Announcing the Finalists for our #LoveWinsContest!

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Last month, we asked for you to share your love stories with us for a chance to win a dream vaca for you and your partner courtesy of Hilton. Our celebrity judges weighed in, and here are the five couples who made it to the finals with their passionate stories of #LoveWins!

#1. Mary and ShannonMary Catherine and Shannon #1

My wife joined the Air Force in 2009, before Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act were repealed. When she got stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base, we scrounged up the little money we had so I could relocate 1500 miles to be with her.  

Life was rough those first few years. Each week, we’d wait in line at base security to get a visitor pass, so that we could shop at the commissary together. The worst part, however, was knowing that if something happened to her, I wouldn’t be the first to know.

Despite these hardships, we made the best of our life together. On weekends, we’d sneak into the base dormitories to use the free washers and dryers just to save a few bucks. We’d hang out in her empty “ghost room” (the room she was technically supposed to be staying in), and binge watch Xena while our laundry dried. We adopted a dog and called her our fur-baby.

Things were rough, but our love was worth it. If we had to, we’d fight tooth-and-nail to stay together. There simply wasn’t another option.

After DOMA was repealed, we went to the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System office to hand in our marriage certificate. The guy who processed it was a young airman, fresh out of tech school. When he saw us, his face turned red, and he shouted: “We have a same-sex over here!” He turned to us and said with a smile, “You guys are my first same-sex.” He seemed eager to assist us. When his superior helped him complete the form, he was shocked to find the only difference was he needed to select the box marked “female” twice. It’s funny how a little box was the only thing that separated our love from everyone else’s.

#2. Heather and KathyHeather and Kathy #2

“Do you see this circle?” a friend asked me. I nodded. “This circle is your comfort zone. If you never move out of your comfort zone,” she said, “you’ll miss out on everything outside of this tiny circle.”

You’ve probably heard this analogy before, but I hadn’t. And while I had prided myself on having lots of different life experiences, those experiences were always on my terms and always within my introverted comfort zone. Maybe I needed to change that.

A few weeks later, I met up with a few friends at a lesbian nightclub in Seattle. Now, I’m not a dancer. I barely know how to skip. So while my friends were on the dance floor, I awkwardly stood alone by a back wall, in my tiny little comfort zone.

 “Come on, Heather,” I quietly gave myself a pep talk. “Do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do. Move outside your comfort zone!”

So I took a deep breath, turned to a woman standing near me and started up a conversation, with my future wife.

That was seven years ago! If I had stayed inside my comfort zone, I would have missed meeting the love of my life, Kathy. The love of my life and, might I add, the polar opposite of myself. She is the extrovert to my introvert.
The Riverdance to my awkward skip. 
The “Go big or go home” to my “Can’t we just go home?”

Several years after being together, we knew that we wanted to get married. So when WA State put Referendum 74 on our ballot, potentially legalizing gay marriage, we were excited. However, every time we talked about getting married, Kathy would shut down our conversation by pointing to her ring-less finger and then dancing away while singing Beyonce‘s “Put a Ring On It.”

I knew what I needed to do: I needed to move outside my comfort zone. I needed to step outside my circle. And I needed to dance.

I secretly hired a choreographer friend to teach myself (which is no small feat) and 20 other friends how to dance to “Put a Ring On It.”  And to make it bigger (“Go big or go home”), we surprised Kathy by breaking into spontaneous song and dance in Seattle’s Pike Place Market where I could “put a ring on it.”

 Kathy said “Yes,” as well as, “I can’t believe you tried to dance!” (Side note: I still can’t dance, but I try), and one week later, Ref. 74 passed!

#3. Alexis and MaichouAlexis and Maichou #3

So where shall we begin? Our story has a generic beginning. In 2011, I had just moved back down from Anchorage. I didn’t want to reconnect with my group of regular friends just yet, so I made an online profile to find new friends. My intention was to find new friends, really and if something comes of it then even better.

After a few weeks, I sent a message to a girl that I thought was cute; little did I know she was to be my life partner.  When we were first starting, I didn’t want anything to do with a relationship. My heart was closed off. You see, I had gone through a really bad breakup, so I kept pushing and pushing her away, but she was persistent. She was there when I needed a friend; she nursed me when I was sick; she cooked for me when I was too lazy to cook, etc. Eventually, she won me over. I was head over heels for this woman. I didn’t think that there was anyone out there who could love me as much as she did and vice versa, but there she was.   

I am Hmong and in my culture, there is absolutely no word for “homosexual.” My partner exploded into my life and took everyone for a ride. My mom was completely against us; she thought it was unnatural—she’s never heard of such a thing in her life—but slowly my partner won her over as well. Now, my mom sees us exactly the way how we want everyone else to view us, just two people in love.  That’s why I love this woman. Her heart can convince anyone to be on her side, even my stubborn Asian mother.  I’ve never met anyone as nice, considerate and humble as my partner. I know people say that all the time, but it rings true here. 

The take away from our story is that love wins.Love may not always be easy, but if you’re persistent and committed, love will win almost every time. Find someone who will love and accept you for who you are and never settle for less. 

