I was just 19 and could barely make a sentence in French when we met. We had our first conversation on a windy autumn night in November 1989.
By a stroke of fate, the tyres of the bus we were on got stuck in mud, in some jungle in Toul (north-east France), permitting the young Tunisian and me, a Malaysian, to mark a new beginning in our lives.
I was about to enter high school in France then and had no idea where Tunisia was on the world map. I was also hopeless in science and couldn't make out what his thesis on analytical chemistry was all about.
To top it all, I was struggling to speak in French, leaving us with no option but to rely on the universal language called Love. Back in the 80s, before Facebook, Twitter and emails, communication was nothing but simple. Our thumbs and forefingers were not abused.
Growing up in a dry, cold foreign land, where everybody else spoke a different language, was like being thrown into the deep ocean without a buoy. I had no choice but to swim, pacing one stroke with one breath at a time. He came at the right time, right place and right occasion.
According to the man in question, it was love at first sight - Cupid shot his arrow and Yin and Yang fell into place immediately. I fail in maths, he excels; he fails in writing, I excel. Quick calculation: logic tells me the Delta of Yin and Yang will bring about offspring with the best of both worlds. Done!
And it was with God's grace that between the jungle, the dry cold autumn and the bus rides, by default and design, this quiet, intelligent guy took to me like a gull to the wind. Fast forward three summers and we tied the knot in the simplest "document signing/religious" ceremony, with just a pen, a piece of paper, and Al Fatihah in the imam's apartment in Nancy (east of Paris).
Today, I stand proud to announce that we've crossed our 20th summer. We've gone through thick and thin together; no doubt the paths we've ridden were not always rosy nor sunny but the trials and tribulations have served to deepen the bond.
If we accept that we're all human beings, and that all human beings are born imperfect, then we have to nurture self-acceptance and forgiveness. No holding grudges, no hurt feelings, no looking back, but just keep moving forward.
Ask me the secret recipe of this cake called marriage, and I'll say it's truckloads of trust, respect and compromise. Love is just the marzipan on the cake, and beauty will eventually fade away. What remains is the make-up of internal beauty, led by the heart and controlled by the brains.
All good relationships are based on trust and loyalty - both rare commodities. Just like your heart, the strength of a marriage can be determined by a stress test: this starts off slowly, then it gets faster and faster over time. And depending on your level of endurance, some will make it to a higher level, while some will give up mid-way.
Endurance is key, and it's for this sole reason that very few remain happily married. Most "stay married", some push the reset button, and the braver ones simply "choose to adhere" to the Sunnah.
Some say marriage kills romance. I say it's easy to fall in love, but it's tough to be in love. Falling in love is just a one-off affair, whilst being in love is present, constant and continuous. The same applies to "loving" a person or "being in love" with a person. Two different states of mind.
However, and wherever life leads us, we know for a fact that we'll end up just the two of us again. The same way we started off. The children we nurture and love with all our hearts will eventually build their own lives, therefore it is with this in mind that one should never let work, daily chores, kids, or other things get in the way. You've got to work at keeping the flame burning, every single day.
We can let circumstances rule us, or we can take charge and rule our lives from within.
When we met, we were at least 10kg lighter, with no fine wrinkles, and no knee problems. Now three beautiful girls later, we patiently accept the appearance of love handles, platinum hair and the extra pair of eyes. It is a given that growing old together comes with growing fat together.
They say time flies when you are having fun. In psychology, they say truly happy couples will mirror each other in posture and stance. We have gone way beyond mirroring. After 20 years, the same thoughts run parallel in my mind and his, resulting in him completing my sentence or giving the same answer to a question posed.
When words are no longer necessary to express each other's feelings and thoughts, you know you've crossed the bridge!
Happy anniversary, Habibie. May your 50th birthday bring you more wisdom, wealth, joy and happiness. It's been a wonderful two decades and I certainly look forward to our next 20 years together.
Je t'aime, monamour!