Bill and Maureen Cunningham had a long distance relationship in a very different but not very distant time: the 1970s.
Bill in America and Maureen in England, the pair wrote daily letters to each other during their two-year dating period. Before they got married in 1972, they had only spent five or six weeks together and made a handful of phone calls total. In fact, phone calls were quite expensive, so they would record messages on cassette tapes and send them back and forth in the five-day trek across the pond.
Nearly 45 years later, the couple is still married and resides in Columbus.
Bill and Maureen met on a boat in the Bay of Naples in Italy in 1970. Bill was going to seminary school in Rome at the time, and Maureen was working in Switzerland. They found themselves staying in the same hotel that evening.
Conversation started when Maureen and her friends heard Bill and his friends talking about American football, as opposed to soccer.
“Maureen and her friends were behind us and they were making fun of us because they said ‘That’s not real football,’” Bill says.
The guys offered to carry the ladies’ luggage before realizing it was an entirely uphill trek to the hotel. They followed through anyway.
Bill and Maureen became friends that day, and their relationship grew through letters they started writing to each other.
The couple agreed that friendship is an important basis for a romantic relationship.
“One strength I see is that we became friends before we became lovers,” Maureen says. “I think being a friend is so important. We developed that friendship and the relationship then grew. So even through some hard times we’ve still been friends.”
But even as feelings grow for your boyfriend or girlfriend, Maureen says you have to keep your friends close.
“I think it’s important to still remember you friends,” she said. “Some people, when they start dating, every other relationship is cut off. You need that support so if things do not end well, you still have that support to go back to.”
Moving around and finding home
Once they got married, job promotions caused them to move multiple times around the country: in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Indiana and eventually to Columbus.
“When I first moved from England, it was very hard, but we came to realize that home was us. It didn’t matter whether we were here, in England, in Indianapolis, home was us,” Maureen says.
Bill ended up becoming a youth minister for 23 years, and he and Maureen are both active in youth ministry. The pair now attends the Newman Center near Ohio State’s campus.
“Whenever we moved, one of the places we always found community was at the parish we joined… That’s where we would make friends,” he says.
While they never had children of their own, Bill and Maureen have found family through the youth they worked with at church.
“It’s really cool because kids that were part of the group when Bill first took the job are now married with kids of their own,” Maureen says. “So we’ve been to weddings and baptisms, college graduation parties, and they still keep in touch.”
Words of Wisdom
In their 45 years together, the couple has definitely learned a few things along the way.
“There will be times when staying connected to somebody has to be a conscious decision,” Bill says. “It may not feel good, but you decide in spite of everything to make a commitment to see this through. Otherwise, you’re not going to get to 45 years.”
Maureen says it’s important to have mutual respect within a relationship, and trying to change your significant other will only lead to frustration.
“Know that the person you’re going to marry, you’re not going to be able to change them. That’s just who they are,” she says.
The couple said they had hoped to travel more in retirement, but didn’t get to do so due to money and health reasons.
“I think you have to be flexible,” Maureen says. “Things aren’t always going to go your way. You have to be flexible and think of the other person. And just be flexible in the direction your life takes. It may not always be perfect the way you planned it out.”
Take your time
Bill and Maureen didn’t get married until their late 20’s and would advise young people not to jump into relationships before they’re ready.
“At some point, if this is the person where you have more yeses than you do no’s, you’ve got to jump off the stage to make a commitment to make it happen,” Bill says. “And hopefully the commitment is mutual.”
Maureen added, “And when you do that, you have to know that it’s not going to be perfect, but it’s going to be good.”