How we met: ‘We decided to marry and I found the only white dress in town, which was cowboy style’
When Irma first used the internet in April 1997, she had no idea it would catch on, or that it could lead to lasting love. “I was living at home in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, with my mom and siblings,” she says. “My sister bought a computer that came internet-ready.” At the time Irma was working at a hotel, but had only used fax.
After getting online via a dial-up connection, Irma discovered internet chatrooms where you could meet and connect with people around the world. “There were so many people talking at the same time I just couldn’t get it. I tried to join a group for over 30s but, at 28, I was too young and got kicked out.” Although she’d never been married, she joined a group for divorcees, as she thought it would attract people her own age. “They let me in even though I wasn’t divorced and I liked it. The conversation was slower and everyone was talking about a funny short story written by someone called Keith.” She soon connected with Keith via direct messages, to find out more about his writing.
They hit it off immediately and began talking online every day. “I was working in accounting and IT in Ashland, Wisconsin, and writing as a hobby,” says Keith. Like Irma, he wasn’t divorced, but joined the group to meet people his own age. “When you’re only able to talk to someone and not see them, you get to know them better,” he says. They soon graduated to sending letters and packages.
In May, they agreed to meet for the first time in Miami, between both of their homes. When they arrived, it was “love at first sight”. “We hit it off straight away, talking about each other’s lives, and the differences between the Dominican Republic and Northern Wisconsin,” says Keith. Irma loved how much they laughed together. “I also really liked his family values and how easygoing he was.”
After their trip, they continued to chat constantly. “One day, he asked me for my ring size and I had no idea what that was,” says Irma. In June that year, Keith invited her to come to Wisconsin for his sister’s wedding. As soon as she arrived, he proposed, much to the surprise of his relatives. They spent the rest of the weekend celebrating his sister’s wedding before Irma was due to fly back home. “There was some issue with my flight so I had to stay an extra day.” His family, seeing how much they loved each other, suggested they married there and then.
With the help of a friend, Keith was able to get a speedy marriage licence for the next day, while his family organised food and decorations. “I bought the only white dress in the town, which was cowboy style,” laughs Irma. After the wedding, she went home to tie up her affairs in the Dominican Republic. “My family knew I had a good head on my shoulders so they were happy for me, although I later found out they were terrified at the time.” The following month, Keith had a chance to visit her hometown and they celebrated there. “The priest wouldn’t let us marry in the Catholic church though because the marriage was too fast,” he says. Instead, they had a party with Irma’s family.
After a honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, they flew back to live in Wisconsin. In February 1998, they moved to Orlando, where Irma was able to get a job in another hotel. They had three children, born in 2000, 2002 and 2008. Before christening their first son, the local church suggested they marry under the Catholic faith. “We had to take a test separately and the priest said he had never seen anyone better matched in 50 years,” says Keith.
Irma loves her partner’s laidback nature. “I get aggravated about things but he’s chill all the time,” she says. “He’s also a really hardworking individual. People thought we wouldn’t last but here we are, 25 years later.”
Keith says Irma just “gets him”. “I think she’s a much better person than I am in her morals and the way she looks at the world,” he says. “We never argue either, which my friends don’t think is normal. We get on so well.”
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