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Relationships

Our whirlwind romance: We met on an online dating site in our seventies

Graeme’s proposal to Colleen – on the first day they met in person – surprised even him.

By Julie Jacobson
Colleen and Graeme Northe may have a combined age of 147 but theirs is a very modern love story.
The couple – she's 75, he's 72 – met through an online dating site, fell head over heels, and seven months later tied the knot at the Cambridge retirement village they now call home.
The whirlwind romance began early last year when Colleen, twice widowed and missing close family, decided to seek a companion online.
Although she had a son in nearby Te Awamutu and a daughter in Hamilton, she pined for a house companion.
After several unsuccessful dates, she spotted Graeme's profile and the two began "chatting".
The attributes each was looking for in a potential partner were almost identical. But there was no "tall, dark and handsome" or "sense of humour a must". Instead, what attracted the pair was their shared faith.
"I was very specific in what I wanted," says Colleen with a laugh.
"What I wanted most was somebody who was going to put the Lord first, so we could walk together with the Lord. Graeme's profile said he was looking for a lady who would put the Lord first in her life."
They emailed and exchanged phone numbers.
Their first "real" date was at McDonald's in Te Awamutu. Graeme was staying with a daughter in nearby Kihikihi and suggested they meet for coffee.
There was an instant spark, plus they had a lot in common.
Graeme, then an elder with the Brethren Church in Napier, had done missionary work in Papua New Guinea, while Colleen had spent time in Kalimantan, Borneo, before returning home to pursue a nursing career.
Graeme, who had lost his wife Helen in 2018, was a father of five.
Colleen had five stepchildren from her first marriage and three from her second. She'd lost both previous husbands to cancer.
They talked for an hour and hatched a plan for Colleen to travel to Napier to hear Graeme preach. She would stay with one of his sons and get to know a bit about his family.
"I went to the service and gave him 10 out of 10," an enamoured Colleen says.The couple then prayed together – and Graeme unexpectedly proposed!
"We had just finished praying when he looked up, took my hand and said, 'Will you marry me?'" reveals Colleen.
"I knew within my heart the Lord was saying yes, so I could say yes straight away. There wasn't an engagement ring because he never really expected he would be proposing!"
They will celebrate their first wedding anniversary next month, having exchanged vows last year at Bupa St Kilda Retirement Village, with about 60 people, including family and residents, in attendance.
Colleen wore a new dress in purple, her favourite colour, and along with one of her daughters, made the wedding cake.
She laughs about its creation: "I bought four Christmas cakes and put them together with some icing. My daughter, who knows far more about icing cakes than I do, tidied it up for me. Because of the time of the year I got the cakes for about $2 each, so it was an $8 wedding cake, plus the icing!"
The couple believe divine intervention played a part in their meeting.
Graeme says he loves Colleen's caring and patient personality, and the fact she gives good cuddles.
Says Colleen: "Graeme shows me his love in so many ways. He buys me little things, he is excellent company and he brings me coffee in bed every morning and pancakes on Saturday."
Colleen's thrice-married life is a far cry from the one she once envisaged as a young missionary in Borneo.
"None of the indigenous people had seen a white woman before. To get from A to B, we had to go by river canoe with an outboard on the back."
There were snakes, and she caught dengue fever.
"I remember thinking when my best girlfriend got married in Jakarta that living where I was, in Kalimantan, I would never get married. I was quite upset. I thought I would be spending the rest of my life there."
After five years, she returned home.
"I was then offered a job at the Bible school in Jakarta. My daily reading said, 'Plan to stay, you will be there many years. Build for yourself homes and vineyards and see your children and grandchildren grow up.' But I had no money and I had no boyfriend!"
Since then Colleen, who trained in Auckland as a nurse and midwife before becoming a missionary, has worked as a nurse educator, gained a master's degree, lived in numerous homes and, through her marriages, now has 13 children, 25 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
The happy couple have not made any firm anniversary plans but hope to get away in their caravan at some stage.
And perhaps have a meal at McDonald's, their now-favourite restaurant.

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