W

hen my sisters and I were little, my mom read us a book called I Love You the Purplest. The plot follows two young boys who ask their mother the ultimate question: “Who do you love best?” She responds that she loves one the bluest and the other the reddest.

The message of the book was that love comes in different colors, or sometimes flavors or textures or sizes. There are thousands of ways it can manifest. It’s not a matter of “best,” and it doesn’t fit inside a one-size-fits-all box. However, the stereotypical romantic version, wherein two people meet and fall in love, has been hyped by popular culture to the point of becoming formulaic and feeling, at times, exclusionary of other types or pathways.

To conclude “Love Month” at Man Repeller, we’re shining a spotlight on those other types and pathways, from romantic love that blossomed in unique circumstances to sibling love, filial love and even animal love. The stories couldn’t be more different, but the common threads that tie them together are manifold — grace, sacrifice and selflessness, among others…but I don’t want to give too much away. Enjoy five unconventional love stories below, and share yours in the comment section if you have one.


The Story of an Arranged Marriage in Pakistan

As told by Rakhshana Malik, a 59-year-old retiree living in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

Tell me about your relationship with your husband, from when it started to now.

In 1984, Islamabad (the capital of Pakistan) was a pretty tight-knit community, so word got around that my mom wanted to find me a husband and that there was a family that was coming to see me. This was how marriages were arranged back in the day, and oftentimes even now: The two families meet one another beforehand — usually the potential groom’s side of the family comes over to the bride’s house. They sit for some tea and assess one another.

My twin sister’s husband was in town, so my mother asked him to join us for the meeting. He was not impressed with the suitor’s family, and in hindsight, I suspect this critique was the groundwork for his ulterior agenda: setting me up with his younger brother. He confirmed that his brother fulfilled the two criteria I was looking for in a husband at that time: 1. He was tall, and 2. He lived in America. If I married him, I would be reunited with my sister, who had married six years before and moved to the United States, so that was a bonus.

My mother was feeling a bit apprehensive. After my father died, it was just the two of us for a long time, because both of my sisters married very young and my brother was off at school. So it wasn’t easy making this decision. However, my future mother-in-law was absolutely sold on the idea and was adamant that the marriage take place. She came over one day, in all her confident and amazing glory, and said, “This is happening, even if I have to be the one to put the ring on her finger.” She actually ended up following through on her promise, because it was too expensive for my future husband to fly from the States to Pakistan for our engagement party.

I wasn’t bothered by the fact that I didn’t meet him until the day before the wedding.

All of this took place in September 1984. In October, my husband-to-be sent me a card with a note inside saying I was the best thing that had ever happened to him. We’d still never spoken a word to each other. In December, we were married.

I wasn’t bothered by the fact that I didn’t meet him until the day before the wedding. If I’d had to meet him before that, I would have been wracked with nerves. In those days, it wasn’t uncommon for spouses to speak to each other for the first time after their religious wedding had taken place — sometimes over the phone if they were living on different continents. I’d seen one photo of Shaukat, my husband, and that was all I needed. I was more than ready to marry the tall guy who lived in America [laughs].

We met for the first time after signing the Muslim wedding contract (Nikkah) in separate rooms, so I literally saw him for the first time when we were already husband and wife. He came into the room and I was having mehndi (henna) put on me for our mehndi ceremony (a pre-wedding festivity of song, dance and general merriment) later that night. He said hello, and I opted not to answer. I was very shy, very insecure, and I wasn’t ready to see him yet — I didn’t even have makeup on.

Even though we had never met, I was already in love with him. I fell in love the moment I got his card telling me I was the best thing that had ever happened to him. This is the first time I’ve ever admitted that.

At our wedding, I was conscious of him looking at me, but I can’t remember if we spoke to each other at all that entire day. We had our first conversation later that night, and I think our friendship developed a little more every day ever since, as it does with a lot of arranged marriages. You go into it knowing this is the person you will be with, and if you’re lucky, you get a partnership out of it. From the beginning, Shaukat was always nice, funny, weird and spontaneous, and he invited me into his life. There was never a dull moment.

Why is your story a love story? What have you learned from it?

Our story is a love story because it’s also a story of friendship, partnership, standing by one another, forgiveness and growing up. It’s a love story because we don’t hate each other all the time [laughs]. And even though it’s not a common story, particularly in the West where we settled and raised our children, it’s a story that relates to millions just a few continents away.

I learned that love is patience. You have to have patience for a relationship to develop. You can’t be judgmental and react to things always. Love deserves time. Love is being there for each other, supporting one another — and, though it elicits groans — being a solid and reliable friend.

