A love story, 30 years in the making

As Valentine’s Day comes around, Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore brings you a series about love stories from Singapore.

Leela Jesudason (left) and Joe McAlpin in Singapore in October 2018. (PHOTO: Joe and Leela)

By Michael Hoare

Terrible timing and distance kept Leela and Joe apart for 30 years – until a thoughtful 10-year-old got involved.

Joe McAlpin knew he wanted to marry Leela Jesudason the moment they met in 1988. What he didn’t know was that he would have to wait more than 30 years to watch her walk down the aisle. This Valentine’s Day is the last the pair will spend single – they will tie the knot this April.

Joe, an American, and Leela, a Singaporean, first met each other socially while doing missionary work in the Philippines, and Joe wanted to take the relationship further. “I was in the north of the country and I decided I wanted to meet her (again)… so I made an excuse to go down to Manila to ask her on a date,” Joe, now 62, says. Unfortunately, no one had thought to mention that she was married.

“I went down there and asked if she would like to go to a movie, and she said ‘Great, I’ll just go and get my husband’.”

It was the wrong time. And that was that, although they maintained infrequent contact.

Joe returned to the US, and eventually got married and had two sons. When his marriage ended in 2012, Joe decided to try to reconnect with Leela.

Leela Jesudason (left) and Joe McAlpin in the Philippines in 1988. (PHOTO: Joe and Leela)

Despite the odds, he hoped that the vibrant woman he had been so enchanted with might someday be more than a long-distance friend.

But this time, he was in the wrong place.

“He found me on Facebook…. I had an inkling he was interested, but I was like, ‘Dude, you’re in the United States. It’s not happening’,” says 53-year-old Leela who was, by then, also single after a divorce.

Joe lives in Grand Junction, Colorado, where he runs a paint store. Leela and her family – including her 25- and 11-year-old sons – were in Singapore.

However, Joe refused to give up.

“I was very patient. We had to get reacquainted and understand where we were in our lives,” he says. “There was distance there, and she made that clear to me, but I just had to persist. I was crazy about her. I was going to persist until she told me to get lost.”

Over the next five years, the two stayed in contact online, but just as good friends. Then, on Valentine’s Day last year, Joe sent roses, sparking a conversation between Leela and her younger son, who wanted to know who Joe was, and refused to believe that he was “just a friend”.

“Friends don’t sent flowers for Valentine’s Day,” the 10-year-old pointed out. “Does he want to be more than friends?” To Leela’s arguments on why the physical distance made anything between them impossible, her son simply said: “Well, you know we can always find a way to make it work because you deserve to be happy. You should give him a chance, mummy.”

With those words, the little boy changed everything. Leela picked up the phone and spoke to Joe for the first time in 30 years. Over daily conversations, they discovered more and more what they had in common, including the challenges they faced as single parents. Over just five months, love bloomed.

In July, she got on a plane to Colorado, where he asked her to share the rest of her life with him.

“This is something that has withstood the test of time. It’s very humbling to know that if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be,” says Leela.

As Valentine’s Day 2019 rolls around, she is en route to the US. In April, they will get married and Leela will make Grand Junction her home.

“We’re very lucky that we’re going to be together,” says Joe. “It’s a tremendous blessing and I just love this lady to bits. She’s a wonderful woman in so many ways. I think she will make me a better man. She is the love of my life.”

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