Partners: Jowanna Tillman and Edonna Koon
How long have you been together: About 9 ½ years.
How did you get together/meet? Jowanna: We met for the first time in 2001 during Pride at
Edonna: She was not single, she was in one of her 90 day relationships, so I had to time my asking her out. Oddly enough, I began to spend time with her while she was recovering from surgery. I bought over movies that I thought she might like. It also allowed me to hold conversations that I could guide----I am really shy.
What was the initial attraction: Jowanna: I could not get Donna to speak with me. The first time we met she said exactly 5 words: Donna,
Athens, Yes, No,
Marines. It drove me crazy. I spent the next few years trying to
get her to talk to me. She was also so kind and so unaffected by other
people. I liked her independent spirit. We are kindred in
Edonna: She talked so much! I figured that I would not have to talk much during our initial conversations. I would like to say I was really attracted to her mind or her beautiful singing voice, but that came later. She was just stunning to me.
Jowanna, if she wouldn’t talk, what intrigued you about her? Jowanna: I was intrigued because she didn’t flirt with me and I was used to everybody flirting and talking to me. She ignored me, and I also was not accustomed to being ignored. Since she didn’t pay attention to me, I wanted to make her pay attention to me.
Donna, why didn’t you talk? I am shy and since she could carry a conversation, I would let her talk. Also she had a 90 day rule and it was hard to find time to talk to her because she was always dating someone.
What is a 90-day rule? Jowanna: I would date someone for 90 days and during the 90 days, I would asses if I wanted to move forward with the person. I believed that after 90 days, people start to show their true self. So after 90 days, I would determine if I wanted to move forward. Edonna: I felt pressured because I knew that I had to get her interested in me in 90 days. So, while she was recovering from her surgery, I took her a box of VHS movies. Since she was on pain medication, I knew I could carry the conversation. So to help me with my shyness, I planned our conversations on note cards to make sure that I could engage her on topics that she was interested in. I wanted to be able to speak intelligently about the topics that interested her.
You planned the conversations? Edonna: Yes, I planned the conversations. I would pick a few subjects that I knew she would find interesting. Sometimes, I would only have to say 9 words and she would just talk. I used the note cards for about 6 months. Jowanna: I didn’t know that she planned our conversations until we moved in together and she showed the note cards to me. She really did a good job because she knew what I wanted to talk about and picked the right topics.
What made you stop using the note cards? Edonna: Jowanna made me feel comfortable with her, and since I had passed the 90 day rule, I didn’t feel like I had an expiration date anymore. Also, she was a good listener and was really engaged which increased my confidence. She made me feel comfortable and more self-assured in opening up.
What would you say is the key to the success of your relationship? Jowanna: Donna making me communicate. She said you talked all of the time. Jowanna: I did talk a lot but I was not communicating. Edonna made me talk about the hard stuff. Stuff like feelings, money, growing together, and planning. I am not shy, but I am introverted. I am an internal processor, but Edonna doesn’t let me do that for too long, especially if it concerns us. Edonna: During our first year together, Jowanna always had a bag packed in her head. One reason was that I wasn’t a frugal person and she was. But I wasn’t going to let something as small as money get in the way and ruin our relationship. I knew that if I wanted this relationship to grow that I needed to change my spending habits, and I did.
Many couples struggle and even break up over money. How did you have those conversations? Jowanna: It was an evolving conversation. It was a conversation that we started when we’re dating. We talked about what we needed to feel comfortable and safe. We talked about our long term goals and what we needed to be financially secure. That’s important to me because I don’t want to work hard during my golden years. I want to work hard now and save. Edonna: I had to do some internal work, and I knew it was my work. If you don’t want to do your own internal work, you can’t be in a relationship with someone else. I had a bad relationship with money and I knew that I had to fix it. I had to learn how to budget money. I had to find a way to track my money in a way that worked for me and that I could do month after month.
