
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010