Kirsten Geraldine Esteban and Edabuen Darielle Untalan

Fairy tales usually start with a “Once upon a time,” filled with magic, a smooth-sailing story, and love at first sight. Because of this, modern-day lovers believe that love is always filled with romance and happy chapters. Immediately, love blossomed between the two as more heartfelt conversations and subtle touches were exchanged. However, that seemingly magical scenario was not the case for the couples Liria and Bernie Centeno, and Josephine and Dennis Macapagal.

Although their story is unlike the usual fairytale depictions of a relationship, these two couples testify that although love is not all sunshine and rainbows, every storm they face together is worth it. This Valentine’s Day, let us unfold the chapters in the story of these pairs of lovers and witness their love so pure and bond as strong as their bond as old as time.

Chapter One: Love at First Sight

Once upon a time, a young man caught her attention when Liria was working at a canteen after finishing high school. One might say that “Love at first sight” does not exist, but that isn’t true for Liria and Bernie Centeno, who, unlike Cinderella and Snow White, took the time to fall for the hands of romance. During her younger years, Liria wasn’t well-off, so she decided to work at the carinderia after graduating from High School as she didn’t have money to go to college. On the other hand, Bernie was described as good-looking and charismatic, a typical character from a romance novel, if you might ask.

Back then, she knew about the rumors of Bernie as someone with money, and she had always dreamed of marrying someone financially capable of sweeping her off the ground. She longed for a comfortable lifestyle and didn’t want her future husband to be someone who was drinking around.

“Basta isip ko mapera. Ayoko ng lasing-lasing, gusto ko yung may pera. Di ako nakapag-college kase wala akong pera. Gusto ko yung mabibigyan ako ng maginhawang buhay,” Liria said.

On the other hand, Bernie was a heartthrob known to have multiple experiences in romance. When they met, he was already waiting for marriage with his fiancé. Everything was set, from the wedding outfits to the theme and other marriage materials. He is a people person who can connect with everyone at ease, which made his supposed in-laws like him very much. However, for personal reasons, Bernie broke up with his fiancé, leading him to meet Liria.

Once the heartthrob met the one, he never looked for anyone else. For months, Bernie frequented the carinderia where Liria worked, visiting and complimenting her whenever he came around.

“Parang gumaganda ka yata,” was the line he often used in catching her attention. People around him even encouraged him to court her, as according to them, she has the trait that could assure him that their relationship would be for richer or poorer. Bernie eventually proposed to Liria with the wedding ring, supposedly for his previous girlfriend The two of them eloped after without their family or friends’ knowledge. While they didn’t go through the traditional Filipino courtship or ‘harana’, their marriage lasted through the test of time.

Arguments and challenges cannot be avoided for almost 50 years of being together since they are common in a relationship. Bernie described Liria as someone who talked a lot, and she sometimes found him hot-headed. They often bickered a lot, ignoring each other until one gave in. It even came to a point where Liria would refrain from talking and leave the task to Bernie. But as their five children grew older, both of them learned how to share the responsibilities in the house and the fields.

They said that only some are given the same opportunity to last that long. Some couples separated at a young age, while others may experience the unfortunate passing of their other half. Thus, both of them are grateful that they will be celebrating their golden anniversary together.

“Yung iba 'di umaabot nang ganiyan [katagal], [kaya] mag-pray ka na la'ng kay God na makarating ka nang ganon,” Bernie stated.

Indeed, their love may not be similar to a fairy tale, but like other people’s concept of love, patience, sacrifice, and devotion towards each other makes a bond strong.

“Patience, give and take, understand [each other],” was Bernie Centeno’s advice regarding maintaining a long-lasting relationship.

Even their children seconded their parents’ advice, saying that years of watching their parents’ dynamic, “Dapat sa relationship both mapagbigay at understanding, lalo na 'yung weakness ng bawat isa, dapat ikaw 'yung sandalan niya at ikaw 'yung inspiration niya para mag-go,” their daughter, Maureen Esteban seconded.

Chapter Two: The Circus of Love

In a land far away, another couple started their tale, yet unlike the usual fairy tales where the couple’s story takes the world as center stage, the love shared by Josie and Dennis Macapagal bloomed in a corner of a classroom. It was a kind of love that took time to nurture and might go unnoticeable in the eye of an unassuming bystander. Still, that space where they first developed feelings served as a solid foundation for their relationship that can be a lesson for others.

According to Josie Macapagal, she first met Dennis Macapagal at Holy Spirit Child Development Center, where she worked as a teacher while Dennis was an illustrator.  However, their world did not slow down, nor did they feel an instant attraction.  It was a gradual process from being colleagues, then to friends, and eventually, into something more. Josie said that Dennis is the total opposite of her ideal man, yet as time goes by, and through how they show concern for each other, they realize that they are more than friends.

Now, after more than two decades of marriage, their love has grown more vital than ever. Still, Josie narrated that the two also experience hardships in a relationship. Still, with the two of them participating in resolving it, she believes it’s a way for them to grow their love for each other.

“We do encounter marital problems, but those problems strengthen us more as husband and wife,” she added.

Every problem they encountered taught them valuable life lessons and helped them navigate their relationship better. Moreover, they emphasized that couples have to experience pain sometimes as it is a part of learning and growing in a relationship. They also highlighted the importance of taking things slow and having proper communication. They said that sometimes, couples must step back and “procrastinate if needed,” especially in emotional situations, to avoid arguments and hurting each other's feelings.

Therefore, when asked about a word to describe their relationship, they answered, “Circus.” There is a lot of noise, challenges, and struggles, but at the end of the day, they can still see fulfillment, joy, and love. In that love they call circus, they found each other—a partner who would stick with them as they go through all the unexpected twists and turns of life, starting from the euphoria of falling in love to navigating conflicts and misunderstandings.

Finale: A Happily Ever After

Every fairytale is not just about happily ever after, as there is always a lesson to be learned from the journey they went through.

The two couples in the story are remarkably different from each other. Liria and Bernie's love story happened swiftly, whereas Josie and Dennis took their time to develop.

The first couple has been together for almost half a decade, while the latter has been together for around half the length of the first couple's relationship. It goes to show that relationships work differently for different people. Sometimes, some people are fortunate enough to immediately find their one true love and waste no time taking their relationship to the next level.

However, some relationships work best if it takes time and effort for them to nurture the feelings they harbored for each other. Therefore, the stories of the two couples show that there is no standard way or formula to ensure a lasting relationship. There will be no fairy godmother nor a genie to help once misunderstandings occur, as this will only be resolved through the efforts of both people involved in the relationship.

But like what they said in Beauty and the Beast, "Love doesn't have to be perfect. It just needs to be true."

Thus, no matter how different their love stories are, both couples agreed that through thick and thin, understanding and staying by each other's side is the key to making things last. One might not have the fairytale romance they expect, but with perseverance and eagerness to face each day together, they'll surely have their “Happily ever after.”