Arleen and Chris
Chris had recently moved to Port Moody, BC and was staying in a friends’ home and at the time was without a vehicle. Before the age of computers, people were reliant on calculators and Chris’s had broken down. The woman she was staying with said “I have a friend who lives in the same area as the office where you need to send the calculator and she would probably take it there for you.”
Arleen drove up to the house in her Dodge Aspen station wagon, looking every bit the part of a suburban mother, and when she stepped out, Chris was waiting for her—calculator in hand. Arleen in fact, only worked part time in the area where the calculator was to be repaired and thought Chris had a lot of nerve asking for a favour from someone she didn’t know at all and said she couldn’t do it. Chris thought Arleen was a snob. It was definitely not love at first sight for these two.
I don’t know what happened to the calculator, but I do know they met on several other occasions through mutual friends. On one of these occasions, they were at a restaurant with their group of friends, before going to a theatre and they sat beside each other and had an engaging conversation. It was at this moment they decided they actually liked each other—first impressions are not always lasting. Shortly after, Chris had a thought that she would like to get together with someone she wasn’t having an affair with, and Arleen came to mind.
They did. Neither of these occasions were romantic dates.
Arleen was married and had two sons and the day of their actual first date June 28th, was also the day Arleen was leaving her family home. Her husband drove them to what was supposed to be just a dinner together at the Punjab restaurant on Main Street in Vancouver. However, it turned into a date. Dinner was followed by a brief time in the Vanport Hotel bar—a working class “dive” bar that became known as one of the few bars in Vancouver where lesbians could meet and drink. Arleen insisted they leave when someone upended a table of drinks—it seemed like a sensible thing to do. They proceeded to go dancing for hours and hours and enjoyed each other’s company. They walked across the Granville Street Bridge, caught a bus to an all-night pizza place and arrived home at 4:30 am. They met again at a Meg Christian concert at the Van East Cultural Centre where they had attended with other people. Arleen came and sat beside Chris and started putting her arms around her and flirting. They went out for drinks afterward. Although this evening, once again, was not intended to be a date, Arleen drove Chris to her place in Port Moody where they had a play fight and then made natural progress from there. Despite their connection, they were still both seeing numerous people including one person whom they both dated.
On June 28th of this year, it has been 41 years since their date at the Punjab Restaurant. Chris came out in the late 1960’s which was a little different than now. It was harder. Chris, as a radical lesbian, was at the first Canadian march for gay rights in 1971 and worked at the Community Homophile Association of Toronto (CHAT). CHAT provided support services, education, and organized community events for Toronto’s gay and lesbian community. By comparison, Arleen says, “It’s so easy to come out now especially in urban areas where there is more support.” Having said that Arleen thought it was easy for her to come out from a societal perspective because of feminism. However, leaving the family home was not without its hardships. There was a strong feminist movement throughout the 70’s and a lot of that feminism supported lesbian relationships and it was political. In fact, Arleen commented, “I felt that I wasn’t feminist enough without having a lesbian relationship.”
Around January they went on a retreat together for the weekend and they got to know each other more. Arleen decided Chris was interesting enough that she wanted to get to know her family and parents. Chris had just decided that the last time she saw her parents was the last time she was going to see them. Arleen wanted to meet the family and Chris knew they would like to meet Arleen, so she agreed to go back. It felt safe for Chris going back because she had an escort. They were just going from Vancouver to Comox, a four-hour trip that seemed so hard and long for Chris, they had to stay overnight at the Arlington Hotel in Nanoose Bay before driving to Comox. After this trip, Arleen decided Chris was the one and she dropped the other people she was seeing.
In early February they went to a workshop together on how to change aspects of yourself through breathing and visualization. The fact that Arleen was even interested was for Chris, yet another example of how the many sides of themselves worked together so well. It was a serious deepening for Chris and she realized Arleen was the one for her.
