FORT MYERS, Fla. — Oh yes, Valentine's Day. When love, relationships and crushing on someone seems to be the be-all and end-all.
The one day of the year where it seems mandatory to shower your loved ones with gifts, candy and flowers. But, it's also the one day of the year singles seem to dread.
For those who have been married long enough, the fantasy is all... but that.
What does Valentines Day look like for those who have been together for decades? Is there still a spark? Are there still flowers, romance and flirting?
The answer may not be the same for everyone, but for one Florida couple, it’s a yes.
Chuck and Mary Jo Kern have been married for half a century. But if you didn’t know any better, you’d think they were newlyweds.
The occasional jab of “you’re lucky I love you,” or “where’s a sharp stick when I need one” may give it away that the two have been at this thing called marriage for a life-time.
Fifty years ago, the two young love birds said their "I Do" on Jan. 31, 1970, in the state of Ohio. It was a classic Catholic wedding with blue-velvet attire.
Instead of today’s traditional bouquet of flowers, the bridesmaids dawned light blue fur hand muffs, a trend of the past.
50TH VALENTINE'S DAY
So, what does a 50th Valentine's Day really mean when you’ve been through so many? Does it matter? Of course it does.
“Every day is Valentine's. For us it’s not mandatory. We treat each other with gifts and love everyday, every holiday,” Chuck Kern said.
When ABC Action News called up the Kerns, they were getting ready for their annual Valentine's Day party. It's something Mary Jo and her girlfriends have been setting up each year to celebrate all of their friends’ marriages.
And of course to drink, eat and twirl, that's something the Kerns can’t resist most days.
They have dozens of dinners guests, but not an overly-done deal. A pool-side grill out with their closest retiree friends, many of which are also from Ohio originally, now spending their winters in Florida.
So what makes their love different from others?
“Well first off, I’m married to a different person than everyone else is,” Chuck started with a joke.
But really, he said each person has their own needs.
For example, we realize what we need from each other. Mary Jo needs to be told more often that I love her and for me I maybe only need to here it once a day.
The Kerns say it’s all about finding the right person and being tolerant of not only their attraction, but also their flaws.
Most of all though, Chuck says he often tells others it’s all about trust.
A 50-year-long marriage would be mighty tough if you had to lie to your spouse everyday.
The Kerns say they do not lie to each other.
“Trust is the main thing, always tell the truth,” he said.
CELEBRATING A HALF CENTURY OF MARRIAGE
Now retired and spending their days down on Fort Myers Beach, a 50th Valentine's Day really can’t compare to a 50th wedding anniversary.
Just two weeks ago, the pair celebrated with family and friends — many of which who were in their original wedding party 50 years ago.
We have pictures to prove it.
Four out of the 12 were able to come to their anniversary party, including their two flower girls, now adults themselves. Missy Amin even wore her then-fashionable blue velvet bow she wore on the same day 50 years prior. To match, she also brought the blue-velvet purse she carried down the aisle during the ceremony.
“It was especially nice to have the two flower girls there. The ones that came were friends and family we regularly see often. It would have been nice to catch up with the ones we don’t,” Chuck said.
Despite Missy Amin being able to wear some of her original attire, the same didn’t go for the wedded couple. Neither of the Kerns could fit in their original outfits, the gown or the tux.
But that’s a part of growing old and in love together.
THE SECRET TO A SUCCESSFUL COURTSHIP
Now, here’s the part where everyone wants to know what it takes to get to 50 years. Whether there’s a magic trick, or if the saying "happy wife-happy life," is a truth to live by.
For the Kerns, they say it’s more about give and take. Although Chuck says he’s better at taking than he is giving.
So what’s the secret?
“Stay married for 49 years and coast the last year,” Chuck laughed.
Again, he says it’s all about the truth.
“Mutual trust, respect and common values,” he said.
While ABC Action News talked with the long-time couple, it dawned on Chuck just how lucky he really is that he’s had it easy all these years.
Chuck tells us he’s never really had to shower his wife with gifts or felt pressured to romance her.
“She’s just really easy going,” he said. “Looking back maybe I should have romanced her more.”
THE JOURNEY GETTING THERE
Don’t let us paint a perfect picture. Relationships of any kind are hard work, especially marriage.
It hasn’t been 50 years of wedded bliss. You don’t just somehow end up being married that long just because you said "I-Do" and that’s it.
There have been many ups and downs, rocky moments but also intense love which came in different forms.
For years, the two worked on a very tight budget as Chuck was attending the University of Akron and Mary Jo was an OBYN nurse working long shifts at the Green Cross Hospital.
Eventually the two wanted to start a family but after trying, were unable to conceive. The couple opted for adoption which wasn’t an easy process either.
After many years of waiting, saving money to complete the adoption and then expectant mothers changing their minds, their first child finally had arrived - Ryan.
If their first adoption was tough, the second was even more so. Again years of waiting, court battles and of course cost were a price to pay for their second - Adam.
But it was all worth it. Love is worth it.
“Anytime you go through a challenging experience together, it’s like being on a team. You go through that struggle and you become closer,” Chuck said, about becoming a parent alongside his wife.
Once the boys arrived, their family was complete, but life still wasn’t easy.
Now graduated and working at Good Year in Akron, Ohio, Chuck worked a busy schedule and Mary Jo tended to the boys, the home and the kitchen as well as working at the hospital.
They were a young, stressed family working for the home and life, but still in love.
We asked if the Kerns had to do anything special to keep their marriage alive and thriving after having kids and busy work life.
“You just do the things for your kids together. You give up your life for your kids. So when you’re doing things for your kids, you’re together,” he said.
The short answer for Chuck - no.
Reciting his answer from above that they worked well together, understood each others needs and went from there.
Chuck and Mary Jo may be extraordinary people, especially to their family and friends but their story isn’t unlike many Americans.
Love takes patience, work and trust. Sometimes love also just takes a little relaxing and understanding.
“It’s all about compromise,” Chuck said.
So, no, there’s no secret sauce to making it to 50 years of marriage or celebrating five decades worth of Valentines Days.
But it sure is sweet when you get there.