When Dee and Joe became neighbours in 1973, it wasn’t love at first sight. “He moved in to my block of flats with his wife and their two children,” says Dee, who was a single mother at the time. “I didn’t see him in a romantic way.” There were a lot of young families in this block in south-west London and it was a tightknit community. “We were neighbours first,” says Joe. “Then we became friends. It was a really nice place to live.” A year later Dee met a new partner and moved to a house nearby, but they never lost contact. “Joe and I stayed friends and we’d often take the children out for meals.”
The relationship remained platonic, but Joe says it was clear they enjoyed doing the same things. “It wasn’t romance but we were always happy going out as a group with our families,” he says. “I worked shifts for London Underground, so I’d often take her boys out when I wasn’t working.” Dee went on to have two more children with her new partner, never imagining that there could be anything more than friendship between her and Joe.
By the early 1980s, Dee’s mum had became unwell and moved in with her. To help the family, Joe came over to do the gardening.
“At the time I’d gone back to college to take my A-levels and I think this really inspired Joe,” says Dee. “One day he answered one of my essay questions and when I showed it to my tutor, she said: ‘He should be doing a degree.’” Joe had never had the opportunity to complete his education, and believed that studying could open new doors. “Life was OK, but I felt like I could achieve more. Dee really encouraged me with that in a way others hadn’t.” After completing his exams, Joe went on to further education and eventually trained as a social worker.
When they began studying together, it became apparent that something in their relationship had shifted. “I just looked at him one day and realised that I couldn’t imagine my life without him.” Both Dee and Joe had drifted apart from their partners, but were careful about exploring their new love. “It was a difficult situation and we kept getting together and breaking up for a while,” says Dee. The pair finally became an official couple in 1987, when they both realised they wouldn’t be happy unless they were together. Although it was a “strange transition” from being friends, they’ve never regretted it. “Joe makes me laugh until my sides split. I always tell people if you want a really amazing relationship, be with someone who is your best friend.”
As a white woman and a mixed-race man, they had to deal with some bigoted comments. Although Joe has experienced racism all his life, this was a shock for Dee. “We had people saying a few rude things to us when we got together, which never happened when we were friends.”
Despite some difficult times, the pair have only grown closer over the years. “I love that Dee is such a ‘doer’,” says Joe. “Any suggestion she makes I know it will be great. We’ve been on a brilliant journey together.”
The couple got married in 1995 and adopted a daughter seven years later. “Between us we’ve got seven children, 13 grandchildren and two dogs, so we’re always busy,” says Dee. The pair are now in their 70s, but have no desire to slow down. They love travelling, spending time with their family and having new adventures. “I love how Joe is so easy-going and always goes along with whatever I suggest,” Dee says.
Thirty-two years since they got together, the romance is as strong as ever. “It always feels new and exciting to me, and I feel happy when I know I’m going to see him,” says Dee.
“And I always feel happy to see the dogs,” laughs Joe. “No, I’m just kidding. I always look forward to seeing Dee. We have amazing lives.”
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