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24 May 2015

Gay couples share their universal stories of love

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While many couples opt for traditional Valentine’s Day gifts, including candy hearts and flowers, longtime couple Rick Filbert and Rick Schnurbusch prefer to celebrate their 28-year relationship with quiet time at home.

Filbert said in lieu of traditional chocolates and cards, he hides little notes around the house in the morning for Schnurbusch to find during his morning routine, and instead of exchanging Valentines, they exchange gifts at random with the help of their “present pillow.”

“We’ll buy each other a present and put it under the pillow. And when he comes home and I say, ‘do you hear that?’ He knows that means there’s a present under the pillow,” Schnurbusch said.

Filbert and Schnurbusch, residents of Ogunquit and co-owners of On The Main, who first met nearly 30 years ago while working at CVS, have what they describe as an “easy relationship” based on mutual trust, acceptance and appreciation.

But it wasn’t always smooth sailing.

“I didn’t like him initially,” Filbert admitted.

Fresh out of college and eager to impress, Filbert said Schnurbusch’s tendency to wear a suit and tie deferred him from taking him seriously, but “one thing led to another” and their relationship has thrived ever since.

“He’s my soulmate,” Schnurbusch said. “I know it’s right because it’s easy. Not that you don’t work on it but it’s easy to be with him. Rick is No. 1, he comes first.”

During the course of their relationship, Filbert and Schnurbusch also exchanged private vows and rings to solidify their relationship to one another.

Before leaving on a cruise, Schnurbusch said he and Filbert sat in their living room and exchanged their own vows and shared a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

“That was our commitment, but I would love to be married in the traditional sense,” Schnurbusch said.

Many Mainers are hopeful that couples like Filbert and Schnurbusch will have the opportunity to be legally wed when same-sex marriage is on the ballot in November.

For Jeff Butler and Dennis Dineen, residents of Wells, the opportunity to be legally married in Maine would complement their New Hampshire nuptials.

“When it became legal in New Hampshire, we thought ‘there’s something to this,'” Butler recalled. “It’s a social acceptance of our relationship with other people. Standing in front of those people and putting your heart out there, I didn’t anticipate how powerful it would be.”

Butler and Dineen celebrated their now 30-year relationship in April 2010 with a small wedding and reception at The Front Porch Restaurant while they were in the process of moving from New Hampshire to Maine.

“We have gone through the ceremony piece but we come to Maine and theoretically our marriage is null and void from a legal perspective,” Dineen said. “It’s very important for us that it passes. We have a lot riding on it with our home and our life.”

After first meeting in biology class in high school as juniors, Dineen said he initially thought Butler was a “jerk.”

“I only thought he was a jerk because I thought he was full of himself. He was outgoing, I saw things in Jeff that I wish I had in myself,” Dineen admitted.

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But by senior year, the two were close companions and romantic feelings began to develop.

“I couldn’t figure out why this boy with the big brown eyes kept staring at me in class. What was he looking at and why did I keep staring back?” Butler recalled.

Keeping their relationship quiet, Dineen said he and Butler both dated girls in high school.

“We double-dated a lot. We would drop the girls off and go out by ourselves,” Dineen said. “There was a bit of hiding in high school, we weren’t out and proud. It wasn’t until after graduation that we felt we had the freedom.”

Without specific Valentine’s Day plans, Butler and Dineen said they will be on a cruise in the Caribbean on Feb. 14.

Similarly, John Cavaretta and Randal Coulton, of Wells, will be in transit on Valentine’s Day after a tropical vacation.

The key to their 34-year relationship, Cavaretta said, are their common interests including biking, skiing, spending time at Moosehead Lake and managing their businesses, including the Village Food Market in Ogunquit.

“We’re big outdoors types,” Cavaretta said, adding that another important aspect of their relationship is clear and open communication.

“When you have arguments, like everyone else does, the key to it is to realize arguments seem to go around in a circle. You have to break the circle and stop it. Walk away from it and five minutes later, it’s gone,” Cavaretta said.

After knowing one another as acquaintances, Coulton was the one to make the first move after a friend informed him of his feelings for Cavaretta.

“She said, ‘I’ve got something to tell you, you’re gay. Every time John Cavaretta comes in, you nearly cut your fingers off,'” Coulton recalled.

Shortly after that conversation, Coulton said he approached Cavaretta and told him that they needed to get a drink.

“I went in to the store and re-introduced myself and said we should go out for a drink. I think he was surprised that this young guy is asking him for a drink, but 34 years later …,” Coulton said.

Cavaretta and Coulton said the 1980s was a “very rough period for the gay community here” in Ogunquit, which added outside pressures on their relationship.

“It was very depressing times, relationship-wise. That pressure was always weighing us down. We were giving so much to the community, then having so much hatred,” Coulton recalled.

But they said the love and support of their families was able to bring them through.

“Our families just opened their arms. Our entire families all accepted us,” Cavaretta said.

They refer to one another as “life partners.”

“Would we rather be married?,” Cavaretta asked. “Absolutely.”

The key to success for Rick Barber and Mark Renaud’s 16-year relationship has been their complementary differences.

“We’re actually polar opposites personality-wise. It might sound strange but we complement each other very well. My strengths are complemented by his strengths and our weaknesses off-set each other,” Renaud explained.

After catching each other’s attention in a Boston coffeehouse, it was Barber who later made the first move.

“I went to this coffee shop in the South End of Boston. He came in one day and we acknowledged each other, he came back the next day and we acknowledged each other again. On the third day, I sat in a position so he could sit with me. He sat at the next table with his back to me,” Barber said. “We met somewhere else, and I walked up and started talking to him. I liked the fact that he ignored me.”

“And he won’t let me forget it,” Renaud added with a laugh.

With life changes including death of parents, career changes and other unexpected external forces, Renaud said those are the moments that can make or break a relationship.

“Life changes in ways that can bring you closer together or maybe drive you apart,” Renaud said.

Most recently, Barber and Renaud made a significant life change moving from Haverhill, Mass., to Ogunquit and becoming business partners at Moon Over Maine Bed and Breakfast.

“For the first time we were actually working together. Our careers were always separate. Now we’re in this together, we have to work as a partnership on a different level,” Renaud said.

But it’s the day-to-day routine that can also impact a relationship.

“Once in a while you have to add a little spark or change. Sometimes it’s necessary to be day to day but it’s important to be spontaneous and reignite the spark a little stronger,” Barber said.

With their Valentine’s Day plans still in limbo, Barber said the key to a happy and successful relationship is really very simple.

“Money,” Barber joked. “Trust and honesty. It’s cliché but just being there, whatever it means, being present or letting him know you’re there. It’s that simple.”


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