#4. Anastasia and StarrAnastasia and Starr #4

Starr and I met in 2011 at the Home Depot in Bowling Green, Ohio. (I often joke about how perfect lesbians meeting in Home Depot is!) I worked in the garden department, and Starr was a member of the Special Services team at the front counter. We clicked right away, and I would often find excuses to come to the front of the store, just to be around her. My younger sister was also working there for the summer, and I remember talking about Starr with her. It really was love at first sight. 

Starr is easy to love. When people ask what I love most about her, my first response is always “her mind.”

She is one of those rare humans who is both naturally smart, and who also works very hard. She impresses me every day with her ability to think critically about situations we find ourselves in, as well as her ability to excel in her Ph.D. program. She is a gifted teacher who takes the time to explain things to folks without ever making them feel silly for not knowing.

Starr is also generous to a fault, always putting others first. She is the first to volunteer to help a friend move, to stay late at work so someone else can go home, or to go the extra mile for those she cares about. She is strong, funny when I least expect it, and someone I can depend on to be there for me even when she is having a bad day. It doesn’t hurt that she is also beautiful in a way that is also fairly handsome.

Starr and I had a difficult beginning to our relationship. We met in the summer between our undergraduate experiences and starting our Master’s degrees. We officially began our relationship in August, knowing that in only a few weeks Starr was moving to Boston to start school while I was just going one town over. We spent every moment together, our worlds shrunk to each other. I’ll never forget sitting on a Ferris wheel at the county fair with her and clutching her hand knowing that we would be apart soon. Anyone who has tried a long distance relationship knows how hard it is, and within the first month? I was sure we were doomed and that my heart would be broken.  

Starr moved 760 miles away on a sunny day in late August. We lived on video chats, often sleeping with our laptops on the pillows next to us. Starr flew home when she could, but it was hard. We both started school and talked on the phone whenever we could. Finally, Starr told me she had had enough. I would never have asked, but she decided our relationship, new as it was, was worth her transferring back to Ohio. Somehow she made it work, and by December, we had moved into our own little apartment in Ohio. That summer we got our little pug, Charlie Rose, and we have been together ever since. Now, almost five years to the day after our official beginning, we are getting married! There are mornings when I wake up and turn over, and remember how horrible it was to see a laptop instead of Starr, and I count myself incredibly lucky to get to be with her every day now.

We have moved together to Omaha, NE now, and Starr is working hard on her Doctorate while I enjoy my career working with college students living in the Residence Halls on campus. We were worried about moving to the Midwest, and about being so far from our friends and family. However, though our queer community here is small, we have found new friends and great support. We are lucky to both be a part of a campus that supports our relationship. I am very open with my students about Starr and our upcoming wedding. For most, we are the first lesbians they have ever met. For some, we are the first LGBT adults they have met that they can come out to.  Being here in a fairly conservative state, talking about our relationship, and being visible to the next generation is important to us. We want to inspire those who are in the same place we once were to know that it’s possible to find love and to live the life you have always dreamed about.

Nothing feels better than when I see a new student’s eyes focus on the one of the photos I have of Starr and me together, or shyly compliment rainbow flag in my office and I know that they know that they have someone that they can relate to or talk with about themselves.

I hope our story also inspires others to know that even if you haven’t been together long, or if you think a long distance will be a death sentence to your relationship when its real, love really does win.  

#5. Dolly and EmyDolly and Emy #5

After more than 11 years together, we still giggle like school girls at our inside jokes, talk for hours about everything and nothing, enjoy doing chores if it means spending time together, and count down the minutes every day until we can sit on the couch and catch up on our days. We high five each other like bros, and when things get tough, we stand shoulder to shoulder together like sestras.

Dolly and I met when we were two young starry-eyed activists trying to make the world a better place: she was an undergraduate volunteering with a women’s group, I was working with a non-profit organization and preparing to go back to graduate school. We were instantly drawn to each other because we quickly realized we shared the same values, and had the same hopes and dreams, even though we had different personalities and backgrounds.

Over the years, we moved across three states, changed jobs and careers, attended weddings, births and graduations, dealt with fears and losses, and matured and grew together, both as a couple and as individuals. We hiked many trails, signed up for a triathlon together, picked apples and berries, cooked dinners with friends, and had more board game parties than we’d like to admit. We even danced and partied together for a hot minute, before 10 pm quickly became pajama time.

The love, trust and respect we have for each other no law can change. But until DOMA was repealed there was always the fear that we might not be able to build the life we’ve always wanted because I was not an American citizen. This meant that even though I changed jobs and visas, they all had an expiration date. It meant that when dealing with immigration officials I had to deny being in a relationship because having a serious partner could be seen as intent of immigration, which would be a strong enough reason to deny a visa application. DOMA was repealed right as I was finishing up my doctorate, which meant that we could start the new stage in our lives as a legally recognized married couple. We wasted no time and were married within the year. There was something empowering and touching about being able to officially join the club. I could obtain my green card and gain permanent residency, we could buy a house and not have to explain ourselves to lawyers, and finally introduce each other as spouses at dinner parties.

Like any healthy married couple, we also feel much more entitled to arguing over whose turn it is to take the dog out, put the food away or write this essay. We will probably always run into old ladies who ask us if we are roommates, but with time hopefully everyone will recognize that true love can come in many shapes and forms, and that in the end #lovewins.

Reader voting for the winning couple is now open!

This post is sponsored by Hilton.

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