How we met: ‘I worried about the age gap – but being with him felt perfect’

When Bjørn visited a psychologist in 2011, he had no idea what to expect. “I’d been living in Amsterdam for five years and working as a graphic designer, but I was suffering burnout,” he says. “I love working with my hands, and through my psychology sessions, I discovered there were blacksmiths who make a living from it, so I decided to do a course in blacksmithing.”

To help him gain extra experience and learn outside the course, a mutual friend suggested that he email Jos, a local artist who made sculptures with metal. “As well as metalwork, I also make other things, like costumes and bodywork,” says Jos. “I was also working at a care home to support myself.” That December, Jos invited Bjørn to his workshop to watch him at work and, although he noticed that Jos was handsome, he thought he was too young to be interested. “I stayed professional and at first we just talked about work. I showed him some of the chain mail I’d been working on.”

Bjørn was impressed by Jos’s artwork, and immediately felt a connection. “I was just coming out of a six-month ‘situationship’ and accepting that I just struggle in relationships,” he says. “I suddenly realised I really liked him. It was a bit scary.” Before he left, he asked Jos if he could kiss him. “I didn’t even know if he was single but had this strong sense that he was The One.”

The pair kissed and arranged to meet again. They started dating but Bjørn soon began to panic. “I knew I was in love but I told him I didn’t want a relationship because I was so scared. Then I got another boyfriend, because I just needed to be with someone who wouldn’t break me if it went wrong,” he admits.

For Jos, it wasn’t a big surprise as he was never expecting things to get serious. “He was young and beautiful. It made sense that he’d want to date other people,” he says. “I’d been happily single for a long time, too.” They were still drawn to each other, and continued to meet up in an open relationship. “One day, I realised I only wanted to be with Jos,” says Bjørn. In April 2012, he bit the bullet and asked Jos to be his boyfriend. To Bjørn’s surprise, he immediately said yes. “At first, I’d been worried about the age gap but it didn’t matter. Being with Bjorn felt perfect.”

Despite their newfound happiness, it wasn’t long before Bjørn’s mental health began to spiral. “I’d been diagnosed with depression in 2004, but started having major mood swings,” he says. “I was really struggling and I wasn’t sleeping much. I’d get in the shower and crawl out 45 minutes later.” Eventually, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Afraid of being a burden to Jos, he began to push him away. “I loved him so much and thought he deserved better,” says Bjørn.

But Jos wanted to be there for his partner and says there was “no way” he’d leave because of Bjørn’s illness. “I’ve struggled in the past, too. As someone who came out as gay in 1981 and has been badly bullied, I know what it’s like to feel different.”

Bjørn and Jos at the Netherlands’ Elf Fantasy Fair

In 2015, the pair moved in together in Amsterdam. While shifting furniture, Bjørn suffered a back injury which left him in severe pain. He had to retire from his career as a blacksmith, but turned to creative writing to help him cope with the mental and physical pain.

In 2016, they decided to get married. “Jos asked and I said yes, but it wasn’t until I was looking down at my wedding ring one day in the bathroom that it felt real,” says Bjørn.

In 2020, Bjørn returned to therapy after being diagnosed with autism and PTSD. However, around the same time, Jos’s wellbeing declined: “I had been there for him so much I forgot about myself,” he admits. “He encouraged me to talk about it and go to a therapist, which really helped.”

Jos took early retirement that year and the pair now live together in a village just outside Amsterdam. Jos creates art, while Bjørn writes.

Jos appreciates that they can both tell each other how they feel, without worrying about being a burden. “We help each other in practical ways, too. He is the IT specialist of the house and I’m more hands-on with making things. We complement each other.”

Bjørn loves that his partner is always supportive, no matter what he wants to do. “My belief is that real love is accepting the person as they are, and Jos is my person,” he says. “I’ve been able to find someone who is safe, kind and beautiful. I think that’s the biggest miracle of my life.”


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