18 November 2018Last updated


Conscious coupling

From lightning bolts to slow burners, four couples from different backgrounds tell us how their romance began – and what makes their relationships thrive

By Catherine Harper
8 Feb 2016 | 09:53 am
  • Source:Stefan Lindeque/ANM

Australian Jean Smith, 37, married 39-year-old Mohamed Aly from Egypt, after meeting through work

Mohamed and I both worked for Emirates Airline 13 years ago. There was a party in the company accommodation on Shaikh Zayed Road and mutual friends introduced us. We hit it off as friends straight away. It wasn’t love at first sight, though. One of my first memories of him is when he gave me a lift to Deira City Centre and I thought he was such an absolutely crazy driver, I was convinced I was going to die, so I ended up getting a taxi home! Towards the end of 2003 romance crept in, and we were married by 2005. Being a cross-cultural marriage, however, this wasn’t a straightforward process. We signed our legal marriage documents here in Dubai at the Egyptian consulate – not exactly our idea of a romantic ceremony – but we made up for it with two further weddings, one in Egypt and then one in Australia. I got more cost-per-wear value out of my dress than most brides!

Thankfully, he’s nowhere near as crazy as I thought he was to start with. He’s laid-back, patient, generous and kind, and would do anything for anyone. I love that about him. I think one of the reasons we have such a strong relationship is that we were such good friends to start with (despite the crazy driving) so we have a solid base as a foundation. That, as well as laughter, trust and respect, are the most important aspects of a marriage to me. We can talk about anything and everything.

Now we are a family – our son, Ziad, is two and our daughter Hannah is two months – our relationship has developed further and I love him even more now he’s a father. We’re connected for life through our children and we’re a team; it’s hard work at times and there are ups and downs, but at the end of the day you’ve just got to forgive, love and move forward together.


34-year-old Brazilian Renata Holsters took a long time to realise Belgian husband Bart, 37, wasn’t just interested in friendship

Bart and I arrived in Dubai in 2009, but not together. He came for work, while I was joining my then boyfriend. In 2010 I started working at the same company Bart worked for and we met in Abu Dhabi at a presentation. He says he felt love instantly and he can still remember my outfit; I can’t remember what I ate yesterday! We began a friendship that involved parties, events, football matches and nights out, but it was never more than friendship. I don’t ever recall Bart bringing a girlfriend, though, which I thought was sad because I could tell he was a good guy. He was a hard worker, very honest – although not as open and outgoing as we South Americans! – and, of course, very cute as well.

After a year of working with the company I took a trip home, and my boyfriend stayed behind. Bart had shown an interest in visiting Brazil with a local, rather than as a tourist, and it turned out he’d be there with his best friend at the same time as me. I figured two single guys in Rio would want to get out and party, but Bart ended up spending more than half his trip at our beach house in a little fishermen’s village, with no luxuries and certainly no parties! It was just my family, Bart and his friend, and plenty of surf and barbecues. I did keep asking myself why he’d prefer this to the bright lights of the city, but still the penny didn’t drop.

When we got back to Dubai our friendship became closer, and we spent lots of time as a foursome – him, me, my boyfriend and another colleague. I started to notice Bart looking at me often, and I wondered if maybe he felt more than he was letting on. Then my relationship with my boyfriend came to an end, and I didn’t see any real reason to stay in Dubai so within three days I’d packed up my things and returned to Brazil.

I spent three months rebuilding my self-esteem and wondering what to do next, and during those three months Bart was constantly on the phone. Was I coming back? My job would still be there for me. At the three-month point I figured I had nothing to lose and got on a plane back to Dubai and back to Bart.

This time, there was no hiding how he felt about me and how I felt about him. After so long as friends, ignoring Bart’s real feelings, I gave in and let myself feel everything that had been simmering for so long. It felt liberating to be able to immerse myself in the love that was so obvious between us.

We were married in 2012 and have a son, Marcel, and a little girl arriving any day now.

I’m so grateful to Bart for hanging in there, for waiting for me, for making me realise in the end that love was always there.


33-year-old Pole Elwira Jacob found love at first sight with her 34-year-old Dutch-Caribbean husband Jonathan

Our love story began in Krakov, Poland, known as the city of artists and romance. I’ve read that it takes us just three minutes to fall in love and that’s so true; it was the best three minutes of my life!

We found we had so much in common. We’re both passionate about business and creating things from scratch, and these commonalities glued us together (in addition to emotion, of course). After toughing it out in a long-distance relationship for four months, Jonathan moved from Amsterdam to Krakov and we moved in together, then in 2011 we were married in Poland. We now also have a beautiful four-year-old daughter, Josephine.

These days, we both agree puppy love and love at first sight is exciting, but real relationships need to be based on solid fundamentals, common understanding and shared values. Couples need a shared vision of life, common passions and similar joys, with plenty of listening and understanding, otherwise in the end the relationship is likely to fail.

But that doesn’t mean partners need to be identical. Although we have lots of common ground, we also have differences, making us a balanced couple. I’m a very social, entrepreneurial risk-taker who can be hyper, and Jonathan is a creative thinker and strategist with a focus on details and long-term perspective. We find we’re a perfect team, with a good blend of skills and emotions. We inspire and surprise one another, as well as learning from each other.

Our joint business, Bebe Coco Organic, has turned out to be key in keeping the spark alive – as we say, ‘Loving isn’t just looking at each other, it’s looking in the same direction’.


British-Indian Sonali Surgeon, 35, almost cancelled the date that began her romance with Australian husband Edward, 34

Edward and I met at a mutual friend’s house on the Palm in May, 2009. He says he noticed me, but I didn’t really notice him! Through various conversations that night we discovered we both lived in the same area. Shortly after, he added me as a friend on Facebook and we began having casual conversations. One day I happened to mention I had a water leak in my house; Ed graciously offered to come and take a look, Innocently, I thought this was very kind of him.

After that we didn’t have an awful lot of communication, but apparently a friend encouraged Ed to approach me again. He asked me to go for a coffee and I remember considering cancelling, but in the end I figured I had nothing to lose and, at worst, I’d have a new friend. As it turned out, we spent hours together just talking, laughing and sharing stories. Conversation was just so easy and the relationship blossomed.

We started to see each other more and more, began dating in February 2010 and decided – after Ed met my parents in July – to get married in November 2011. Because we’re a cross-cultural couple we had a fusion wedding in Dubai, with family from the UK, Australia, India and all over coming to celebrate with us.

Being from two different cultures, we’ve each had a steep learning curve to get used to each other’s families: Indians are always late, overly generous, extremely passionate and loud, while Ed’s family are a lot more patient and – quite frankly – the opposite of Indians.

But the one thing that makes us so similar is our strong family values. And we have much more in common than we initially thought. We like the same food, we enjoy travel, we have a similar sense of humour. But we also have differences. We disagree on what to watch, and I dominate the wardrobe space. 
He always apologises when we argue, bless him.

Perhaps the most important aspect for us these days is that we both have the same parenting values and approach, which is invaluable since we had our daughter Anika, 10 months, and our son Rayan, two-and-a-half years old.

Over time, we’ve learnt a few lessons about marriage: invest in your relationship with a date night at least once a month, always share how you feel and give each other space to have an independent life as well.

But the most important thing is to laugh, especially after an argument. Argue hard, but end it on a good note. We find imitating each other the best way to get over a row!

By Catherine Harper

By Catherine Harper