This article originally appeared on VICE Greece
It goes without saying that the only cliché worse than celebrating Valentine's Day is the people who hate it. So in order to celebrate Valentine's Day in the most neutral way possible I'm spending a day with 86-year-old Giorgos and 82-year-old Maria, who have been together for 60 years. My thinking being that they should have gained a pretty balanced view of love by now.
Their home is in Peristeri, a neighbourhood a few kilometres outside the busy centre of Athens, Greece. I get out of the car and see that Maria is already at the door, waiting to greet me. I immediately feel at home. It's like stepping into my gran's house: the familiar smell of mothballs hangs in the air and the whole place is spotless.
"Would you like a sweet? I've made some bergamot spoon sweets," says Maria, eager to show off her recipe. Obviously "no" is not an option here.
While Maria busies herself in the kitchen, I start chatting to George about his life. He left his village when he was 17 without a penny to his name, moved to Athens and worked hard to become a mechanic.
Maria comes back into the room and I ask them how they met. Back when they were young, marriage in Greece was something to be arranged by a couple's parents. Their story, however, is slightly different. "We fell in love before I asked Maria's parents for her hand in marriage," says George.
He signed up for military service and while he was away he'd send her a steady stream of letters. However, he would address them to her cousin, who would in turn hand them to Maria, so her brothers wouldn't find out. "I don't want to blow my own trumpet, but I wrote some cracking letters," he says with a chuckle, before Maria jumps in. "That was how it was in those days. You kids get to enjoy life these days. You talk to girls, you talk to boys. Back in our day, you weren't even allowed to think about talking to a boy."
A few days after leaving the army, George went over to Maria's house and "officially" asked her to marry him. He remembers every single date in impressive detail. They were married on the 3rd of June, 1956, so last year marked their 60th anniversary. To celebrate their anniversary, "every single year I go out and buy Maria a bouquet of red roses", George beams. "I grew up in a very strict household. The one thing I always wished for was to find a person that I could enjoy life with," Maria adds.
Their first few years together were tough. They had no money and had to work hard to get by. Maria worked as a seamstress and spent her days travelling all over the city, visiting rich women in their homes. "The needle is my love, my friend to this very day," she explains, showing me works of handmade embroidery that she has made for her children and grandchildren.
Throughout our conversation, the couple sit in the same spot they sit every afternoon. George in his armchair, with a book in his hand, and Maria on the couch, knitting.
I ask them what everyday life is like. "We have a great time together," says Maria. "We get up in the morning, eat breakfast, go do our shopping and then George helps me with the housework and all the cleaning. When lunchtime comes along we'll eat, then settle down for a nap. George then gets up and reads his books or watches television. I just sit here and knit." George then takes over and starts telling me about all the handiwork he's done around the house, proudly revealing the workshop he has on the roof.
"What's it like being with the same person for 60 years?" I ask. "Look, I'm not going to lie. We do have arguments, but they just don't last long. That's the secret. Couples that hold on to resentment don't last long. We swore to each other that we would marry, but that we would not separate. I sometimes think that 60 years have gone by and they've been full of laughter and joy," Maria replies.
When I ask George about his fondest memories, he tells me about the trips the couple have taken together – to France, the USSR and a road trip that took them across Italy, Switzerland and Hungary. "We never shut ourselves away, like other people do when they get old. When George retired, we started going on trips. We've been everywhere," says Maria.
There must be something that really annoys you about each other after 60 years of marriage, I insist.
"You know, I think because in the first years of our marriage we had no money, there are certain things that have carried over," says George tentatively. "I think that's why my wife sometimes…" He trails off and Maria cuts in: "Well go on – don't be shy, out with it! I call you stingy." They both burst out in laughter. "Mind you," says George says, "there's only one wallet and she keeps hold of it."
They go on for a while, talking about what makes them happy today, expressing their pride over their children and grandchildren.
Our chat is winding down so I ask them one final question: Are they still in love? My question brings a visible tear to George's eye. "Love can never be forgotten, young man. If you love once, it never goes away. I don't pretend, and yes we do fight sometimes, but we calm down soon after."
"Mutual respect is the most important thing of all," adds Maria. "Besides, we've been together for so long, what's the point in breaking up now? Where would we go? What would we do? We so need each other now."