It was fall of 1984 when Michael Hussey and Bennett DeOlazo went to a Trivial Pursuit party that set in motion a not-so-trivial pursuit for both of them. Although they didn't know it that night, the two Oberlin College juniors were just starting on a 20-year journey together.
Still, it wasn't until a few weeks after that first meeting that Hussey finally called DeOlazo for a date. Befitting a college romance, he called at noon and still managed to wake DeOlazo from his sleep.
That day is their anniversary. In 1984, it also happened to be Thanksgiving. Hence, not a lot of options for them on their first date. So they went to see the Sally Field farm flick Places in the Heart.
"Michael spent a whole dollar on me," DeOlazo laughs. "It was dollar movie night."
Michael Hussey and Bennett DeOlazo
Hussey, now 41, and DeOlozao, 40, both remember Oberlin's Ohio campus as a fairly comforting place to come out, with its liberal student body. Hussey had already been out for awhile, having taken a year off from school at 19 to live in San Francisco. DeOlazo, a pianist and music major, says of his own coming out and their relationship together, "It's a pretty gay-friendly campus. That was really the best place."
The couple now makes their home in Northern Virginia, DeOlazo's home turf. After college they had briefly considered moving the Hussey's home state, New York, but NoVa prevailed for reasons of school and career -- plus the opportunity to live in DeOlazo's family home while his parents were overseas with the Foreign Service.
While they started out as roommates, the nature of the relationship became clearer to both families over time. With their Irish Roman Catholic background, Hussey's family had the more difficult time adjusting and, Hussey says, "I didn't really push it." But after prodding from DeOlazo and a few years when he "didn't' go home for Christmas," his family began coming around. Now they feel integrated into both their families as a couple.
Hussey says that one of the beautiful things about their relationship is that they've been together for half of their lives. However, as with any long-term relationship, it hasn't been all smooth sailing. They've worked through problematic times with counseling and patience, even last year in the months before their 20th anniversary. That experience has made their commitment to each other even stronger.
"I realized that I really never had felt as in love with Bennett as I did at that moment," Hussey says. "It was a realization that this was someone I felt safe with and loved by. It was a beautiful surprise."
"We love each other more now, or feel it more now, than when we first met," says DeOlazo.
Taking advantage of couples counseling gave them the opportunity to purge any issues that have built up unaddressed over the years and clear the air.
"It's not fun," Hussey says.
"But it's necessary," DeOlazo says. "We highly recommend it."
Even after such a long period of time, Hussey and DeOlazo haven't formalized their relationship with any ceremony.
"We've had more of a common-law marriage," jokes DeOlazo. They are looking at rings together, but are considering something just for the two of them, because after 20 years together a large wedding ceremony doesn't seem quite the right thing. Though it would have some advantages.
"I wouldn't mind registering somewhere," Hussey laughs.
Hectic schedules and lofty goals have made it a challenge at times for the both of them to spend time together. It wasn't long ago that Hussey completed his Ph.D. program and began work as a historian with the National Archives, while DeOlazo has focused on the challenge of successfully building his own graphic design company.
So every Friday night they have a court date -- that's the night they play tennis together. Hussey taught his partner how to play, and says that "now he beats me pretty regularly."
For a brief time last year they also played doubles as a team. Big mistake. There's a reason that golf and tennis tournaments for married couples are often referred to as "Divorce Opens."
"Playing together was a pivotal point that put us into couples therapy," DeOlazo laughs. "I think we got a reputation."
These days they stay on opposite sides of the net, which is more comfortable for both of them. They both have their individual interests that they pursue as well. But that doesn't lessen the importance of the experiences they share.
"We've spent our entire adult lives together," says DeOlazo. "All the critical stuff in our 20s and 30s -- we have a shared experience."
"The only bad part is that we've each heard all of our stories over and over again," says Hussey. "[But] I think it's a good thing to know someone that well."
He's not completely comfortable, however, at looking at their own long-term relationship as a template or example for others.
"It hasn't really been an accomplishment," Hussey says. "It's been our lives. I don't want to be on a shelf as a model couple. Length of time doesn't equal happiness."