Friday 24 November 2017

I married my childhood sweetheart

More of us are settling down later in life but we spoke to two couples who won the emotional lottery early

Brian and Joanna O'Donovan with their daughters Lucy (left) and Erin.
Brian and Joanna O'Donovan with their daughters Lucy (left) and Erin.
Lorraine Quinn and Conal Crossan today
Lorraine Quinn and Conal Crossan on their wedding day

Geraldine Lynagh

Bono and Ali, Nicky and Georgina Byrne, and Johnny Sexton and his wife Laura would no doubt recommend it. But despite these success stories, the days of marrying your childhood sweetheart appear to be becoming a thing of the past.

A new study by the Future Foundation has found that one third of couples in their 60s had been together since their teens, compared with just one in seven under-30s now. It also found that the age couples decide to have their first child has increased and far fewer own their own homes while still in their 20s.

Ciara Crossan from isn't surprised. She thinks fewer people are marrying their first love because the temptation to leave them behind and see the world is much stronger than in previous generations.

"More people are travelling to far-flung places because it's so much more affordable," she says. "Many young people are taking a year out, or moving abroad for even longer stints after school or college."

Young romances can naturally come under strain.

"Even with new technologies like Skype and Facebook, maintaining a relationship over long distances is very difficult," Ciara says. "Young people are more educated now than ever before, so many are prioritising their careers over other things."

So is it a shame that fewer childhood sweethearts are tying the knot? We chat to two couples who have no regrets about settling down so soon.

Lorraine Quinn and her husband Conal Crossan live in Cork.

They have been married for 32 years and have four children.

Lorraine met Conal when she was 12 and he was 13.

"We met at home in Enniscrone," she remembers. "A gang of us used to hang out on the beach and swim together."

A year later, romance blossomed. Conal was in boarding school at the time.

"Our early days were based on letters and the odd phone call," says Lorraine. "It was great fun. I was going to school in Enniscrone and I used to run home at lunchtime to get Conal's letters."

The young relationship developed and every summer Conal would return to Enniscrone. When he left school, he got a job in England and the long-distance love affair continued.

"We were in contact the whole time. He'd come home to Mayo and I would be over and back to England, even though flights were expensive then," recalls Lorraine.

More than a decade after they met as teenagers, the couple got engaged. Lorraine says: "I was working in Dublin at the time. Conal came home from London, came to my office in Dublin and just gave it to me over the typewriter! It was romantic."

Lorraine was 23 and Conal was 24 when they got married. She doesn't feel she has missed out by settling down so young, simply because she can hardly remember life without him.

"I've known Conal for 43 years and I'm only 55," she points out. "We literally grew up together. Not alone do we know each other well, but we know each other's families well. To me, that's one of the advantages of marrying your childhood sweetheart. You know everything about the other."

After they married, the couple moved to Cork. Lorraine had four children by the time she was 34 and is glad she had them early in life.

"The kids keep us young," she says. "We've been to concerts and festivals, like Electric Picnic, with them. That's a great advantage of getting married and having kids young."

Now that the children are less dependent on them, Lorraine admits her relationship with Conal has changed -- but in a good way.

"We're great buddies," she says. "We go on city breaks and holidays now without the kids. For the first time in years it's just the two of us. But we enjoy it.

"I don't remember ever deciding 'he's the one'," says Lorraine. "Life just captures you up and takes you along. I hope that I'll be with him all my life. We argue like anyone else sometimes, but he's still the man I'm attracted to. He was it -- and he's still it."

Brian O'Donovan is TV3's finance correspondent. He and his wife Joanna, a teacher, live in Lucan with their daughters, Lucy (3) and Erin (four months)

They met in Irish college in Ballyferriter as teenagers. "Joanna was 16 and I was 18," remembers Brian. "We didn't get together straight away because she had a boyfriend at home in Cork. We got to know each other at the ceilis and stayed in touch when we returned home. Then Joanna broke up with her boyfriend and we got together officially in October of that year."

The attraction was instant, for Brian at least. "We hit it off straight away," he recalls. "I have a feeling she wasn't hugely into me at that initial stage, but she had a boyfriend back then, so that was fair enough," he laughs.

Their fledgling relationship was complicated by the fact that both were going into their Leaving Cert year.

"At the start we only met up at weekends really," says Brian. "And of course, we were broke students, so our dates wouldn't have been very elaborate. Maybe a trip to MacDonalds or the cinema. But there were lots of phone calls during the week."

"The next challenge came when we finished school," says Brian. "I wanted to study media and there were no courses in Cork, so I had to move to Dublin. Joanna was going to university in Cork. It was a huge issue.

"But I would go home to Cork most weekends to see her."

The years that followed were difficult and they did think twice about the relationship.

"I think it entered both our minds after year one that maybe it would be easier if we broke up," says Brian. "But the reality was we were mad about each other. We both knew this was for the long haul, so we stuck with it."

After college, Brian and Joanna headed off to see the world. They taught English in China for a few months, before backpacking around the region.

In 2007, while still in their 20s, they moved to Dublin and bought their first house in Lucan.

No one was surprised when they got engaged as they'd been together so long, but Brian still wanted the proposal to be extra-special.

"I took her back to Irish college in Ballyferriter," he remembers. "I got in touch with the guys who ran it and got the keys to the ceili hall where we first met. I had a ring and there was music playing and I got down on one knee. Thankfully she said yes!"

Four years and two children later, Brian acknowledges that the couple made important decisions, like buying a house, getting married and having kids, at an unusually young age. But he doesn't feel he's missed out on any of life's experiences by settling down so early.

Brian adds: "Fewer people seem to be marrying their childhood sweethearts these days and we're lucky it's worked out for us. But we're not unique -- among our group of friends at least. And we genuinely don't feel like we're missed out on anything by getting together so young."

The over 60s

The Future Foundation was commissioned by The Co-operative to survey 2,000 people in the UK. The study found:

-- One-third of couples over 60 had been together since they were teens

-- Nearly half of over 60s had a child before 25

-- Four out of 10 retirees owned their own home by 25

- -- 69pc said economic circumstances had delayed them reaching life goals

Irish Independent

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