It's a tale — to borrow a phrase — as old as time. Two strangers meet and become inseparable. 

Every couple has a story of how they came to be, what makes the other person special, how they make it work. On this day that celebrates love, we asked some couples to share their stories.

Happy Valentine's Day!

A unique proposal

Ashanti Witherspoon’s proposal to Susan was unique. Like the rest of their relationship.

Ashanti, 71, served 27 years in prison for an armed robbery. Paroled in 1999 from Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, he worked in Christian ministry and the Innocence Project, which seeks to exonerate the wrongly convicted. He spoke at Angola’s Lifers Association banquet in November 2004.

Susan, 56, a widow who lived in Magnolia, Mississippi, was there.

Her brother was an inmate. She introduced herself to Ashanti, and they later met to discuss helping her brother. That led to them working on behalf of other inmates, and Susan started helping Ashanti schedule speaking appointments. When she was in town, together they attended church and meetings of Toastmasters, which teaches communication skills. They never dated.

Then came a Toastmasters meeting in 2008.

“I said, ‘Wow, this is an outstanding lady. … Man, she would probably make a good wife,’” Ashanti recalled. “This feeling of love just started flooding over, and I leaned over and I asked her, ‘Would you marry me?’

“She froze in what she was doing. She stopped and looked at me and said, ‘Are you serious?’ I said, ‘Yeah, would you marry me?’ She said, ‘Is this the way it’s supposed to be done?’ I said, ‘Would you marry me? It doesn’t matter how it’s done.’”

They never looked back.

“Little by little, we just got to know each other,” Susan said. “When he proposed … I realized God had blessed me with a good-looking man, with a man that really loved people, and I loved him. I didn’t really think, ‘Oh, I’m in love with him’ until that happened, and then, it was, like, ‘Yeah, I love him.’”

The couple, who lives in Baker, each appreciates how much the other loves people.

“She’s genuine,” Ashanti said. “She’s not a fake. No part of her is fake.”

“He cares more about … helping people than he’s worried about himself,” Susan said.” As far as personal things, I like the way he laughs. Sometimes, if it’s been a rough day, he’ll say something kind of off the wall or quirky, and it’ll make me laugh and change the whole day around.”

A change of heart

Life — his parents’ divorce, her father’s untimely death — had soured Clint and Roya Nauta on marriage. So, they lived together, with no plans to marry or have children.

A spiritual encounter changed their perspective.

Both Clint, 35, and Roya, 32, became Christians in 2011, and the couples they met at church showed them how good marriage could be. They realized it was more than what they had.

“We were just having fun up to that point,” Clint said. “Before that, it was, just, ‘You make me happy, and I make you happy, so it’s working out. But if we don’t make each other happy, we’ll just leave before that point.’ It wasn’t until we both became Christians and I really understood what it meant to love somebody because of the way Christ loves us.”

They married and have two sons, Josiah and Haddon, and a daughter on the way.

Roya’s determination impresses Clint. She has cerebral palsy, which affects her legs and causes a significant limp, but she hasn’t let that stop her from returning to school for a master’s degree in education, becoming a teacher or a mother.

“When we tell people she’s had two natural, unmedicated childbirths, people are shocked,” Clint said. “That’s how she does everything she does. Doesn’t let anybody tell her she can’t do something. Doesn’t ask for help a lot of times — to a fault — except from me around the house. She’s going to do something herself before she asks for help.”

“You’re not always going to agree, but when things aren’t perfect, always seek to understand the other person and see where they’re coming from," Roya advised. "Or if you’ve done something wrong to upset the person you’re in a relationship with, seek forgiveness first. I think that’s what keeps a relationship strong. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and seek forgiveness when things aren’t perfect.”

COVID connection

Not many good things have came out of the pandemic, but Patrick and Norman Millet give it some credit for getting them together.

Patrick, 49, first met Norman through a mutual friend on Facebook, but the timing wasn’t right. In May 2020, however, they started communicating. With no place to go during the pandemic shutdown, for their first date Norman came to Patrick’s home, which he then shared with a sister and nephew. To say it went well is an understatement.

“When he left, I came inside and told my sister. 'I’m going to marry him,'” Patrick said. "I immediately knew it. I had no doubt. He made me laugh. He is a lot of fun. He’s smart. He’s hardworking. He’s all the qualities you would want in a partner, a spouse. He still thinks it’s funny when I tell that story, but it’s true.”

It was also prescient. Only months later — on Dec. 27 — they married and now live in Gonzales.

“It did happen that quickly,” Norman said. “With COVID, we didn’t have much to do but hang out with each other and got to know each other pretty well and figured out that we got along a little too well, and we didn’t want to go back out of quarantine.”

