In honor of Valentine’s Day, we celebrate three Bluffton couples, taking a closer look at how they fell in love, what strengthens their bond and ways they keep their romance stoked.
Galen + Gina Miller
After all these years, a sly glance from Galen still gives Gina a thrill. Married since 2002 and dating since 1994, these proud parents of two haven’t let the flame go out.
“The other day, we were playing a board game,” confides Gina. “He made this very strategic move, then he turned and winked at me. Well, I’m still very attracted to him, even when he’s killing me in a board game.”
For Galen, the feeling is mutual. He knew from the moment he saw Gina and her long black hair that he’d met his match. So, he did what any determined man would do and followed her in his car with tinted windows.
“Some people would call me a stalker,” jokes Galen, a local IT specialist. “I had seen her around and was blown away by her, but I never had the courage to speak to her until one day I was riding with my cousin and saw her going into a store. Maybe it was God sending me my beauty queen, because it’s been on ever since.”
Galen was so nervous on that first encounter that he forgot to say his name, which actually endeared him greatly to Gina. After a coworker vouched for him—saying Galen was her cousin and a really great guy—Gina decided to visit him at work. The two hit it off immediately, despite many outward differences. Galen is an Island man with Gullah roots, while Gina is a native New Yorker whose family came here on vacation.
She loved his calm, easygoing personality, strong family values and how comfortable she felt around him. He was smitten by her intelligence, her kind and caring ways and, above all, how she adored his grandmother who raised him and was the light of his life.
“We didn’t have much in common on the surface,” says Gina. “We were just genuinely good friends.”
Today, that same close friendship is at the core of their marriage.
“Life comes with trials,” she explains, “so it’s very helpful to have a solid, reliable partner who brings you happiness.”
When their daughter was born prematurely with significant health issues, the sleepless nights and endless state of worry caused a strain that might have driven some couples apart. However, for the Millers, creating a stable loving home for their children is of the utmost importance. This includes teaching them lessons like respect, patience and never losing sight of why you fell in love in the first place.
“Taking care of our marriage is not selfish,” affirms Gina. “It’s beneficial to our kids, as well, because the happier we are as a couple, the happier they are.”
John + Kate Houpt
If John and Kate were to enter one of those game shows where you have to answer questions about your spouse, they would definitely win. In two separate interviews, they both said exactly the same things! Everything matched up perfectly.
Kate recalled being attracted to John initially because he was so funny, while John remembered feeling good because she laughed at all his jokes. Kate said he’s always there to make sure everything is O.K. and to pick her up when she falls apart; John recounted how she has taken care of him in so many ways. For example, he broke his back in high school, and she just happens to be a chiropractor.
Both cherish fond memories of college days when they met. Kate used to come home from classes in tears because she couldn’t understand something, so John would figure it out and explain it to her. Interestingly, when he was on the verge of graduating in computer science, she encouraged him to pursue his love of teaching instead.
“One of the greatest things I’ve ever done was all because of her,” says John, who is now the physical education director and head football coach at Bluffton High School. John and Kate both talked about trust and communication and emphasized the importance of admitting when you’re wrong.
However, there was actually one issue where their points of view diverged: the marriage proposal.
“He will tell you I ruined it,” laughs Kate, explaining that they were on their Christmas break from college in Spartanburg and headed to Hilton Head for vacation the next day.
“He kept trying to convince me to go to the park and walk the dog, but it was cold and I didn’t want to, so he put the ring on the tree. I was like, ‘Why didn’t you wait and do it at the beach?’”
John’s memory is quite different.
“She was all smiles and blushin’ and cryin’ and happy,” he says. “I’m not one to hold off and stall.”
Perspectives differed even further on what happened next.
“He tried to make up for the botched proposal later by giving me diamond earrings on the beach,” says Kate, “but he ended up kicking me in the head by accident.”
When questioned about the incident, which was a failed attempt at some sort of tango move, John said only, “Yeah, let’s leave that one out. She can’t fancy-dance like I can.”
Since those giddy days, life has happened: kids, dogs, jobs and so many things to juggle. At times, romance takes a back seat to teamwork and getting the job done.
“Our days are like a dance,” says Kate. “Pick up a kid, pass them off, pick up another one. Sometimes it goes by in a blur, and sometimes we stumble and fall. But, at the end, we always come back together, and we’re always happy. I think if you don’t find the romance again, you’ll lose each other somewhere along the way.”
As always, John echoes her sentiments.
“We have to spend so much time apart with everything we’re trying to do with the kids,” he says. “But in order for a relationship to work, you also have to keep things fun. Go out in the real world. That’s where you met! When we’re old, I don’t see us going shopping or golfing by ourselves. We want to spend time together.”
Ben Turner + Molly Carrington
“Here’s the romantic in him,” Molly says of her husband since 2000. “He comes in the kitchen the other morning and puts his arms around me. Then, he kinda snuggles in and says ‘Honey, bein’ married to you isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.’”
This is the typical down-to-earth humor of a devoted local couple. Ben is a Bluffton native, so when Molly moved down from North Carolina, he found her to be an exciting change. During a neighborhood block party, he walked past her sitting on a rock, then actually did a 180 to come back and say hello.
What caught his attention? “I have no idea,” Ben jokes. “The rock?”
They spent the next 11 years agreeing they didn’t want a serious relationship, and that they only wanted to have some fun together. First, Ben invited Molly on a moonlight bike ride to Pine Island, which was a blast and showed Molly that he had some imagination.
However, the time he took her shrimping didn’t work out so well. They got in a big fight because he was impatient teaching her to drive the boat, so she simply vowed never to go shrimping with him again, and she hasn’t. That was in 1988, and today these two strong individuals still find they are better together.
“When he refers to me as his best friend, I feel so astounded and complimented by that,” Molly raves.
A major turning point in their relationship came when Molly had the traumatic experience of being assaulted by an intruder. Ben was taking care of his mother at the time, and they insisted that Molly move in with them.
“That was the thing that saved me mentally,” Molly explains. “Ben was just so kind and patient with me. He still is. I trust Ben.”
Ben has found a lot to love in Molly, too.
“I was attracted by her intelligence,” he says. “She always has something interesting to tell me. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I went shopping,’ but ‘Honey, look what I did in the yard,’ or ‘Come here, I want to show you something on the computer.’”
Ben’s typically sardonic relationship advice is: “Don’t marry someone dumber than you are.”
Once you’ve found your soulmate, he says, have the humility to consider their point of view, admit when you’re wrong and find a compromise. Then, if you’re anything like Ben and Molly, the “happy every after” will follow.