What’s the weirdest/funniest/most memorable thing you’ve ever done for each other?

It’s hard to narrow one thing down, because he has always kept me laughing. My husband is not as religious as I am, and one day, to prove his chops, he started reciting some prayers and butchered them and we laughed and laughed until we cried. But he did not give up.

We’ve been married for nearly 34 years and, in those years, the number of times we’ve experienced belly-aching tears of laughter together are countless.

If you could write a one-sentence love letter to your spouse, what would you say?

“Thank you.” That’s good enough. He will know what it means!

What do you wish you knew when you first met that you know now?

I don’t know if I wish I had known this before, but sometimes he can be very, very annoying by not being a good listener. On a more positive note, it was quite a relief finding out how kind he truly is.


The Story of a Boyfriend Turned Caretaker

As told by Becca Refford, a 24-year-old web designer living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Tell me about your relationship with your boyfriend, from when it started to now?

Bryan and I both live in a Philly neighborhood full of dive-y, grandfathered-in smoking bars, patronized by old Italian South Philly dudes who toke cigars and call you “angel face.” I met Bryan at my favorite of these haunts through the bartender, with whom I actually had a short-lived fling. Bryan was his best bud. One night, after last call, we all stumbled back to the bartender’s house. He slammed a cheesesteak and fell asleep, but Bryan and I stayed up for hours on the front porch talking. That’s when we hit it off. Boy, was the bartender surprised when, a few weeks later, Bryan and I sat down at his bar as a new couple.

Fast forward one month: I was biking to a Planned Parenthood appointment. A delivery truck took a sharp right into the bike lane, knocked me off my bike and crunched over my lower body. The truck tires shattered my hips, ribs and foot, leaving me crumpled on the road. I was lucid enough to remember it all — the blasé young driver who got out of the truck and told me he thought he had hit a curb (the “curb” was me), the sweet old South Philly dude who simply held my hand and didn’t say much else, and the flurry of bystanders, police, surgeons and doctors who swam in and out of my vision from the scene of my accident all the way to the trauma unit.

One state over, Bryan was at work, completely unaware that his role in our relationship was about to shift from boyfriend to caretaker.

Why is your story a love story? What have you learned from it?

The way that Bryan jumped right in and cared for me during such a scary time was so selfless and tender and gentle that I start to cry a little every time I consider the magnitude of it. He didn’t think twice.

He slept multiple nights in a row next to my hospital bed on those awful chairs, a hand-hold’s distance away for when my pain got bad.

Bear in mind, we were only one month into a new relationship, so things escalated quickly: We went from doing “new couple” things like cooking dinners and seeing movies to him changing my bedpans and giving me sponge baths. It didn’t seem to phase him one bit. In a situation that would have certainly weeded out less-dedicated suitors, he stuck around.

He slept multiple nights in a row next to my hospital bed on those awful chairs, a hand-hold’s distance away for when my pain got bad. He snuck in my favorite snacks from the outside world to spare me from hospital food. He cooked warm meals for my family and me, transporting precarious stacks of Tupperware by bike to the hospital. He surprised me with pretty nail polish, sat at the foot of my bed and painted my toenails because I couldn’t sit up to do it myself.

By doing all these things so graciously, he taught me a Really Big Thing about love: The true kind is completely, utterly, entirely selfless. I mean, the guy carried pans filled with my pee without complaint for weeks! That’s love.

What’s the weirdest/funniest/most memorable thing you’ve ever done for each other?

The most memorable thing he’s done for me was when I had to head back home to my parents’ house in the suburbs for recovery. I was missing Philly like crazy, so on Valentine’s Day, he biked around the city and took photos of all of our special places — favorite bars, restaurants where we had first dates, our apartments. To anyone else, they would have looked like a random, meaningless collection of shots, but they meant everything to us. He printed them out and brought them to me, and when I felt homesick for my city, I flipped through them.

If you could write a one-sentence love letter to your boyfriend, what would you say?

Let’s keep snacking, biking, traveling, giggling, eating Spam, having delicious sex and taking horribly unflattering photos of each other until we’re two little old people.

What do you wish you knew when you first met that you know now?

I wish I had known how dedicated he is…maybe without having to get squashed by a truck first.


The Story of a Girl and a Dog Who Saved Each Other

As told by Irene Vasiliou, a 26-year-old advertising project coordinator living in Rockville Centre, New York.

Tell me about your relationship with your dog, from when it started to now?

