“It was late one evening when I came across the photo of my future husband, Mack Nel, on an international gay website. Obviously, struck by his beauty, I looked at his profile and realized that Mack Nel was thirty-three years younger than myself, and did not think that there would be any interest or chemistry on his part as an older man. He had recently broken up with his boyfriend and had written a rather sad, self-deprecating profile. I wrote him back and tried to express some helpful thoughts about life with its peaks and valleys, heart mending positive thinking solutions to a broken heart. I was not expecting to hear back from him, especially since I did not have profile photos attached to my account. After sending my message, I felt a need to send him a photo so he could see I was talking to him in what I had hoped would provide wisdom and guidance to my young, gay colleague.
I was surprised when Mack Nel wrote me back, and we started chatting almost daily. It was not long after when we moved from the gay site to direct phone and Skype conversations, which lasted for hours daily. We were both surprised how much we had in common despite our age and geographical locations, Mack Nel living in the Northern part of the Philippines and me living in Ohio, USA. After a month, I decided to take a flight over to the Philippines to meet Mack Nel in person.
The plan was to have Mack Nel fly in from Ilocos Norte and meet me when I arrived and cleared customs at the Manila International Airport. The Manila airport is huge, and comprises several buildings which are not particularly close to each other. To my dismay, Mack Nel was not at the customs area and my phone was not working in his country. The airport’s public internet system was down and I was unable to reach him with my laptop. I found a very helpful cab driver who used his phone to call Mack Nel. Unfortunately, Mack Nel did not know much about the airport either and gave the driver some misleading information. The driver and his assistant drove me to another section of the airport where hundreds of filipino overseas foreign workers were just arriving and the driver, his assistant, and I were all walking through and yelling Mack Nel’s name with no results.
The driver tried to reach him on the phone but once Mack Nel knew we were on the way, he called and talked to his best friend back home. The driver finally said he must be at the only other remaining terminal. My flight did not arrive until eleven at night and it was now after one in the morning. As the driver drove up to the remaining terminal, it was already closed with most of the lights out, but standing under a light pole I recognized Mack Nel’s tall and slender silhouette with his bags standing alone looking lost, not knowing where to go. When I first recognized Mack Nel, of course, relief was my first reaction. As we drove up to him standing under the street light, I was breathless as to how truly handsome and beautiful his high cheekbones and gorgeous jawline were, and the swimmer-style body he had. He was absolutely everything I had expected and much, much more. Mack Nel greeted me with his lovely smile, warm and reassuring hug.
The driver took us over to Manila Hotel which is a very lovely California mission style landmark hotel celebrating its 108th anniversary close to the US Embassy. Mack Nel and I agreed that the first night we would only kiss and not have sex to avoid it being a one night stand, booty call. When we arrived into our suite, we had a passionate, stress releasing, magical and salacious kiss. We took turns cleaning up and cuddled into our majestic bed together, clinched into each other’s arms, nose to nose. We talked about our travels, our aspirations, expectations, and the yawning gulf between those and reality. There was certainly a magical chemistry between us and conversation was easy and with such great depth. Mack Nel was 22 and absolutely lovely, but even more importantly, he was well read and knowledgeable, having already completed his Bachelor of Arts in communication. We fell fast asleep, ready for our future together.
The morning arrived, and we made the most of our day hanging out in the hotel. We stayed in Manila for a week, exploring and enjoying our time together. The Manila Hotel has become a second home for us and have stayed there several times since. The staff always welcomes us back home, as we do rather stick out from their normal clientele.
At the end of the week, we rented a van and drove the twelve-hour drive to Mack Nel’s family farm. When we arrived in the wee hours of the morning, there were approximately 30 people waiting to greet us upon our arrival; Mack’s family, extended family and neighbors. It was intimidating to say the least, but they all welcomed me like a movie star to their community. We spent a week on the farm and provided me the opportunity to learn about their agricultural system.
Mack Nel and I took a flight to vacation in Hong Kong, one of my favorite cities in the world. We had an incredible time seeing the sights, Disneyland HK, Central, and, yes, a day with the jewelers to have matching wedding rings made. Yes, Mack Nel agreed to marry me!!! I regret not having gotten on one knee and asked him directly to marry me, it was almost a foregone conclusion that we were going to be together for the rest of our lives after Manila. We were, and still are, so much in sync with so much love for one another.
Mack Nel has a twitter account where a person said to me, ‘You are too old to be so foolish to think this boy loves you,’ and we often have people making the assumption Mack is here for a Green Card. My response to those who judge us harshly for our 33-year age difference is: our relationship works well for us. We did not plan on our love connection, nor was I an old troll looking for boys to feed my fancy, and Mack Nel was not out looking for a rich old man to gain access to the USA. I can assure you, Mack Nel had plenty of suitors and many with much more financial means than me. Actually, after the rings were purchased, I tried to talk Mack Nel out of our imminent marriage, worrying about how unfair it would be to him as I aged, my body and mind deteriorating while he was still a strong and viral young man. Mack Nel was steadfast he was there until the end, regardless of how God decided we should die.
