Real Life

The Aussie couples who found love for a second time

Can an old romance really be rekindled? The Weekly meets the Aussie couples who found love together the second time around.

The story sounds like a classic rom-com. Boy meets girl at a party. There are awkward laughs and giddy butterflies. Then, a discovery. It turns out they live on the same street and they’ve grown up mere metres from each other. She is the girl next door; he is smitten. There’s a first kiss. It’s young love.

It may sound like a cliché ripped from the pages of a Hollywood script, but this is actually how Emma met Patrick in 2007.

“I was 19 when I met Patrick at my neighbour’s 21st birthday party, and we realised we’d been living on the same street for basically our whole lives,” explains Emma, who was studying pharmacy at university, while Patrick, then 22, was doing his carpentry apprenticeship. “Pat was very sporty, masculine and tough, but he was also kind and sensitive. I hadn’t had a serious boyfriend before, so it was all really exciting.”

The relationship blossomed on the suburban street they shared in Perth. “I’d stay at Patrick’s parents’ house or he’d stay at mine. We had lots of fun and created many memories,” says Emma.

Emma and Patrick when they first met and fell in love.

Then, after several years together, the relationship ended on the very same street where it had started out.

“I remember Pat coming over to my house. We had a conversation [about breaking up] and both of us cried. When Pat walked back to his house down the street crying, I ran after him,” says Emma. “It was really, really hard, but we were both so young. I’d finished uni and wanted to go travelling, but Pat wasn’t keen. We both wanted to see what else was out there, to live our lives and meet other people. It felt like we needed to discover ourselves individually.”

Both in tears, standing on their childhood street, the relationship came to a crashing halt.

But this isn’t the end of Emma and Patrick’s love story. It’s actually the beginning. You see, seven years after their heart-wrenching break-up, Emma and Pat rekindled their relationship.

It’s a situation that’s more common than you might think. Research from universities in Ohio and Wisconsin in the United States suggests that the number of young adult couples who break up only to get back together later in life is as high as 50 per cent. For Emma and Patrick, it took just seven years, but some couples don’t rekindle their love for decades.

Emma and Patrick once they rekindled their love years later.

The most high-profile reunion in recent times was the re-coupling of Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, who married in 2022 – 18 years after breaking off their first engagement.

“Love is kind,” J.Lo wrote in her newsletter. “And it turns out love is patient. Twenty years patient.”

Jennifer and Ben weren’t the first and they won’t be the last. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton famously married in 1964, divorced in 1974, before remarrying a year later (and eventually separating again the year after that). Another Hollywood couple, Ben Stiller and Christine Taylor, separated in 2017 (after nearly two decades of marriage and two children) and got back together during the pandemic when they isolated as a family. King Charles and Queen Camilla famously dated in the ’70s before breaking up and marrying other people, then eventually reuniting and officially marrying in 2005.

Social media has made it easier than ever to reconnect with lovers gone by, but this is a story as old as time.

The reasons couples reunite are often emotional ones, says Phoebe Rogers, a clinical psychologist and the founder of The Relationship Space. “Fear, loneliness, age and life stage are some of those reasons,” she says. “More positively, partners can also come back together after they’ve done some work on themselves and become more insightful and self-reflective.”

Friends at heart

The latter was the case for Jen and Ben Dugard, who worked in the film industry and met on set. “I was 22 when we met and we got married a few years later,” says Jen. “But as an adult, I had never been on my own and not in a relationship. I hadn’t learned to be independent. When I split up with Ben [after seven years of marriage and two children] in 2014, I had a lot of growing up to do.”

She describes a perfect storm that led to their separation: “After our second child was born, I experienced postnatal depression, and our baby didn’t sleep for 18 months. I think that was probably when I started to feel like I had lost my identity.”

Jen and Ben Bugard on their wedding day.

Jen threw herself into her fitness business and worked hard to carve out a new life. But deep down, she knew she couldn’t find the independence she needed while she was still in a relationship. She needed to be on her own.

“There wasn’t a breaking point [in our marriage], it just kind of faded,” she tells The Weekly. “We moved into a friendship, and I was at a point in my life where I didn’t want to be married to my best friend. I thought a relationship was meant to be passionate all the time, and because mine wasn’t, I thought it was broken.”

Jen was conscious of the effect that the separation would have on their children, but they both worked to make the transition easier. “Ben moved into an apartment 20 minutes away from our house and he had the kids most weekends,” she says. “That gave me the opportunity to be alone, or with friends, or working on my personal development.”

During the three years they were apart, both Jen and Ben dated other people and navigated co-parenting. They even signed divorce papers, though they were never filed.

Then something interesting happened. They were both single again and started catching up. It was a coffee here, a lunch there. “We started to enjoy each other’s company again,” says Jen, now in her early forties. “It wasn’t a conscious re-coupling, it just happened.”

Ben and Jen with their daughter after finding love again.

These things often do, explains Phoebe. “As we get older, our idea of what a ‘good partner’ is changes. It’s less about the chemistry, and more about the friendship. Having a shared history and a sense of familiarity can feel warm and safe.”

It took Jen a few years on her own to realise how lucky she was to be married to her best friend.

“During that time, I gained a lot from a self-worth perspective, and I realised I don’t need anyone else to fulfil me. Ben also changed and evolved. Together, we’re more open and brave with each other,” reflects Jen, who renewed her vows with Ben at an intimate ceremony with their kids on what would have been their 11th wedding anniversary in 2018.

“Today, we’ve been married for 16 years, with a three-year hiatus. And now I really do understand the value of having a friendship with the person you’re with.”