The summer before my senior year of high school, my family and I were shattered by the death of my little brother, lost to an illness we didn’t understand. In less than a month’s time, he had gone from “A” student, athlete, goofball to a comatose blob I couldn’t even recognize.

After everything that happened, my last year of high school seemed meaningless. I was going to class, getting good grades, but my heart wasn’t there. Most of my days were spent in art rooms avoiding classes I didn’t want to go to and people I didn’t want to see. “That’s his sister,” students would not-so-subtly whisper as they passed me in the hallways, their expressions a mix of pity and curiosity.

My brother and I were opposites — not polar, but close enough. He had more friends than I could count, while I kept to myself and had a small group of trusted companions. He was a jock; I was an art nerd. He dressed in lacrosse shorts; I wore black. After I lost him, I tried to take on some of his traits. He was the kind of person who always volunteered for stuff at our school, so I started becoming more involved in extracurriculars.

I was taken aback by what I saw: a dirty, forlorn creature with pain written across her face.

One afternoon, when my mom was driving to pick me up from our school field day, she spotted a small, scared little dog running across one of the busiest streets in town. She immediately pulled over and got out of her car. The dog stopped in its tracks and stared up at her.

When my mom pulled up and I got into the car, I was taken aback by what I saw: a dirty, forlorn creature with pain written across her face. We drove home and I carried her into our house. She looked to be about a year old, but she didn’t know any commands, wasn’t house-trained, wasn’t spayed and was clearly petrified at the sight of us. It took time to coax her out from underneath the table that she hid under as soon as we walked in the door. Once she emerged, I realized I could count her ribs. She reluctantly took some food from my hands…and from there, our journey began.

We named her Grema (the Greek word for “cream”) because she looked like she was dipped in it. Every day she spent in our home presented a new struggle that often ended in tears. Her mishaps ranged from ruining my favorite pair of shoes beyond repair to leaving disgusting, anxious messes that took hours to clean up. Little things became huge victories, like when she would crawl into my lap to let me pet her without baring her teeth. At first, we said we would put her up for adoption, but little by little, we all came to realize this strange creature wasn’t going anywhere. Even my father who was adamantly against even nursing her back to health began to come home asking for his “little girl” — and he wasn’t talking about me.

Why is this story a love story?

Grema and I formed a special bond. She began sleeping in my bed and following me all around the house. Having her next to me quelled my anxiety and helped me come to terms with my depression. When I was sad, she was there, cuddling with me on the couch. When I was angry, we would go for long walks to block out the rest of the world. She taught me that love doesn’t just happen to you — it changes you. As she healed, so did I.

What’s the weirdest/funniest/most memorable thing you’ve ever done for each other?

I can’t count the number of preposterous things I’ve done for Grema, including spending two hours cleaning up diarrhea that she managed to smear on the wall and a bookcase (I was gone for an hour).

Now that she’s older, she requires a lot of care. She has a compounded disc in her spine that makes it difficult for her to get around, so I have become her extra set of legs. I take her in and out of the house in my arms when she needs to go out, lift her onto the couch and even carry her around in a backpack. I pulled out her rotten teeth, a product of abuse and neglect she suffered in her previous home, and took days off from work to care for her. If there’s anything she needs, I’m right there to give it. I never want her to feel unloved again.

I buy her clothes and accessories. I know a lot of people pretend their dogs love clothes, but mine sincerely does. If she sees a piece of clothing that’s intended for her, she starts barking and pacing with excitement. She tries to put her clothes on by herself, sticking her head through one of the holes and trying to work in her little legs.

Grema’s personality is her gift to me. She has the funniest sense of humor and actually snort-laughs with perfect comedic timing. She tells me stories through reenactment and barks when something big happens to her. And, although she’s only 20 pounds, she tries to protect me from anything and everything.

If you could write a one-sentence love letter to your dog, what would you say?

Thank you for changing me and for bringing light back into my life. I love you.

What do you wish you knew when you first met that you know now?

Love is everything. It’s the reason to get up in the morning. I never realized the power of love to motivate me and get me through the day.


The Story of an Adopted Daughter’s Search for Her Biological Parents

As told by Gayle Martin, a 53-year-old teacher living in Rochester, Michigan.

Tell me about your relationship with your biological father?

The backstory is long and fraught. It begins in 1964 in Flint, Michigan, where my 14-year-old biological dad and 15-year-old biological mom met and fell in love. For all of the typical reasons — broken marriages, alcohol abuse — they were not very supervised and had time on their hands, which is how I was conceived. They stayed together through my mother’s pregnancy, even when she was sent away to Detroit to a home for unwed mothers run by the Catholic church. My father would call her every morning before he went to school — and that’s how he found out I was born on January 18, 1965.

