What are the challenges of workplace romance? Friday spoke to four couples about their experience Image Credit: Supplied

Lana and Ahmed: My boss is now my wife

It was perhaps back in 2008 that the first arrow from Cupid struck Lana Kaati and Ahmed Badri. Lana was working as an Operations Manager in an IT company in Montreal, Canada, and it was there that she noticed that Ahmed, one of the analysts who reported to her, was making it a point to regularly come by her office with either a cup of coffee or some snacks for her. "Initially, I thought he was trying to bribe me as I was his boss," says Lana, with a laugh. "Then I thought maybe he is trying to be nice since both of us are from Arab backgrounds." Little did she know that Ahmed had developed feelings for her at the time and was trying to give her subtle hints of his affection.

But Lana, who worked with a team of male colleagues, was known to keep a strict demeanour and rarely if ever went out of her way to strike up a conversation that was not related to work with a male colleague. Ahmed, who thought of this as a lack of interest from her side, slowly backed off and even moved on to another job.

But Cupid wasn’t one to give up so easily; the two kept bumping into each other at parties and even on the streets since they lived just a few blocks apart. "He was a nice and friendly guy who was easy to talk to and since we had a lot of cultural similarities, we got along pretty well. But it still didn’t click in my mind that he was interested in me," says Lana.

Finally, some six months since they first met, Ahmed asked her on a formal date and Lana started falling for this warm and friendly person.

“My boss has now evolved into my best friend,” says Ahmed of his wife and former boss Lana Image Credit: Supplied

After two years of courtship, Ahmed proposed to her at a music concert when they were visiting Dubai.

Later, his family met with hers and had a formal proposal as per Arab tradition. They got married in 2010. "We had two functions," says Lana, "one in Canada and the other in Syria (where I am from)."

In 2011, they moved to Abu Dhabi.

The couple have two children, Livia, 10, and Liam, 8.

Ahmed is an IT manager and Lana is a family counsellor and founder of the popular Facebook group UAE MOMs.

"My boss has now evolved into my best friend," says Ahmed. "We share a lot of common interests like adventure and travelling.

"I am carefree and boisterous while she is calm and sensible. It’s like she’s the brains and I am the muscle."

Ahmed recalls how Lana reprimanded him for his tardiness back in the day, when he was late for work once. "We always joke about how she continues to be my boss even at home," he laughs.

"In my defence, the work environment was very strict in handling the performance matrix, so every second counted," retorts Lana.

For the couple, love is all about the art of knowing that you are different yet similar and they believe in respecting each other.

Quite a few times, we show our old pictures to our kids, says Lana. We want to highlight to the children the love and affection that we both share. "They being young, their reaction is mostly ‘ewwww’," says Lana with a laugh. "But I can see that they really enjoy it as there is happiness sparkling in their eyes."

Ramesh and Soundari: 'He initially said no'

The camaraderie between Ramesh Menon and his wife Soundari VV is that of a couple who have just fallen in love – compassionate and playful at the same time with a sense of spontaneous celebration of togetherness. But this relationship has stood the test of time for more than 25 years with the couple celebrating their 22nd wedding anniversary last month.

The duo first met while they were working for a multinational corporation in Tiruvallur, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, back in the early 90s.

They would bump into each other at work and casual conversations quickly turned into long chats post office hours.

Soundari still remembers the time when she began to realise that she was having strong feelings for Ramesh and not wanting to delay, initiated the prospect of marriage. "Initially he said a blatant no," she recalls.

However, little known to her, he had broached the topic with his family and a few close friends and made it clear to them that he was keen on marrying Soundari.

"I was among the last to know that things were getting official," she laughs.

While Soundari’s family were floored when they met Ramesh, Ramesh’s mom, who had been keen to choose a bride for him, was initially not very pleased that he had found a bride for himself. "But now they get along like a house on fire; she doesn’t even need me if Soundari is around," he says.

The couple claim the reactions from their colleagues were varied and hilarious.

"My boss at the time simply stated, ‘Another one bites the dust’. Another senior department head asked me if I was out of my mind to choose Ramesh," says Soundari.

Ramesh chips in: "One wisecrack said, ‘Don’t know whom to feel sorry for!’"

But on their big day on January 24, 1999, more than 2,000 colleagues and friends attended the wedding in Chennai.

A few months after the marriage, Soundari met an accident, leaving her in great physical pain; it was a moment when deep down in her heart she realised that she had taken the right decision in choosing Ramesh as her partner for life. "He took great care of me during those times," she says with love and gratitude evident in her voice. "That’s when I reaffirmed in my mind that I had made the perfect choice for my life partner.

"The best part is we have not influenced each other; we have grown together and supported each other. I can confidently say whatever happens I know that Ramesh will be there by my side always, forever," she says.

The couple have two kids, Siddharth, 19, and Sanjana, 13. The latest edition to the family is a dog named Muthulakshmi.

Both affirm that love is a feeling of oneness, which has helped them conquer obstacles and sail through the ups and downs. "Covid has offered all of us a totally different perspective to life. Ramesh always thinks for the others and is convinced that everything that happens is always for the better. This positivity has rubbed of so much into each of us that we are able to smile and support each other through any adversity," says Soundari.