How did she help? Edonna: She didn’t nag me about money. But she would say for example “can only cut it down to 2 magazine subscriptions” or ask questions like “where are we going for vacation”. Jowanna is pretty easy. As long as she can travel internationally every other year, and make sure the mortgage is paid, she is happy. Jowanna: I didn’t know what approach would work for her, but I knew what would work for me. I wasn’t going to nag her or be her psychologist. I just let her know what I could and could not handle. I couldn’t be in debt because it makes me physically ill and I can’t sleep if I owe people money. Edonna: Being with Jowanna let me know that it was possible to not be in debt. I learned that from her and I knew that learning from her could benefit me.
What are some others keys to your success? Edonna: She keeps me engaged in the world and provides balance. I am not a very sociable person but she engages me in conversations and helps me engage with others. And I don’t buy into her hard northern personality. Jowanna: She balances me too. I do not buy into all of the labels. Yes, I am woman but I like to play in the dirt. In fact, the first gift that she gave me was a saw. With Donna, I am allowed to be all of me verses just part of me. And, I need to be all of me in order for me to be happy.
What role does spirituality play in your relationship? Jowanna: Spiritually is very important. We are in an interfaith relationship so we don’t worship together but we are both very respectful of each other’s faith walk. We support each other as well as our respective congregations. Edonna: The mutual respect that we have for our individual faith walk allows us to dialog and enjoy the beauty of both faiths.
Couples usually struggle around faith: Jowanna: I grew up outside of mainstream Christianity so I was always open to learning about different traditions and faith beliefs. We have so many beliefs in common that I focus on where we are similar and not where we are divergent. I can’t believe that God made such a big world and didn’t make room for all of us to believe that there are different ways to God. I refuse to believe that my way is the right way. I believe that my way is the right way for me. Edonna: Your faith walk is yours because everybody has their own spiritual path. I believe that I can learn from other faiths. Learning about other faiths helps me be more present in my own faith.
What role does sensuality play in your relationship? Jowanna: Very important. If you aren’t playing together, you won’t stay together. Edonna: Jowanna needs a lot of intimacy—touch is very important to her. I on the other hand am driven by smell. So we have learned to give each these things even when sex is not involved.
Edonna, driven by smell? Edonna: I am an outdoors earthy type of person and I am attracted to women who smell as if they have been outdoors. I am not attracted to “perfumy” smelling woman. My sense of smell was enhanced while I was in the Marine Corps and certain smells are aphrodisiacs to me now.
What has your relationship taught you most about yourself? Jowanna: That patience can be learned. I think over the years I have softened and become more patient. Edonna: That I can manage money well and how to balance my life while maintaining a relationship.
What do you most admire about her? Edonna: Jowanna has a drive that I admire. She gives 100 percent to whatever she decides to do. I admire her ability to focus and I like to give her space to do whatever she wants to do. Jowanna: I admire that she is always able to keep her cool. I learned a lot about that from her. Now, I don’t just fly off the handle, I just leap.
If you could thank her for only 1 thing, what will that be? Jowanna: Patience. I was always in a flight or fight mode because I was so nervous. Sometimes it (the relationship) got “prickly” but once I committed, I gave 100%. I’m not the easiest person to deal with but Edonna is patient with me. I believe that you work on your relationship or it will perish. Edonna: Patience. I would thank her for patience. Her patience has allowed me to grow. She has put up with me during all of my growth and I appreciate her hanging in there with me.
What 1 word describes or characterizes your relationship? Edonna: Trust. I trust Jowanna. I trust that she will never bring chaos in our home. I trust that when we are home we can be our true selves. We can trust each other to be who we really are without ridicule. Jowanna: Loving. We are committed to making our relationship work. We love each other, our community, our family, our faith communities, our world, etc. We couldn’t do that if we were not loving.
What advice would you give to other couples? Jowanna: Make time for each other. Talk to each other. Respect each other. Support each other but remember you have to do what works for you. No two relationships work exactly the same.
Edonna: Remember that each of you is an individual that will change and grow in the relationship. Fall in love with a smile or a laugh, the way she looks when she sleeps---things that time and anger can’t change. Then when you really question why you should keep working on the
her smile or watch her sleep and see how you feel.
(interviewed conducted by SharRon Jamison)
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Create Love -- Founders
Imani Evans and SharRon Jamison