We went back to the family farm in the Philippines. I had asked Mack Nel to help me write a letter which I would read to his parents in their native language of Ilocano, asking for Mack Nel’s hand in marriage. We took Mack Nel’s family, parents, sisters, nieces, aunts, uncles, and about 20 local children, mostly cousins, to a local beach resort. It was a beautiful Polynesian-style resort with thatched roofs, with a main hotel and several two story Polynesian homes, an incredible party house complete with an enormous swimming pool, small tiki huts along a stream of koi and tilapia fish looking for food falling from the guests. This all looked over the view of the South China Sea, it was breathtaking.
We spent the day there having a catered lunch and dinner planned so we could swim and enjoy the epic South Pacific sunset. As the sun started to set, Mack Nel, his mother, Esther, father, Nolie, and I retreated to a lovely private tiki hut overlooking the sunset. There, with the help from my wonderful fiancé holding my hand, I did my best to ask for Mack Nel’s hand in their native tongue. I was very nervous, and was not terribly sure if they understood me or were upset, as his father had no expression or change and his mother went from excited to having a rather forlorn gaze. There was a defining silence which seemed like days but lasted minutes with nothing said. Finally, Mack Nel’s mother, trembling, said she and her husband were fine with me marrying Mack Nel. It was apparent they were not expecting to have me ask for their son’s hand, but things were actually fine, and they have welcomed me into their family with open arms. We went back to Manila and hired a firm to assist us with our K1 visa application and initiated the process. Mack Nel flew down to see me off until we were able to acquire a date with the U.S. Embassy for Mack Nel’s visa.
I flew back to the Philippines to join Mack Nel’s U.S. visa interview and show my enduring support and our honest and heartfelt love. The interview was completed by a US State Department official at the Manila US Embassy. It just so happened that our officer was a fellow farm boy from Ohio and went successfully. We were well coached and prepared by our firm for the interview, and then we flew back to the USA a few days later on January 12, 2015, with ninety days to wed or call it off.
We were not allowed to get married in Ohio as it was still not legal in our state. We decided to have our marriage in California where Mack Nel had some wonderful cousins living in Stockton and one of my brothers who lives in Oxnard, California. We flew into San Francisco staying at the Omni, which was the site of a famous Filipino TV series on ABS-CBN. We obtained our marriage license at the San Francisco town hall.
We were married a few days later on Pismo Beach, at the Sea Venture Hotel. We were able to have my family fly and drive in and Mack Nel’s cousins drive down from Stockton. Unfortunately, we were not able to get visas for Mack Nel’s immediate family, and they had to watch via Skype. We had a fantastic wedding planner that orchestrated the entire event. Between the flowers, rose petals on the beach, and an amazing dinner following we had a beautiful and memorable wedding. It was a family only wedding, which when we turned around, the hotel restaurant and the boardwalk in front of the hotel were jam packed with well wishers joining in with our wedding vows on an inspiring clear day and sunset. The officiating minister brought us her hand blown goblet with gems, and we did a joint pouring of wine to replicate the joining of our lives and of our families together through life. She was so inspiring, and even though we had just met a couple of days prior to the wedding, it seemed as if she had known us both for years.
When we were still in the preliminary stages of our relationship, we had both discussed the desire and need to have children in our family. We also realized we needed time to truly consummate our marriage and travel the world and the States, developing and strengthening our bonds of marriage before we brought children into the family. We planned on three years and then we would start having children. We looked at adoption, and even went to several orphanages, but decided the best fit for our family was biologically related children. We completed a great deal of research into the process and considered several agencies both domestic and international. The cost does vary greatly, certainly much higher fees here in the United States than abroad.
We spent another eight months waiting to be matched with a surrogate as they are in high demand. At the time, Mack Nel had his permanent Green Card, but was not a U.S. Citizen as he is now. We did not want any issues with our children and their citizenship, so we had our first child here in the U.S. Clearwater, Florida, to be exact. The experience was beyond belief, with our very caring surrogate and our daughter brought right to us after birth. Mack Nel was the first to have skin to skin contact with our daughter, Maria Esther, and that bond is evident to this day.
We stayed in the hospital for the first two days of her life with the nurses keeping a very close eye on us. We are in the process of having our second child, and are going to use the same egg donor as well as the same surrogate here in the United States. The COVID pandemic really ruled out going overseas as even an option to consider at this time.
Marrying Mack Nel was certainly the best decision I have ever made in my life. Even though we do not fit so nicely into that conventional life so many others have chosen, I believe we have shattered the idea that conventional wisdom is always correct. Every day of my life is a blessing with my husband and daughter. And Mack is certainly my best friend. We are far from perfect, but perfect for each other. We look forward to our enduring future together with more children, more cows, more chickens and more goats on our Fil-Am (Filipino-American) Family Farms where we grow organic vegetables and hay and small well cared for livestock in the picturesque, rolling hills of east central Ohio.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Maria, Mack, and Jeffrey from Granville, Ohio. You can follow their journey on Instagram and TikTok. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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