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Lessons in love

Local couples discuss their relationships




Love conquers all. Well, maybe not all, but when the chemistry is just right, love can overcome lots of obstacles.

We talked with three couples who are living proof that love can conquer a great deal including challenges presented by coming from different cultural or racial backgrounds.

These couples share their stories of love, romance and how they keep the spark alive after years of being together.

Mark Fowlkes and Aimee Wroten
Mark, who is black, and Aimee, who is white, have been together for almost 11 years. The couple (pictured above, upper right) met in West Chester, Pa. and moved to Henrico County about three years ago. They have four daughters. Mark is a talker while Aimee tends to be a little quieter.

How did you meet?
“I was a bouncer in a bar and [Aimee] and a couple of girlfriends came in and I spotted her,” Mark said.

“And he followed me out of the bar,” Aimee said, finishing Mark’s sentence.

They started dating that next week and Mark met her parents soon afterwards.

What first attracted you to each other?
“She loved my muscles,” Mark said. Aimee just smiled as Mark also explained that he was relentless in his pursuit of her. “I wouldn’t let her get away.”

Were there any challenges in the early years of your relationship?
“We had a difference in age,” Mark said. “She had more spunk than I did at the time.” He is 48 and Aimee is 35. “But I like older men,” Aimee reminded Mark.

Mark said that the couple has the everyday challenges that most couples have and they enjoy good spirited discussions now and then.

What’s the spark that keeps you together and keeps the romance alive?
“We have good times together. She is terrible funny. She’s real funny,” Mark said. She admitted, “I don’t act my age.

What’s the most romantic gift either of you has given the other?
“Those four kids,” Mark said as the girls played nearby. “I love them to death. I have older kids, but the best thing she ever gave me was these four kids.”

What advice about love, romance and relationship will you give your children?
“They’re not dating until they’re grown,” she said without hesitation.

“I don’t want my kids to be a part of what society thinks is love,” Mark said. “Society does not have a clue what love is anymore. Most marriages are built on finances and how people look. When you marry or want to spend the rest of your life together with somebody, don’t focus on the outside. Focus on the inside. That’s what I will tell my girls.”

Carlos and Karla Ramos
Carlos, who is Puerto Rican, and Kala Ramos met in her native Honduras. They traveled extensively when he was in the U.S.Army. Now, they live near Hopewell. They have been married 15 years and have a son and a daughter. Carlos is a military analyst for Tapestry Solutions and Karla works for the Virginia Department of Emergency Services.

How did you meet?
We met while Carlos was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras. A mutual friend invited Carlos, then 28, to a party. Karla, who was 26, attended the party too.

What first attracted you to each other?
“She started playing the piano. That’s what did it,” Carlos said. “I don’t know what she was playing but it was this beautiful music.”

It was three months before they saw each other again. This time it was at a night club.

“I think it was his dancing [that attracted me],” Karla recalls. “We started dancing and we started talking,” Karla said.

“I’m a good dancer,” Carlos bragged.

Were there any challenges in the early years of your marriage?
The two words that describe the couple’s first five years are “adventurous and challenging,” Carlos said.

Carlos was reassigned to Fort Lewis in Washington. Karla said she felt like a fish out of water when she left Honduras to join him. She saw snow for the first time. Karla and Carlos had very different childhoods. She was raised by a single mother in a big city and he grew up in a rural area with his grandparents.

“I was independent, a strong-willed person,” she said. “[His grandparents gave him a] very conservative concept of marriage. I believe in a more equal, 50/50 marriage.”

What’s the spark that keeps you together and keeps the romance alive?
“He’s a funny, funny person. He makes me laugh. And when I’m stressed out for any reason, he can make a face or tell me something and it makes me laugh.”

“She’s beautiful. She is a wonderful person. She understands me. Everything she is sparks my soul every time I see her.”

Karla, what’s the most romantic gift Carlos has given you?
“I’m not really into fancy material presents. I like something original with more meaning than just the item itself. I like useful things. [He wanted] to buy me a diamond necklace or something and I had to educate him that that’s not really my thing.”

What advice about love, romance and relationship have you given your children?
Carlos calls their 15-year old son, David, into the kitchen to answer this question. “He tells me to be respectful to women. Don’t be pushy. Don’t go beyond the boundaries. Don’t disrespect yourself or your lady.”

Darin and Mercedes Branch
Darin, who is white, was raised in Houston and moved to the south side of Richmond in 1998. Mercedes, who is black, is a native of Richmond. The couple (pictured inset, on cover) has been married for seven years and now live in Chesterfield County with their two daughters and son. They own Perception Salon and Spa in Carytown and Darin also is president of Whitewood Solutions, a tax resolution business.