Chris had asked at the beginning of their affair that they not say “I love you” believing that the words brought a lot of baggage with them. On the weekend of summer solstice, Chris was staying with Arleen who was feeling she really had to tell Chris she loved her that weekend. At the same time a note had arrived in the mail from Chris. When Arleen opened the note she found the letters individually cut from a magazine saying “I love you, from an Admirer”—Arleen knew exactly who that admirer was. This is not just serendipity, this is a couple who was and continues to be in sync with one another’s feelings.
On July 20, 2005 the Canadian parliament passed the Civil Marriage Act legalizing same sex marriage. Arleen and Chris had discussed getting married and Arleen was not interested as they had been together for 25 years at that point, she had already been married, and as a feminist she didn’t see the point of marriage. Around the same time, they were considering marriage, Chris’s brother came for a visit and he told Chris he thought the gay movement was making a mistake going for gay marriage. Arleen had a different perspective, “If some people are opposed, we should get married as a political act.”
When Chris was younger, she didn’t believe in marriage. Her perspective has changed. Chris sees marriage as important because of the bridging it allows. People who aren’t comfortable with words like lesbian or queers or gays because those words bring up bad things they’ve been taught in their head are more comfortable with words like wife and marriage. Chris used the example of a woman they met in the elevator. The woman asked if they were sisters—something they get asked often even they though they don’t look at all alike. Chris replied, “No but we just got married.” When people hear that you just got married there are tapes in their head about what to say, “That’s wonderful!” “Congratulations!” Marriage is a cheerful word. If you give people who feel awkward with words like lesbian or gay, something they can understand like marriage, you can have a reasonable conversation and they will discover you’re a reasonable person and there is a bridging.
Arleen and Chris had a preference to get married on the anniversary of their first date, June 28th however, the hotel they had chosen was hosting a large conference and they couldn’t get a room. They were married on June 29th, the day after the 30th anniversary of their dinner at the Punjab restaurant which turned out to be their first date and roughly 25 years after they moved in together.
They continue to celebrate both of these days. They also celebrate December 28th because that was the date Chris and Arleen moved in together—five and a half years after they started dating. Chris had been in other relationships that had broken up after 2, 3 or 4 years and felt that it was one thing to go through a break-up and quite another to have your living space “messed with” and she didn’t want to repeat that. Chris didn’t want to live together until their relationship exceeded her longest relationship. Arleen shared responsibility for her two sons with her ex-husband so that suited Arleen fine that she had her own space. They spent lots of time together with Arleen’s children while dating but Chris had no desire to be another mum or step on the toes of Arleen’s ex-husband, the children’s father. Chris’s grandmother had a female lover in addition to her husband and they called her their Aunt, even though she wasn’t related and thus, Chris became the children’s Aunt. The kids were comfortable with their Mum having a female partner because Chris didn’t try to replace their dad.
Arleen likes being in a relationship—some people are more solitary.
They have been called feisty and still have fights but try and keep it as harmonious as possible. Chris comments that they are both eldest daughters which at times is like two alpha dogs trying to live together and they are often both right.
“There’s a lot to learn about being with someone and how to do that. Not living together for five and a half years was helpful because there are so many things you discover about people it spreads the learning out in a useful way,” says Chris.
When they finally got married 25 years later they were so sure and comfortable with that decision.
Arleen and Chris like many of the same things–dancing, a neat house, cooking. Arleen commented, “The gender difference allows for more separation in most marriages because there are different roles and friendship circles. When two women live together there is a lot of overlap, we really have to make sure that we take space for ourselves.”
Chris says she’s inspired by Virginia Wolfe’s A Room of One’s Own. “Even though we spend most nights together and we have joint bank accounts and friends, we still have our own bedrooms, offices, and bank accounts. It’s a way of getting space when you’re very together.”
They also go off to retreats separately. Giving space in a relationship allows for growth both personally and as a couple. This is a couple that has allowed and encouraged each other to grow. Arleen started writing in her 50’s and is now an award-winning author and poet. Chris returned to school and in her 50’s received her doctorate in literature and is currently an academic editor.
That’s a good reminder for me to thank my husband for being my tech support and putting on my shows for me so I don’t have to learn how to use our complicated remote control.
Broadcast Love wishes Arleen and Chris many more years of joy and happiness as they continue to grow together.