On my frequent way home from work, I have often looked indifferently at the fire station that I see when I am nearing the bus stop. But after interviewing Nay Blessie, that fire station now serves to remind me that true love can ignite even in the humblest and unromantic places. Life has handed me a valuable lesson as I write this post: Never write off the mundane places and activities on earth as unlikely venues where you can meet the right person. Love can begin anywhere. In the case of Nanay Blessie and Tito Neil, it all began in a fire fighting activity.
Who knew that this encounter at the fire station will eventually lead to a lovely church wedding at Bamboo Organ Church in Las Pinas? The synergistic romance of this couple– a writer/editor mother and a fulltime father– continues to sail through life’s storms strongly since their civil (July 7, 2002) and church (December 26, 2002) wedding.
Now close to their marriage’s ninth year mark, they continue to sharpen each other’s saw as they raise their three children: Josh, EJ, and Bea. And this partnership also helps them effectively manage their business, Blackie’s Bed and Breakfast, the most affordable dog boarding facility in the country. Nay Blessie generously shares their daily grind: “Today, I run one main business (the writing group) and one minor business (the dog boarding facility). Neil helps with those in any way he can: drives me to interviews, deposits checks, picks up the doggie clients, bathes and feeds them, etc. He’s also in charge of the household duties. He owns the kitchen (he won’t eat my cooking). He does the marketing and laundry, cleans the house, and bathes the kids.”
“Fire-st” things First
She likes books, and he likes guns. She is an introvert, and he is an extrovert. But in the midst of those personality differences, there were still some similarities. Both are now in their thirties, with a four-year age gap. Both grew up as the eldest in their respective families. Interestingly, both of them were nursing a broken heart when they met. Nay Blessie volunteered as lieutenant for a fire group in Binondo. Tito Neil, on the other hand, was an EMT who was assigned to equip members of Nay Blessie’s team with first responder skills.
Except from the expected sparks from literal fire emergencies they were preparing for, there were no initial sparks flying between them. Nay Blessie was, at the time, reeling from the aftermath of a disastrous relationship with her first boyfriend. “I was in a relationship that was falling apart. I was too busy staring into space wondering if getting hit by a truck would create a bigger pain than the one I was feeling at that time.”
Her first impression of Tito Neil was that he was “handsome, but too full of himself.” But Tito Neil did not see her in that way. “He told a common friend he liked me… Then, he called me and asked, “If I were to court you, would I have a chance?” I told him he would never know unless he tried!” And try, he did!
Flames of Courtship
They became an official couple when she said yes to him as he echoed the hero of a romantic movie that they were watching. Their journey as a couple is not always movie-like, but they did have their memorable moments: long talks by the bay near CCP, going to the mall together (possibly HHWW-ing), and hanging out at Nay Blessie’s home.
While finances are really a major consideration, Nay Blessie provided me with a rich, alternative perspective: “His weakness was his strength: because he never had a steady job, he had a lot of time for me, and I loved that…He stayed a lot at my house and slept at my aunt’s house next door. She liked having him because he would cook for us and she hated to cook.”
Modern-day polls reveal that many Filipina women prefer a man who is rich and stable for a husband. I frankly have this personal preference of financial stability as well. Had this been a major factor for Nay Blessie at the time of their courtship, perhaps there will be no love story for me to tell today. Understandably, Nay Blessie’s family and friends were worried about their future stability: “They did not approve of him at first, but they knew better than to give me advice, I’d never been known to take it LOL.”
At one point, Nay Blessie actually thought of giving up on this relationship, but Tito Neil did not allow her to do so: “I tried to break up with him but he said he would kill himself :-P”
I realized that committing one’s self successfully was not really a matter of material stability; it bordered more on acting on the mutual, sturdy, and unbreakable will to make things work regardless of the given circumstances. It was not easy for them, certainly, but it was possible because they were both willing to stick around and work it out. And all those initial worries of not having enough financially got solved eventually with their persistent efforts in overcoming life’s hurdles together.
Firefighter Style Wedding
They used the element of speed to get hitched against all odds, in the same way that firefighters harness the element of speed in avoiding increased casualties during a fire emergency. They were in love but financially insolvent, which was one of the concerns that caused their friends and family to disapprove of their tying the knot. They continue to have arguments over financial issues now, but they often resolve it simply by making more money.
But since both are headstrong in taking their relationship to the next level, they made secret arrangements with a judge and took their families by shock.
The day before the civil wedding, Nay Blessie just casually called her mom at the office and asked her to go on leave the next day to witness the marriage. And they were married at the judge’s sala the next day, witnessed by Nay Blessie’s mom, one ninong, and one ninang. She fondly recalls: “Two weeks after that, he finally found the courage to tell his parents they had a daughter-in-law. His parents arranged a very pretty, very conventional church wedding immediately.”
Fruits of Time-Tested Love
The common gripes I have heard and seen in the lives of many married couples involve the death of the magic of courtship after the honeymoon stage and the marital problems that ensue from the day-to-day frictions of being together. But this has not been Nay Blessie and Tito Neil’s experience. “I am more kilig with him today than I was when we first met… The more kids we have, the more in love with him I get.”
Likewise, Tito Neil has warmed up to the idea of PDA now, when during courtship he disliked it. But do not be deceived into thinking that their relationship is smooth sailing 24/7. For their arguments, she has this to say: “Oh, we shout! Then we stop talking. Then, of course, he apologizes (because I’m never wrong.)”
There is one vital issue that they do agree on: how to raise the kids. They are solidly in favor of home schooling their kids and raising them in a fairly strict environment.
As for keeping the fire of love burning, they take advantage of expressing love in the little things: “A simple hug three times a day can make a lot of difference…When we know the other loves us, we can forgive a lot of other things, and we don’t make mountains out of molehills.”
Read the continuation in Part 2: The Firefighting Strategy to Relationship Success