A 50-Year Love Story

On February 14, 1972, a young Mary Beth H. embarked on her first European trip — to Amsterdam. She had recently transferred from Framingham State College (MA) to Syracuse University (NY) to be able to study abroad. This trip to Amsterdam would allow her to continue her undergraduate degree in Nutrition and graduate within four years.

Mary Beth left John, her boyfriend of two months, behind and made plans to see him in April in Amsterdam. He said, “You'll probably meet some Dutch guy and write me a 'Dear John’ letter,” even though Mary Beth had no plans to date during her short time abroad, plus she planned to be a bridesmaid in her best friend’s June wedding. 

Little did she know that just two weeks later she would meet Joost R.! Mary Beth was eating her lunch (Dutch broodjes and an apple) with a classmate in the reception area of a university building when she heard, “Where are you from?" It was Joost, curious about these English-speaking girls, and he asked Mary Beth for her phone number. Turns out, he had spent the previous summer in the US, visiting his Uncle’s family in Illinois, as well as San Francisco and Seattle. So Joost called and they dated. A few weeks later, Mary Beth wrote that ‘Dear John’ letter after all!  

Soon Mary Beth also informed her best friend that she wouldn’t be able to make her June wedding. After Mary Beth’s study program ended that May, she stayed with Joost’s parents while Joost finished his exams, then she and Joost traveled to the south of France for three weeks in his VW Beetle. That was a magical time in a magical location! Mary Beth spent the rest of the summer traveling on a Eurail Pass, going to Sweden and across to Norway with her Swedish pen pal, Else. Back in Amsterdam, she stayed another week with Joost’s parents before traveling to Ireland, England and eventually back to the US in August 1972. She had to say goodbye to Joost and they promised to write, although they didn’t know what the future would hold for their relationship. After all, it was the 70s; the motto was "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you’re with." 

Writing letters came naturally, however, since Joost had a philately (stamp collecting) business during his student years. He earned good money and traveled a lot as a result. But the couple also made several trips together in 1973, with Joost coming to Boston for a month in February (meeting Mary Beth’s family and friends), traveling together across the US during the summer while Joost traded stamps, and returning just in time for Mary Beth’s family reunion, where Joost met even more of her family. Saying goodbye again was hard but Mary Beth, now in a prestigious internship program in Boston, was happy to return to Amsterdam in October 1973 when Joost sent her a ticket. The couple then made further plans for Joost to come to Boston in February 1974. But, at the last minute, those plans were eventually canceled due to Joost failing some exams. His father lectured him: Forget about the American girlfriend and get back to studying!

Mary Beth and Joost continued writing letters and making occasional phone calls ($20 for three minutes in those days!). After Mary Beth finished her internship in September 1974, she flew to Amsterdam to get either closure or a renewed spark with Joost, who was still completing his university studies with a combined Masters of Business in Law. In between Sunday dinners at Joost’s parents’ house, Mary Beth had a whirlwind week: arrived on a Saturday; learned of an open job through her former study-abroad director that Monday; interviewed for the job on Tuesday; got hired and received her work papers on Wednesday; started work that Friday; and learned of a room for rent and moved in on Saturday. Joost's parents were impressed that she had accomplished so much in between Sunday dinners at their home. Getting a job during a recession when many Dutch people struggled to find work was terrific!

Mary Beth saw Joost regularly over the next few months, and things were going well. But the Dutch weather was gloomy at that time of year, and she couldn’t afford a vacation with her minimum-wage job. Joost also wasn't making any offers for the future and, at the same time, many school friends and her 21-year-old sister were getting married. Mary Beth decided not to wait around any longer. In early December, she booked a flight home, gave notice at work and for her room, and planned a goodbye date with Joost (think “I will always love you” by Dolly Parton). They said goodbye for what they thought would be forever.

Mary Beth kept in touch with Joost’s parents and learned that Joost finally finished university and got married in June 1978. In 1984, Mary Beth was divorcing after a short marriage to a Frenchman who only wanted a Green Card and took a trip to Amsterdam. She saw Joost’s parents, who then told Joost of Mary Beth’s circumstances. He had two kids with another on the way and said, ”What can I do about that?” But in 1999, 25 years after they had last seen each other, it was a different story. Joost had turned 50, was separating from his wife, and called Mary Beth. They saw each other again in Boston in April 2000, and in January 2001, Mary Beth moved to the Netherlands again. They’ve never looked back. The moral of this 50-year love story? Good things come to those who wait!