How did you meet?
We met when Darin was a sales manager at a local car dealership. Mercedes was working there as a temporary receptionist before moving to Bowie, Md.

What first attracted you to each other?
“Obviously, looks played a part for both of us,” Mercedes said as she laughed. “The confidence Darin had while selling cars and handling clients made him very attractive to me.”

Darin said he found Mercedes’ “warm personality extremely attractive. We started out as friends as both of us were recently out of relationships. We became close friends with conversations during work and eventually having a friendly relationship after work, which turned into more after Mercedes moved to Maryland.” For about four months, they had a weekend romance. They took turns driving back and forth so they could spend time together. They eventually moved in together here in Virginia.

Along the way, they discovered they each wanted to eventually start and own a business.

“We shared the same dreams of owning a salon and spa. Mercedes did nails and my mother does hair. That dream became reality in 2007 when we opened Perception Salon and Spa.”

Were there any challenges in the early years of your marriage?
“Well, Darin is a Scorpio and he was a little jealous in the early years,” Mercedes said. “He always said that being white and dating a beautiful black woman makes it hard on a white boy since he seemed to always be tested in public.”

What’s the spark that keeps you together and keeps the romance alive?
The couple agree, “We are friends first and that keeps the relationship strong.”

As far as romance goes, they make time to do special things. And Mercedes’ father, a former coach at Armstrong High School, often offers to help. “We are lucky enough to have Coach Samuels who takes the kids every other weekend which allows us to have a date night and a couple’s weekend twice a month,” said Darin, age 31.

Mercedes, what’s the most romantic gift Darin has given you?
“Darin has given me lots of gifts over the years and vice versa from trips to jewelry, but our most precious gifts are our children.”

What advice about love, romance and relationship will you give your children?
“I would have to say to be sure that you find someone who is your friend first and then build on that because if someone can’t respect you as a friend they will never respect you as a lover and it will never last,” said Mercedes, age 33. “At the end of the day, ‘The couple that prays together stays together.’”

This story is part of the Virginia Tapestry: Reflecting Our Rich Diversity series produced by In Your Shoes Media.

Community

Celebrating 106 years

Former Sandston resident Mildred Taylor celebrated her 106th birthday Aug. 9. Taylor, who now lives in Powhatan, is still a member of Sandston Baptist Church. She was visited the day after her birthday by several members of the church, who played for her a recording of the entire church membership singing happy birthday to her during worship. > Read more.

YMCA breaks ground for aquatic center

YMCA officials gathered last week to break ground on the new Tommy J. West Aquatic Center at the Shady Grove Family YMCA on Nuckols Road. The center, which will featured 7,600 square feet of competitive and recreational space, including water slides, play areas for children and warmer water for those with physical limitations, is the fourth phase of a $4 million expansion at the facility. West was president and CEO of Capital Interior Contractors and a founding member of the Central Virginia Region of the Virginia Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. > Read more.

Rotary donates to ‘Bright Beginnings’

The Sandston Rotary Club recently donated $1,000 to the Sandston YMCA for its Bright Beginnings program, which helps provide children in need with school supplies for the new school year. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Enjoy the final days of summer with comedian Guy Torry, the Sam’s Club National BBQ Tour or mystery writer Mary Miley Theobald at Twin Hickory Library. Another great way to welcome the beginning of fall is to check out the UR Spider Football season opener with man’s best friend. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Bottoms up

Short Pump brewery offers more than just beer
I am still (happily) thinking about my entire experience at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery last week. Knowing nothing about this new brewery out of Denver, I was leery of brew-pub in the heart of Short Pump Town Center – this is not what I’d usually think of as a perfect fit, and yet, it was.

The restaurant and craft brewery opened in early June and features 10 beers made by female brewmaster Becky Hammond (pictured). This is the restaurant’s second location in Virginia; the first is in Arlington. Behind glass walls, customers watched the beer brewing in massive steel barrels. For our up-and-coming beer region, it makes sense that Short Pump would jump on board.

As I walked up to the back of the mall near the comedy club, I was taken aback by what I saw: at the top of the stairs was an overflowing restaurant with outdoor seating, large umbrellas and dangling outdoor lights. > Read more.

Cultural Arts Center announces 2014 fall class schedule

The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen is now registering participants for its fall 2014 schedule of classes.

The center will offer more than 100 classes for children and adults, covering topicssuch as culinary arts, fiber arts, visual and performance arts and more. Instruction is structured to appeal to a wide range of abilities, from beginners to experts of all ages. Class sizes are kept small to ensure maximum benefit for participants with generally no more than 15 students. > Read more.

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