All loved up
Love stories from around town to sweeten up your V-Day
Why do we love the idea of love? Even the most cynical among us cannot deny that the heart warms a little when confronted with a real picture of that four-letter word. Our definitions vary, our values are many, but the bottom line is simple: love gives us hope. We asked some of the UAE's residents to share their love stories - journeys, insights, et al - to sweeten up our V-Day and yours.
'Happy birthday, will you marry me?'
The first time Andrei Robu and Viktoriia Mikhtan met, it was at a fitness studio in 2017. Viktoriia, who hails from Ukraine, had "no plans" of falling in love with her colleague. In fact, when she moved to Dubai, it was with a determination to grow her career, so serious relationships were out of the question. But Andrei pursued her for four months, till she finally agreed to go out with him.
"It was nice that I got to know her for a while as a person and a coworker, before I got to know her as a girlfriend and wife," says Andrei, 27, who is part-Moldovan, part-Romanian. "I used to fight with her just to see if she'd stay," he admits a tad sheepishly. "But she never backed down, and I knew this was the woman I wanted to be with."
Wanting to propose on a date she'd always remember, he picked her birthday - February 28, 2019 - and a road trip to the mountains of Oman. Because they'd been arguing so much, Viktoriia says a proposal was definitely not what she saw coming. When the clock struck 12, the hotel staff came out to their dinner table with a birthday cake and candles, while Andrei went down on one knee. "I was so shocked, I kept asking him if he was kidding and if he was sure, because the month prior to that had been a disaster," laughs the 25-year-old. "I hadn't done my hair, didn't have any makeup on, was wearing regular clothes - that's how unprepared I was."
But when he popped the question, the answer was an easy one, because Andrei was unlike any of the other guys she'd known. "He's proved countless times that he'll be there for me, no matter what - whether I'm struggling with a customer or my car's broken down in the middle of the highway, he will drop everything and be there in a flash," she explains. "He even taught me how to cook healthy when I was on a diet, and would bring cooked food from home for me - sometimes three times a day. No one in my life has ever done that for me."
The duo quit their jobs and are now developing their own personal training and nutrition company. The goal? "To grow together, have a big house in the country, and live happily ever after!" 'Happily ever after' can take a knocking every now and then, especially since they work together - but they've been learning to keep the two spheres of their lives separate and not let any negativity from one flow into the other.
Do they find the relentless news of breakups and divorces troubling? "We don't really pay attention to those stories," Andrei muses. "We only know what's happening inside our family, not others, so we can't judge. There will always be misunderstandings and arguments in any relationship, so our focus is constantly on how to improve our own relationship, not to look at others."
"And what we keep discovering," chimes in Viktoriia, "is together, we're stronger."
Come what may
Devesh and Misha Vithlani's story sounds like it was written for the movies. Before he became Misha's husband, Devesh was one of her brother's closest friends at college. "I used to be at their home every day - even on Sundays," recalls the Indian expat fondly. It wasn't love at first sight, he assures - more like a gradual bond. About three years after they first met, the duo decided to date. "We realised we were a match in many ways."
Unfortunately, that didn't go down very well with the families, who, upon discovering the young romantics, opposed the liaison "very strongly". It took more than six years for the pair to finally get everyone to bless the union, and they got married in 2004. "The resistance was because we were from different backgrounds (she's Sindhi, I'm Gujarati), because I didn't have a good financial status (I came from a very humble, lower middle income family; my in-laws are a business family), and because my wife was older to me by two years," explains Devesh. The pressure was heavy, but the two stood their ground, turning down lots of marriage proposals along the way, till the families eventually agreed it was best to get them hitched.
If love is a journey, this was the relationship that really 'made' him over the years, he says. "I was always in fear of losing her. I worried that if I didn't do well in my career, I wouldn't be able to prove to her family that I could take care of her, so I worked very hard and passed with flying colours. When I didn't get a job in my desired field, I worked hard in a different direction. I was determined to keep her in my life at any cost. Even after marriage, my commitment was to make her happy, so I continued to work hard, which is why I am where I am today," says Devesh, who works as a regional business manager.
Two kids later, love has matured into respect, and although the time they get together has dipped given everyone's schedules, he says they still ensure Friday is family time, and he and his wife slip in a date once in a while. "I don't know about sparks, but when I travel for work - which I do 15-20 days a month - I know I can't start or end my day without talking to her."
The couple has learnt to listen more over the years, especially when they argue. "We take it in turns to talk, because we promised each other to listen more. With that kind of respect, things settle down fast. But if things cannot be so easily resolved, we get a third-party, a family member we mutually respect, to help us see sense. Those are the times when we gain wisdom, and see the situation from an alternate perspective."
If there's any advice he can offer other couples, it's to not try and control or impose your own views on your partner. "As I matured, I understood that our differences weren't a bad thing," says Devesh. "Relationships go well when both sides understand that instead of complaining about expectations not being met, we do our best to meet the other where they are."
Surprise! It's a sweet serenade
You never know who you're going to fall in love with - and that's as true for Florian and Alexandria Akinbiyi as it has been for anyone. The two met in Germany in 2010, but really became friends after Alexandria transferred to Dubai, the city that Flo - as he's better known - had relocated to months before her. He helped her settle in, they became friends, and got to dating a short while later.
To propose, Flo pulled out all the stops, even taking singing lessons and roping in her colleague. "The Atlantis has a restaurant with a piano and allowed me to come in 30 minutes before they opened doors for service," he narrates. "I got Ale's colleague to send her there on the pretext of an important business meeting. Naturally, when she arrived, the place was empty, save for a mutual friend on the piano. She did not think too much of this, as he often plays at gigs around town, but then I came out and began singing." She was shocked, he finishes, but thankfully, recovered enough to say yes!
The pair got married in 2015 in a vineyard in the north of Italy, where Alexandria is from. And since both of them have been helping organise events for many years, there was no need for a wedding planner either. Now a father, Flo tells of the perfect case of serendipity with which their stars seemed to collide. "Apparently, she'd always wanted to marry a Bavarian guy with an international background," says the 39-year-old, who is part-German, part-Nigerian. "As for me, I discovered a list I'd written around 2009 of the kind of qualities I was looking for in a partner, and was so surprised to see how many of those attributes I'd found in her!"
Despite Italy and Germany being a few hours apart, and their respective regions sharing many similarities, the couple had a lot to learn from each other. "Italians have a huge appreciation for food and fashion. That was definitely something I, as a German, had to learn. My wife helped me understand the value of fashion, how much it impacts how people perceive you, and how to use fashion to my advantage," he reveals.
For his part, Flo - who is a wedding celebrant himself - believes in 'till death do us part'. "If you get married, it's for life," he states. "You have to stick together and work your stuff out. Our society has become so independent, that it makes it easy to say, 'I can continue by myself'. But I think, like my wife always says, you should never forget why you fell in love with each other in the first place. Success in marriage involves falling in love with the same person every day."
Does he think Valentine's Day is overrated? "Not really; it's great to have a reminder of love on the calendar. But I'd also say, every day should be Valentine's Day. Keep the spark alive by doing small, kind gestures for each other: leave little notes around the house, or buy her flowers. Be forgiving. Get each other little gifts. Make it your mission to bring each other joy."