Dale and Joe are a featured couple in How Love Lasts – The Play. See their story live in Los Angeles this fall!

Dale (50) and Joe (45) have been together for 20 years. Joe is a corporate consultant and Dale teaches middle school choral music and music theatre. Despite their differences, I could tell at first meeting that these two have been together a long time: they both say “you know” a lot, and have the same exuberant laugh.

Joe Henderson and Dale Duncan in their home in Atlanta, GA in 2015

According to Joe and Dale, their 20 years of history have been cultivated through constant demonstrations of their commitment to each other.

These demonstrations began early on. Dale and Joe had been dating for two months when Joe announced he needed to move away for work. Here’s Dale:

I started crying – I’d totally let myself fall. And I dried up, and he’s like, you know, “I would like for you to go with me,” and I said, “um I’m scared to quit my job and, you know, I don’t know what I would do.” It was very scary and he said, you know, “Why don’t we just write a contract just for us and if you are unhappy after a year there I will get you back here to North Carolina” … and that was probably the first piece – the first real feeling of trust.

The couple moved to Louisville, and moved in together, after only knowing each other for a few months. Then, Joe’s work took him and Dale to New Jersey, where they lived for seven years. Next, they lived in Atlanta for five years before Joe got a job opportunity in Switzerland. Because they couldn’t get legally married, (though they were in a civil union) it took almost a year to secure Dale’s visa.

It may appear on the surface as though Joe made unilateral decisions to make these career moves, and Dale simply followed. This was not the case. Here’s Dale:

Of course relationships are compromise, but every step of the way, every big decision we’ve made, we talk about what we have to do. If he wants to move with work, I’m like, “What does this mean for me?” We sit down, we talk it through, and we figure out what’s gonna work the best for both of us.

Joe has also done his part to show Dale his commitment. For example:

Joe: “I never miss a middle school musical. I’ve only missed once in 20 years, while I was in Switzerland.”

Dale: “This year he almost had to miss—“

Joe: “I flew home to get to it and flew out to leave – these types of things build a life … how many middle school musicals can you watch?”

Dale: “You’re gonna watch them ’til the day I retire. [laughs] It’s important. He knows it’s important to me and I know what’s important to him.”

Joe believes commitment also shows up in the little things:

Sweet text messages or doing the grocery shopping for the other person or getting their car washed for them – I think that’s what makes up a life – he likes to give cards, that’s what he likes – to give cards – and I’m not really a card person but he – that’s how he shows affection and stuff like that – it’s important for him, and I’ve kept every one. I’ve got a whole file folder full of ‘em. [laughs]

We asked if there have been times when either of them doubted their commitment, or times when they haven’t felt as jazzed about sending the cute texts or making the coffee. Here’s what Dale had to say to Daniel on the subject:

The truth is I think you fall in and out of love with each other all the time through whatever’s happening in your life. You can feel really connected at certain points and you can feel really distant at certain points and … we pull each other back together because we love each other and we are committed to just continuing to work on it. It’s a constant matter that has to be at the forefront.

Here’s how Joe answered:

After the 7 year itch – that’s a real thing actually, a lot of our couple friends, straight and gay, go through that – you kinda stop each other, and say, “Are you in this for the long term?” … Once you go through that once or twice it ebbs and flows. It gets better as you get older: the intimacy, the closeness, the rhythm of life … Changing things up helps a lot. You know, buying a new house or moving to a new location, it’s a way to create energy in the relationship and stuff like that … having a life plan keeps the energy going. You don’t get stuck in a rut.

Speaking of life plans… here’s Dale:

The biggest life event that’s gonna happen is that, the Supreme Court just took the marriage issue and they’re gonna announce at the beginning of June. If they announce and force Georgia to have marriage, then we’re getting married right here in our backyard and that will be the life event of the year.

Joe and Dale have proven that you don’t need to be married to commit to your partner. These two have demonstrated their commitment to each other every day for 20 years, but finally having their commitment legally, socially, culturally recognized is very important to them. 

How do you demonstrate your commitment to your partner? How does s/he demonstrate it to you?

Share your stories with us in a comment below!

Brooke is a founding author of How Love Lasts. 


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