How we stay together: ‘I was comfortable just to be there and let her cry it out’

Names: Natasha and Dave Hayes
Years together: 22
Occupations: government worker and IT team leader

Even the best laid plans go astray. In 1998, Natasha Hayes was planning to move to London. So when her housemate suggested she meet her friend Dave, Tash wasn’t interested. “I’m like, ‘I’m going overseas – I don’t want to meet anyone.’”

But when Dave turned up at her house one afternoon, Tash did a double take. “I saw this tall, blonde-haired giant of a man with an amazing smile and I thought: ‘Hmm’,” she remembers.

Her housemate suggested they all go on a double date – except she didn’t turn up. Tash and Dave found themselves on a regular date and, although there weren’t fireworks at first, there was enough to intrigue them. “It was just getting to know the other person – but, after a couple of dates, the chemistry kicked in and we became really close,” Dave says.

The Brisbane couple are opposites in many ways, and at first their match perplexed those close to them. “[My sister] couldn’t get her head around it,” Tash says. “She said, ‘But you listen to commercial radio; Dave listens to Triple J. You do ballroom dancing; Dave does moshing’ … So it was like, ‘Is this actually really going to work?’”

But they compliment each other, Tash says. “For me, I’m very emotional, very highly strung and Dave can ground me. He’ll level me and make me see reason. While for me it’s like, ‘Dave, talk to me. Tell me how you’re feeling’, so I get the emotion out of Dave.”

From the start, Dave put everything on the table. “I wanted to make sure that if there was anything that Tash wasn’t going to like about me, I wanted her to know as early as possible, I was trying to protect myself emotionally. And through that honesty of sharing, we got a much greater connection.”

But Tash had booked her trip, so six months after they met, she moved to London, planning to spend the next few years in Europe. A few months later, Dave flew over to visit her for three weeks. “I think that’s when I knew. I’m like, ‘He’s serious’.”

After he left, Tash stayed on and moved to Greece for a nine-month stint, but eventually she decided it was time to come home. One afternoon, she surprised Dave at his workplace. “[I had] butterflies in my stomach. We’d spoken and we’d written letters, but still I was so nervous and just, ‘Oh my God, is he going to be there?’ I’ll never forget it. And his boss just turned around and said, ‘Ah, this is Tash. Have the day off. Have the next day off too. Just go.’”

It wasn’t long after that Dave decided to take the next step. “Things were even better than they were before she left, I thought, ‘OK, well, we haven’t had a fight, and I want to make sure that we can make up after we have a fight.’ Time went on, we still didn’t have a fight, and I’m like, ‘It’s not happening, and so maybe I shouldn’t wait anymore.’” One night, after a friend’s party, he asked her to marry him. “And she’s like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m serious. Marry me.’”

Being apart had shown them the strength of their connection, that they could be together but also be independent too. It’s something that still sustains them: “The fact I could go to a heavy metal concert knowing that Tash had absolutely no interest in that but she wouldn’t want to stop me from going to that, and she could go off to the ballet and I wasn’t interested in the ballet, but she could go off,” Dave says. “So the fact that we had common values, we really enjoyed each other’s company, but we also enjoyed spending time apart and doing what we wanted to do was what made it for me.”

They were married in August 2000 in a medieval-themed wedding. They pulled out all the stops including a groom wearing chain mail, wedding goblets and a celebrant dressed as Friar Tuck. Also, as part of the fun, they had a sketch artist who sketched everything, rather than a videographer, and they have a book filled with sketches as a wedding album.

Getting married was a significant commitment for both but not much changed on a day-to-day level. “We didn’t get married for a purpose. A lot of people get married because they want to start a family and have kids. We got married just because we were together, we were in love and we just wanted people to know that we were in love,” Dave says. “We weren’t getting married as a precursor to something else, more an expression of who we were.”

The couple had decided early in their relationship that they weren’t going to have children. Tash says: “A lot of people ask like, ‘Oh, when are you having [children]?’ Well I always flip that. Why have children just for the sake of? So many people I have talked to or know of say, ‘Oh, well I’m a girl, I’m 40, I should have kids now.’ Well, why should you? The world is crazy at the minute. Do you really want to bring a child into that?”

While there has been some family pressure around that decision, their bond has meant they back each other up. “There’s nothing outside of us that comes between us, so we trust each other, and we’re honest with each other, so we don’t need to be constantly worried about, oh, is this other thing that’s outside going to influence and come between us?” Dave says. “Because if there was something that was going to cause friction, then we would feel free to talk about that before it ever got to that point.”

About a year ago, the couple went through a difficult time when Tash’s sister took her own life. She had stayed with the couple in the months leading up to that, with Tash doing all she could to help her. Dave was by her side throughout. “It was a challenge for me emotionally, but again, Dave knew I had to do it. It was a no brainer. It was like, ‘She’s coming to live with me. We’re going to get this hopefully better.’ And the outcome was not what we expected. But having Dave there was a leveller [for me].”

He supported her through her grief. “He’s been there. He could’ve just said, ‘Oh, just get over it. She’s gone. She made her peace.’ But Dave hasn’t. Maybe he doesn’t understand the connection, but [he] accepts, well, that’s what we had. So he’s been my rock through all that as well, which has been amazing.” Dave has kept her spirits up. “I’ll always have this hole in my soul and heart but Dave always reminds me of the positive, and that’s sometimes what I need, because it’s still fresh and so awful.”

Over the years, Dave says he has learnt that just being there and letting Tash process her emotions helps: “I was comfortable just to be there and let her cry it out, rather than try to extinguish the emotion.”

Through everything, they have grown closer: “As you get older, you get more confident in yourself and who you are and less worried about how the world perceives you. So as we’ve grown together, we’ve been confident in ourselves as individuals and as a couple,” Dave says.

They have also learnt to be realistic about each other and where they are in their lives. Dave uses the example of buying a home in an affordable area in Brisbane, which allowed them to pay down their mortgage and also enjoy their lives. “That is the key for us staying together, just being ourselves and being realistic about things, because then that takes a whole heap of other pressures off that just don’t need to be there.”

For them, it comes down to supporting the other, while leaving enough space to grow. Dave says: “Commitment is about providing that support because we’ve got open, honest conversation, then we have the common foundation of values, then it’s very easy to support each other in whatever decisions we’re making or going through.”