Communication and trust are essential to a happy relationship, they agreed.

“I can tell him something and tell him don’t tell anybody, and I know it’s going to stay with him,” Norman said. “I … know that he’s going to be there for me no matter what.”

“I think the one thing that is important for me is to laugh,” Patrick said. “I think laughter heals your soul; at least, for me it does. I think for so long I’d forgotten how to laugh, not only at myself but at things in general. I knew he was the one. He gave me my smile back.”

A winding road

True love doesn't always take the straightest path, and that's certainly true for Don and Judy Hale, who met on a double date in 1958 in Monroe. Don asked Judy out after she broke up with her boyfriend, Bert, but he had an agenda.

“He stopped the car on Forsythe Avenue and he said, ‘I’ve got to fuss at you for breaking up with my best friend,’” Judy recalled. “I said, ‘I’ve got a quarter. I’ll call my mother to come get me.’ That ended his conversation about Bert.”

But not his conversations with Judy. They dated for six months, then Judy broke up with him. Upset, Don enlisted in the Marines.

“I dated while he was gone the first two years, and I’d come home crying because it just wasn’t the same,” she said. “I had somebody else propose to me and I was, like, ‘Nope, this ain’t going to happen.’”

The two saw each other when he came home on leave, and, on his second visit, he proposed.

“We finally realized we’d made a mistake, and I’d already volunteered,” he said.

There have been no second thoughts since they married in 1962. And what they liked then about each other, they still like.

“He was really cute when he was young, and now he’s as cute as a speckled puppy as an old man,” said Judy, adding she also loves his motivation and determination. "He went to night school to get his degree and his MBA, and he wanted better than what his family had.”

“Judy was Judy. What can I say? I loved her then and I love her now,” Don said. “She’s the same today as she’s always been. She’s not up and down.”

“I tell it like it is,” she said.

“That’s part of what I love about her,” he said. “I depend on it.”

Respect

Aretha Franklin had it right, according to Luttrell and Edith Cox. A successful relationship boils down to one word.

“Respect for each other,” said Luttrell, 77.

“Treat each other like you want to be treated,” recommended Edith, 76.

The Coxes have been a couple since 1960, when he was a junior and she was a sophomore at Southern University Lab School.

“We really didn’t date. Back in our day, you would be courting on Sunday evenings,” Edith said. “The guy would come over to your house. That’s what we did in high school. I can’t remember how it got started. … I guess he was looking at me and I was looking at him.”

After Luttrell graduated, he enlisted in the Army and was immediately shipped out to the first of several bases. They kept their relationship going through letters, and got engaged — appropriately enough — while Luttrell was at Fort Bliss, Texas. The couple married in 1964.

Home from his stint in the Army, Luttrell worked at area plants, and he credited Edith with doing most of the work in raising their three daughters. She appreciates that he was a good provider for their family.

“We’ve never been mushy, mushy, but we’ve always had each other’s back,” she said. “We could always count on each other if need be.”

“After we got married, I looked at what she was doing with the children,” Luttrell said. “I was doing mostly shift work. That was one of the big things, taking care of the kids. I respected that. I still do.

“We’ve always been here for each other and tried to respect each other. We just love on each other.”

A balancing act

Jason and Lindsey Wesley met at LSU, became friends and eventually fell in love.

But, at that time, it wasn't meant to be. 

“Jason did the every romantic comedy movie thing where he had a panic attack and freaked out and broke it off,” Lindsey said. “So, we didn’t speak for five years. And we did our own career things and relationships, and I checked in again with him at some point and said, ‘I think we could be friends again.’”

But the spark was still there, and Jason, 38, and Lindsey, 40, married in 2014 and have a daughter, Ella.

Lindsey appreciates her husband’s sincerity. He values her patience.

“I know he’s trying to improve as a person, and he’s coming from a place that is genuine,” she said. “When you have those qualities, it makes it easier to work with someone because you’re always changing in a relationship.”

“Even when she knows she is right and I am wrong, she still approaches me in a very loving manner,” Jason said. “I don’t see how we can lose with that.”

Those attitudes reflect what they see as the secrets to an enduring relationship.

“It’s a balancing act,” Lindsey said. “You have to accept someone for who they are and where they are and not where you want them to be. At the same time, you want to challenge them to grow without pushing them. It all becomes a balancing act of accountability vs. compassion. You do have those struggles and disagreements, but you have a common goal.”

“You cannot become closed off,” Jason added. “We both remain open.”


Email George Morris at gmorris@theadvocate.com.