Romance In The Rainforest 🌿
How a Chimpanzee Observation Camp Led to a Lifetime of Love
More than two decades ago, in the midst of a field camp in the tropical rainforest, Cathy and Roman's paths converged. Since then, their journey has woven through diverse adventures – from their distinct yet equally unforgettable first date (which involved a dusty road and a broken-down car), traversing continents, managing work-life balance, and embracing parenthood. In this edition of our Love Letter, they graciously impart their wisdom, offering us insights gained from observing wild chimpanzees and essential ingredients for nurturing an enduring bond.
How did you meet and what were your first impressions?
Roman: We met in the middle of a tropical rainforest in Côte d'Ivoire. I was observing the behavior of chimps in the Taï National Park for my PhD. One evening, I came home from the forest at dusk and she was shining under the light at the camp. I felt immediately drawn to her. She was like an angel that had landed in the middle of nowhere! Her long blond hair was the first thing that caught my eye. Her soft voice and her inclusive, friendly character made me fall in love.
Cathy: I arrived at the camp to see if I wanted to do my PhD studying wild chimpanzee vocalizations. Roman was running the camp, a second year PhD student. He was an impressive person. He knew how to run things and lead people. Tall, graceful, bearded, and handsome... how could I not fall for him?
Do you remember what you did on your first date?
Cathy: First date is a tricky term. The camp was small and open and we shared it with a young family. We spent long days together scrambling through dense vegetation, keeping close to the chimpanzees, following their lives, their excitement, fun and sorrows. We got rain soaked together, exhausted together, cooked together. This was all work and the building of a friendship. Our first date was probably a trip to the capital, a long day's dusty car drive away. The car broke down. Roman characteristically swore, inspected the engine, and paced up and down sucking on a cigarette. We limped to the nearest garage, got it repaired with a used teabag and other ingenious items, and realized we were never going to make it as far as Abidjan that night. So, we stopped at the next town, had dinner together, and because of our student budget, shared a hotel room.
Roman: We had a picnic under the stars. We took seats out and ate in candlelight in an opening in the forest.
Cathy: It’s interesting we remember a different first date. According to my memory, his version came a bit later - it was a beautiful night!
What’s your favorite thing about her?
Roman: She grounds me. She is my anchor. When I get angry or upset, she brings me back. When I am sad or depressed about something, she builds me up again. Sometimes it hurts to hear what she thinks but I always appreciate her wise thoughts. I know I can trust her judgement.
Has observing chimpanzees taught you anything about love and relationships?
Cathy: Studying chimps has taught me that even when life is hard, kindness is more powerful than cruelty, and working together achieves more than trying to dominate one another. Chimpanzees are usually thought of as being brutal and competitive creatures, but the most loved and supported are those who give the most love and support. I try to bring this into all my relationships.
How has working in the same field impacted your relationship?
Roman: It wasn’t easy at times because we never stopped talking about work, even during the evenings at home. Sometimes when we had different opinions, we would argue. We also realized that being a team at work can support your personal connection. When you complement each other at work, as we do, it expands into your private relationship.
Cathy: Working in the same field has many benefits. We truly understand each other's work, our stress points and how to ease them. But we also have to be careful not to end up competing with each other.
What advice would you give to couples just starting out?
Cathy: Looking back on 25 years together, and all the roads life has led us on, I would say the most precious gifts you can give each other are a balance of fun, respect, kindness, and care.
Roman: Fall in love, do not stay just for comfort. Trust each other and stay true to who you are.
What are you looking forward to?
Cathy: Next year we will be empty-nesters. The pace of life over the last 25 years has been high, moving continents every few years with children, hectic work lives, and lots of traveling. This is the moment in our lives where we’ll finally have time to indulge each other.
Roman: To return together to the place where it all started. And seeing our children start their relationships, hoping we’ve equipped them to navigate their own exciting journeys.
🤔 Poll of The Day:
Can animals (wildlife or pets) play a significant role in strengthening a relationship?
Click below to vote and see the results!
📊 Last Week We Asked…
“Would you take a leap of faith and move across the country for someone?”
48% said “Yes”
13% said “No”
39% said “Maybe”
And one meet-cuter shared:
“Never have, but I also haven’t found a potential love worth taking that risk for. But now that I’m clear on the kind of love I’m looking for, YES! I would absolutely move cross country for my lover if that’s what needed to happen!!!”
Interviewed and transcribed by Rosie McCrum.