OUR MOST ROMANTIC LOVE STORY EVER
A hot summer fling led to a walk down the aisle for an American and a Singaporean. Twice. On two continents.
“I knew one thing for sure – when he looked at me, his girlfriend was not on his mind.”
Katrina*, an aspiring actress and opera singer, was attending college in her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, in the United States, when she received a one-year scholarship to study arts in Italy.
“I was 22 and in my fourth year of university,” recalls Katrina. “I had been taking classes in Italian because of my interest in opera, so when I won the scholarship, I jumped at the chance.
“My father had recently died unexpectedly, and I desperately needed to escape my grief. My mother was heartbroken when I told her I was leaving, but I just had to get away.”
During the summer break, Katrina – along with her friend Tracie* – had originally decided to explore Western Europe with an unlimited Eurail pass. But after seeing more of Italy, they were smitten and decided to stay.
MEETING A HOT GUY
One day, Katrina found all their valuables stolen when she returned from exploring a church in Florence. Tracie had dozed off. “I had left my things with Tracie. When I came back from looking at art, all of our stuff was gone.”
They had to go to the American embassy to ask for new passports, and ask their parents to send them money. “Our wallets were a lot thinner so we decided to go to a small town outside of Rome,” says Katrina.
In the coastal village of Atrani, they lay on a beach for hours, taking in the stunning view. At one point, two guys walked by them. “They were both good-looking. One looked like a hippy and the other was a really buff Chinese guy,” says Katrina. “Tracie went over to talk to the hippy and they left together.
“There was nobody else on the beach except the Asian guy and me. We talked, went swimming and ended up having a great time. It was no big deal. I think I’d rather have been in a museum. But there was no denying he was hot!”
Katrina found out his name was Ben*, and that he was Singaporean. He was currently at law school in London, and trying to pass the Bar.
“He told me about his exploits as a national athlete and how he took part in triathlons. He had also been a commando in the army. Impressive stuff, but I didn’t let myself get caught up in it, because he had also mentioned that he had a Singaporean girlfriend back in London and that they were probably going to get married.”
DOES HE OR DOESN’T HE?
But the more Ben talked about his girlfriend Stephanie*, the more Katrina felt the pair were not a love match. “He seemed to think that because they had been together for so long, marriage was inevitable. I figured that it could be a family thing or an Asian tradition that I didn’t understand.
“I also questioned why he was travelling around Europe without her. I decided it was none of my business, and all this flirtation was just for fun. I knew one thing for sure – when he looked at me, his girlfriend was not on his mind.”
Two days later, the four travellers met for dinner. “We had a great time and later went to a dance club,” remembers Katrina. “It was fun but I started to feel tired and noticed that Ben was yawning too.
“I said to him: ‘Why don’t you walk me back to the hostel?’ We had a very romantic stroll through cobblestone streets, and I wondered what would happen when we got to the room. Would he kiss me?”
TALKING THROUGH THE NIGHT
When they reached the hostel late that night, Katrina was surprised to find there was a 10pm-6am curfew. “I didn’t know what to do,” says Katrina. “I was absolutely exhausted! So we went to the beach and talked about our families, childhood and everything else, until the sun came up. We didn’t kiss. It was just two people making a connection on a beach, in the middle of the night. I’ll never forget it.”
The next day, Katrina had to head back to Rome, then fly home to Nashville. Her mother had replaced her air ticket after it was stolen, so she had no choice but to cut her vacation short.
She wondered if she would ever see Ben again. Later that morning, he ran into her at the hostel and asked where she was going. “I told him I had to leave today, but before that, I was making a stop at the famous ruins of Pompeii nearby. I had always wanted to go there and didn’t know if I would ever make it back to Italy again,” says Katrina.
A TRAIN RIDE… AND A KISS
Ben told her he had always wanted to see Pompeii too, and asked if she would like some company. As her friend Tracie had decided to stay on in Europe, Katrina thought it would be nice not to have to see it
alone. And with the sexual tension between them getting stronger by the minute, she said yes.
“Suddenly, I was on a train with someone who was practically a stranger,” says Katrina. “Another girl’s boyfriend. From Singapore! What was I doing?”
They arrived in Pompeii and started exploring the city. “We were like two kids in a candy store. He shared my passion for antiquity, art and history. I loved that he loved the same things I did.”
The day felt magical. When Katrina turned to look at him, she found him gazing at her seriously. “He told me: ‘I have to leave you here’. I asked why and he said: ‘Because if I stay here with you, I will fall in love with you’.
“That set my heart on fire and I couldn’t help it, I kissed him. It was our first kiss, right there in the ruins of Pompeii, and it was incredible.”
THIS IS IT
Shortly after Ben returned to London and Katrina to the US, Ben broke up with his girlfriend. He and Katrina started exchanging e-mails non-stop. “We also loved the romance of handwritten letters. We wrote a letter almost every day. We were willing to leave our families and do anything to be together.”
They had only known each other six months when he visited her during his winter holidays. “We had never lived in the same city or country, but when he asked me to marry him on New Year’s Day, I said yes. The only question was where to live. Nashville? London? Florence? Singapore? We felt like we owned the world, even though neither of us had jobs, or any serious career prospects. All that mattered was our love.”
Next was the matter of telling their families. Katrina was desperate for her mum to like Ben, but her mum hadn’t forgiven her for going to Europe when she was most needed.
“I could understand where she was coming from. Daddy had died unexpectedly; I was an only child, and I was having this intense love affair with a hot triathlete commando warrior from South-east Asia. I had to be really careful around Momma. This was not the time to be talking to her about true love.”
Katrina also worried about how Ben’s family would feel. “What would they say about the fact that he dumped his very respectable law-school Asian girlfriend for an artistic, probably slutty, American girl? That’s not what I was, but I worried that it was what everyone thought.”
The couple hoped for the best, but also prepared themselves for the firestorm.
They decided the best thing was to get married as soon as possible, as Katrina’s conservative family would not have liked her to go to the other side of the globe to live with a man she had not yet wed.
I DO, I DO
Two weddings were planned: an American ceremony in Nashville and later, a Chinese ceremony in Singapore.
“I had to prepare my mother for the news that not only was I getting married, I was buying a one-way ticket to a country she had barely heard of. It was her worst nightmare. But I had to follow my heart,” says Katrina.
Only six people flew from Singapore to Tennessee to attend their wedding – Ben’s parents, siblings, his best man and Stephanie, the ex-girlfriend.
“I was mortified to hear she was coming,” says Katrina. “I had to remember that it was her choice to put herself through that. I was kind to her but did not try to be friends. It was awkward though. I could feel her eyes on me throughout the reception. She didn’t know anyone there, so mostly she just sat silently, observing.”
Katrina and Ben have now been married for 19 years. After their wedding, they lived in Singapore for three years, where their first child was born. They now live in the US with their two children, aged 16 and 12.
“Suddenly I was on a train with someone who was practically
a stranger. Another girl’s boyfriend. From Singapore! What was I doing?”