Stronger together

In the 1990s, the late Dr Nancy Kalish started the Lost Love Project, conducting a survey of 1001 people who had rekindled a broken relationship. She found that 72 per cent of participants had remained with their ‘lost love’, and 71 per cent said the reunion was the most intense of their lives. According to the seminal research, love is longer lasting and more intimate the second time around.

“For most, they [the relationships] are intense because they finally get to ‘right the wrong’. They feel like this is the person they were meant to be with,” Dr Kalish told the digital publication, Quartz.

Seven years after their tearful break-up on the street they’d grown up on, Emma and Patrick reunited – you guessed it – back on the same street. It was Christmas.

In 2001, before Emma and Patrick had even met, Helen Bitomsky-Pryor made a phone call that would change her life forever. She’d found the number for an ‘R. Pryor’ in the phone book, and when she rang, she asked if she’d reached Ron. “It’s Helen,” she said. “Do you remember me?”

“I’ve never forgotten you,” Ron replied. It had been nearly 45 years since the childhood sweethearts had spoken.

“Ron and I grew up together in Ballarat, and we were boyfriend and girlfriend. We used to dance together, and my parents thought we’d get married,” Helen recalls.

Helen and Ron at their wedding after finding love again later in life.

But Helen moved to Melbourne when she was 16 and broke up with Ron after meeting a Danish sailor named Rudy at a pub. Rudy swept Helen off her feet, and she knew she needed to end things with Ron.

“Ron was devastated. He went home [to Ballarat] heartbroken, and we didn’t keep in touch,” says Helen.

Without knowing it, both Helen and Ron married their respective partners on the same day at the same time: March 28, 1959, at 12:30pm. Helen went on to have two children with Rudy, and Ron had four with his wife. When their partners became ill, they each nursed them for 10 years until they passed away.

A year after her husband died, Helen made that phone call and reconnected with Ron. A week later, they were standing face-to-face outside the train station near Helen’s home. They hugged each other and didn’t let go.

“You’re still beautiful,” Ron told Helen, then 61. “I’ve always loved you. There hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that I haven’t thought of you.”

From that moment on, they were inseparable. “I’ve lost you once, I’m not losing you again,” Ron told Helen. The pair married a year later. Helen wore red, with little roses in her hair to match Ron’s boutonnière.

“Every day, Ron would say to me, ‘Darling, did I tell you today I love you?’” recalls Helen, who spent nine happy years with Ron until his passing in 2009.

“Ron was a lovely man and he treated me like a queen. I had two wonderful men in Rudy and Ron, and I keep their photos in a locket so they’re still with me.” At age 72, Helen got a tattoo of a cursive ‘R’ with a heart on her inner arm to remind her of her “two boys”.

“My advice to couples these days is to love each other, respect each other and hold each other close,” she says. “If it’s meant to be, it will be.”

Hearts grow fonder

In 2016, Pat was visiting his family in Perth after moving to Melbourne. He and Emma organised to catch up for a drink at the local pub, just around the corner from their parents’ places.

“We were both nervous and we said an awkward hello before settling into the beer garden. I remember sitting there, looking at Pat and thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to marry this guy.”

“It was an instant connection,” Emma admits. “I ended up dropping Pat home afterwards and I saw his mum and she was just so excited to see me again after seven years. Pat was only in Perth for a week, and we saw each other every day. It was very natural … We were both the same people deep down, but we’d matured, travelled and lived our lives.”

Therein lies the secret to a successful second run at love, says Phoebe: Growth, independence and togetherness.

“What keeps us together is our separateness,” she explains. “By nurturing ourselves and having our own lives, friends and hobbies – and encouraging our partners to do the same – we’re stronger together.”

That’s not to say getting back together is all smooth sailing. Emma was nervous reintroducing Pat to her friends, Jen struggled to drop past assumptions, and both couples tread carefully when speaking about the relationships they had in their time apart.

“Couples who get back together after separating need to redefine their relationship. It’s not what it was then; it is what it is now,” says Phoebe. “Partners should have reasonable expectations of one another, and communicate those expectations.”

She recommends you ask yourself, “‘Why am I choosing this person again? Am I choosing them because I’m lonely, or because they can truly bring something to my life?’ That’s the point of being a couple – adding to each other’s lives.”

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. For Emma, absence made her eyes see more clearly. Sitting in the beer garden of their local pub, Emma saw Pat in a new light. “I was sick of dating all these idiots on dating apps. It felt different with Pat, so natural and easy. We didn’t have to act or pretend. There was a connection and I knew he felt the same,” says Emma, now 36.

“Pat has strong family values, and a desire to settle down – those things were important to me when we got back together. We decided to give it a go. Pat left Melbourne to move back to Perth – and into my place with me.”

On a Saturday morning in 2018, Pat dropped down on one knee in Kings Park in Perth and proposed to Emma. “The one who got away” became the one who came back. They celebrated their engagement with champagne at the pub where they’d first reconnected – where Emma had first realised she would marry Pat.

Emma and Patrick at their wedding after finding love again years after they first fell in love.

In her speech at their 2019 wedding, Emma reflected on their reunion, saying: “Our little story is a true example of how the world works in wonderful ways for two people to come together, may it be a simply straight path or a long and windy journey like ours.”

Today, the couple lives with their two children a suburb over from where they grew up. They bring their kids to visit their grandparents on the street where they fell in love, broke up and eventually came back together.

“If I could go back and change anything now, I wouldn’t,” says Emma. “During our time apart we discovered ourselves individually as people, so we could meet again later.

“It feels like we’re exactly where we’re meant to be.”

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