My mother decided to give me up for adoption because, as she told me, she didn’t want me growing up in the same environment she did. I know that my maternal grandmother was adamantly against the adoption and wanted her to keep me. My mother and her older half-brother had to take my grandmother to court in order to revoke her parental rights because she wouldn’t sign the adoption papers. My mother was put in the custody of her half-brother and his wife, and it was her brother who signed the adoption papers. According to my mother — who was unconscious at the time, so who knows? — my grandmother tried to burst into the delivery room to take me when I was born. I can only assume she was fought off by the nuns or papal police. This caused a huge rift in their relationship. I remember my biological mom telling me that her mother never hugged her again after the adoption.

The first thing I saw on the first page was the sentence that told me my father’s name.

I was adopted by my adoptive mom and dad, who also lived in Flint. Naturally, I always wondered about my biological parents — mostly my mother, because I assumed my father was out of the picture. When I was in college, I tentatively inquired with the state of Michigan about how I could go about finding my biological parents. But because I didn’t even have an actual birth certificate, just a copy with my adopted parents’ names on it, I was told there was little to no hope of getting more information.

After I met my husband and we decided we wanted to start a family, I inquired again. This time I was told I could petition the state to release non-identifying information, such as any relevant medical history. I filled out some forms and hoped for the best. A couple months later, I found a large manila envelope from the state in our mailbox. I remember opening it as I walked back to our condo, and the first thing I saw on the first page was the sentence that told me my father’s name.

I learned later that my father became a social worker — he actually worked in protective services and also managed adoptions for a time — so he was aware when adoption laws loosened in the 1980s and filled out the requisite paperwork that would allow his name and address to be released to me if I ever asked. I immediately wrote to him at the listed address, which was 10 years old, sending along a bunch of pictures of me from the time I was an infant through my wedding pictures. I didn’t hear back.

My father would later tell me that when he opened the letter and saw my pictures, he “had to go lie down.” He said he didn’t write back because he couldn’t. It was just too much for him to process.

Meanwhile, I wrote another letter. My husband and I drove to Flint and I made my husband get out and put it in the mailbox on the porch of the house at the address indicated in the state paperwork. A few days later, I came home at night from a class I was taking and my husband sat me down and told me my father called. He hadn’t left a number but said he would call back the next afternoon.

He called back as promised, and we agreed to meet at a restaurant halfway between our homes that weekend. I don’t remember much about the meeting, but I do remember him saying he had lost touch with my mother, Etta, and didn’t know where she was.

My father and I continued meeting up every few weeks, but mostly we wrote letters. We wrote them almost every day, sometimes twice a day; I still have all the letters. And it was in one of these that he first told me he loved me.

Meanwhile, a few months after I met my dad, he was reading the newspaper and saw an obituary for someone in Etta’s family. So, he went to the funeral and got Etta’s number from her half-brother. That’s how I ended up getting in touch with my biological mother. She was living in California, so I didn’t have nearly as much contact with her as I did with my father for the first several years, but she did manage to visit me in the spring of 1992. I met her for the first time at a Burger King in Fenton, Michigan. As with my dad, I don’t remember what we talked about. It didn’t really matter.

Why is your story a love story? What have you learned from it?

Obviously, this is not really a romantic love story. However, the beginning of my relationship with my biological father felt weirdly and uncomfortably like an infatuation. After I had my own children, I realized this feeling wasn’t so different from how parents fall in love with children all the time. It just felt weird because we were both adults.

I suppose what I learned about love — the unshakeable, unconditional kind — is that it is indistinguishable from grace. This was particularly evident when my biological mother met my adoptive mother, and the first thing they did was thank each other. Standing there, I had never felt so loved and so insignificant at the same time. Out of all of the neglected and unloved children in the world, I couldn’t believe how I had gotten so lucky to have so many people love me so unselfishly. As a mom myself, I couldn’t fathom the grace of these two women, complete strangers to each other, swallowing pride and jealousy and self-doubt to express their mutual gratitude.

What’s the most memorable thing you’ve ever done for each other?

My dad and I both write poetry, so in our early letters to each other, we used to write poetry back and forth. I don’t think we ever wrote any specifically for each other, but he did write several for my son and my daughter. On the first birthday I celebrated after we met, he gave me a card and slipped in a copy of William Butler Yeats’ poem, “When You Are Old.” It’s now my favorite.