Rajeev and Smitha

In June 1992, Rajeev and Smitha were employees of Aptech, a computer learning education centre in Kannur, Kerala; he as a Lab in-charge and she a student counsellor. Having become good friends at the workplace and as they stayed in the same locality, Rajeev offered to drop her back home in his car every evening. "It was on these journeys that we started talking about all things under the sun," says Smitha.

But if there was one thing that Smitha was smitten by, it was Rajeev’s sense of humour. "It was definitely a key factor to this relationship," she says.

The step up from instructor and student did not take long to occur.

"One day, Rajeev casually popped the question: ‘Do you really love me’," recalls Smitha. Her reply cemented their relationship: "Without a doubt.’’

Rajeev’s sense of humour was a key factor in the relationship, says Smitha Image Credit: Supplied

There was no turning back from that moment on.

Rajeev still remembers the day he announced to his colleagues that he and Smitha were planning to get married. "I was at the workplace, and I ordered glasses of fresh sweet lime juice for all the staff and just made a casual statement in the staff room that we had decided to get married," he says.

Although it came as a surprise, all the colleagues as well as the students there were very happy and supportive.

However, the jobs they had back then didn’t assure financial stability and Rajeev decided to move to Abu Dhabi. After getting a job, his first leave was due only after two years. "That was quite a long wait especially in a time when there were no mobile phones, no internet and the only means of communication was letters. We wrote innumerable letters, not waiting for each other’s reply, and that brought us even closer in spite of the distance," says Rajeev.

The couple’s two children are well versed with their love story, but still listen to them fondly Image Credit: Supplied

"Telephone calls were expensive during those days, so we had to restrict ourselves as we had to save money for the wedding. Even though we were miles apart, it was a beautiful period of our life that made us realise how deeply we loved each other. We still treasure those letters as our priceless possession," says Smitha.

"Both of us being very strong about the relationship, our focus was just on making this happen. Luckily, there were no serious objections from families except that we had to undergo many rounds of consulting various astrologers who gave varied opinions regarding the compatibility of our horoscopes. (It is a common Hindu custom to match horoscopes of the couple before fixing a marriage.) However, we persevered in making our families accept this relationship," says Rajeev.

They got married on October 30, 1995, in Kannur, Kerala.

The memorable car journeys of yesteryears soon turned into a journey of love, which completed 25 years of matrimony last year.

Smitha feels they have managed to maintain a strong, healthy relationship, supporting each other in all ups and downs. They have become stronger, mature individuals, sharing every aspect of our life realising that the best thing to hold on to is each other.

Rajeev and Smitha got married in 1995 and celebrated 25 years of matrimony last year Image Credit: Supplied

"As the saying goes, ‘You don’t marry someone you can live with, you marry the person you cannot live without!’"

The couple have two children, Sharan, 21, and Shradha, 17, who are well versed with their love story but still listen to them fondly.

"We still maintain a good relationship with all our Aptech friends, two of them are here in UAE with their families. We meet them often and still cherish our good old times together. They tell us that we have personified Aptech’s tagline, ‘We change lives’."

Alistair and Kathleen

When Alistair Russell signed up for a scuba diving course in 2000 back in Hong Kong, little did he know he would be diving into love.

Alistair was involved in building golf courses but also had a passion for diving. Keen to hone his skills, he enrolled for a scuba diving course at the centre where Kathleen was an instructor.

However, upon completion of the course, Alistair was not too keen to go his way. Realising that his instructor Kathleen was too busy to give him the time of the day, he actually extended his course "just so that I could spend more time with her", he smiles.

Alistair and Kathleen have many common interests, but she says “the icing on the cake was that he shared my passion for scuba diving” Image Credit: Supplied

After a month of deep-water courtship, they started dating officially.

"He was kind, funny and adventurous. He built golf courses at the time and my father loves golf, so I thought that was cool too. But the icing on the cake was that he shared my passion for scuba diving," says Kathleen.

She remembers exchanging love letters whenever she had to travel on diving trips.

Soon Alistair proposed to Kathleen but before they could tie the knot, he had to fly to Abu Dhabi to take up a new job. "It was tough being apart just after he had proposed," remembers Kathleen.

But a few months later, they met up in Richmond, Canada, to get married in a historical Methodist Church where a traditional Chinese tea ceremony (to mark their first meeting in Hong Kong) and a dinner reception were held.

The couple was married in a historical Methodist Church where a traditional Chinese tea ceremony to mark their first meeting in Hong Kong and a dinner reception were held Image Credit: Supplied

The couple have two children, Xander, 14, and Sasha, 12, and five rescue cats. Kathleen admits that the household can be a bit crazy at times, but they enjoy it thoroughly.

An important feature of their life now is the occasional date nights that they make sure they have. "We think it is important that a couple have some well-deserved together time," she says.

"We have remained the best of friends and share a lot of passion. We also listen and take advice from each other. He is my adviser in all things business," says Kathleen, who owns the Al Mahara Diving Center in Abu Dhabi.

For his 50th birthday, Kathleen treated Alistair to a scuba diving adventure to the deep south of Maldives. There the couple got to dive with sharks and manta rays.

"I think the appreciation for the great outdoors and for the love of the ocean has kept our bond strong through the years and many more to come. What I miss, however, is the letters we used to write to each other. Somehow Whatsapp messages and emojis don’t impart the same feelings," says Kathleen.

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