If you could write your biological father a love letter, what would you say?

Well, I have written my biological father a love letter — many of them, as a matter of fact. After 26 years, he’d probably make fun of me if I tried to write one now. We don’t share sentimental genes, apparently.

What do you wish you knew when you first met that you know now?

This is a hard one. In one of the early letters he wrote to me, my dad predicted that our relationship would “normalize” and we would end up being just like any other father and daughter who only spoke occasionally over the phone and saw each other on holidays. I didn’t believe him at the time — I thought we would always remain infatuated — but he was right. It isn’t that we aren’t close anymore, it’s just that life happened. He has three other daughters (my half-sisters) and they all have children now (a lot of children), so he’s busy with them and taking care of his wife who had a stroke a few years ago. I got busy with my own kids’ lives and taking care of my adoptive mom and dad as they got older.

I can’t say I wish I had appreciated all the time we spent together when we first met, because I do think I appreciated it, and I’m not even sure I wish the intense emotion that defined those early years had lasted longer than it did. It was exhilarating but exhausting. However, I do feel “a little sadly,” as the Yeats poem says, that it’s all distant now. I wish I would have known it eventually would be. Or, maybe I don’t.


The Story of Triplet Siblings Learning to Live as a Unit

As told by Meggie Copeland, a 23-year-old fashion editor and freelance wardrobe stylist living in Austin, Texas.

Tell me about your relationship with your siblings, from childhood to now?

There were several years in high school when we could barely be in the same room together. I think that friction stemmed from the fact that we were constantly seen as a package deal. We were always grouped together, and it denied us a sense of individuality, something most adolescents crave. It was hard to express our unique selves sometimes, even though we were completely different: I was the outspoken rebel, Erin was the soft-spoken sweetheart — still is, always will be — and John was the witty brains (not to mention the boy).

It’s hard to believe we struggled to live under the same roof at one point.

We grew up in a small town where my father was the pastor. It was hard to go through puberty in such a religious bubble. Even simple “coming of age” chats with our parents didn’t really work out the way they should have, and we were so set on being our own people that we didn’t dare confide in each other.

Now we comfortably talk about all the “weird” stuff. No topic is off-limits. At this point, we’ve had several important years to ourselves: living on our own, traveling, new lovers, different friend groups, etc. As time passed, we were able to embrace our individualities, which ultimately helped us embrace our similarities — the way we laugh, loud and unforgiving; our identical noses; the weird faces we each make when there is no appropriate vocal response; our worldly views; and our shitty, nostalgic jokes from childhood that still stick to this day.

It’s hard to believe we struggled to live under the same roof at one point. Our friendship has grown to be my most cherished relationship. My happiest times are with my sister and brother. Our formative years, though tough and unrelenting, helped mold us and eventually brought us closer together.

Why is your story a love story? What have you learned from it?

My sister and brother have taught me more about myself — and about love — than anyone I’ve ever known. The way I long for their laughter and presence if they’re not within a 100-mile radius is a completely unique sensation. My relationship with them has introduced me to every emotion on the spectrum.

Love is a funny thing. It’s indefinable, indescribable and unquantifiable. It surpasses tears of sadness and anger, teenage angst and jealousy. When it comes to love, I’m spoiled. I’ve been given two people to adore and enjoy forever, through every shared birthday, every heartache and every tear.

What are some of the most memorable things you’ve done for each other?

Most of our teenage years we spent tattling on each other, but one time John and I banded together to ride the laundry shoot from the second story of our house down to the basement. Despite our mother’s concern, we were totally okay, and I love the bravery and adventurous spirit we shared in that moment.

Erin and I both have tattoos that symbolize something about our triplet relationship. Erin has three succulents on her foot, each completely different, but still uniform in nature. I have a cartoon owl John once doodled and sent to us over Snapchat while he was traveling last semester, inked alongside the pun he wrote with it: “Owl protect you.”

If you could write a one-sentence love letter to each of your siblings, what would you say?

To the two people I cherish most, who keep me forever laughing, may we take life’s jokes and spit ‘em back at her together, always.

Erin, you’ll never know the extent of my true adoration for your beautiful, strong soul and wild interior design skills.

John, I love you always. Your comical wit and contagious laughter will always make my heart sing.

Can you think of a time your relationship as siblings was stretched or tested?

College presented the first opportunity for us each to choose our own paths, and there was a long period in our freshman year when we didn’t see or talk to each other. I remember going to an event at John’s school, and some of his friends didn’t even know he was a triplet.

Illustrations by Ana Leovy

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