My abuela, whom we lovingly call Mamá, had an unconventional love with my abuelo. Theirs was a complicated relationship that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. You can argue that, in a way, they were practicing ethical non-monogamy at a time when having intimate relationships with more than one person wasn’t as widely accepted nor understood. (My Mamá has always been sort of a trendsetter, often rejecting tradition, breaking rules, and deciding to do things her own way—it’s what I most admire about her.) You can also argue that their love was one shrouded in secrecy and infidelity. It just depends whom you ask.
Love, like many aspects of life, is complex. I’ll argue that matters of the heart may be the most complicated thing one will ever have to navigate throughout this wild and crazy existence. It’s something intangible and flexible. It’s also something that’s constantly shifting and changing throughout the years. Think about it: What you thought love was when you were younger is most likely not the same view of love you have today.
It’s no doubt that observing how our elders engage with one another has helped shape our ideas of romantic love. For me, I learned how to show and receive love from the matriarchs of my family. My abuela shows me affection whenever she teases me about our shared sweet tooths and desires to always be out socializing. “Pata perro,” she’ll say—an idiom for someone who often likes to be outside of the house. She also shows me love when she makes a batch of habichuelas con dulce—a Dominican delicacy, although most of my family members aren’t fans—because she knows how much I love it, especially when it’s fresh out of the pot.
There are so many lessons on love that my abuela has taught me, either directly or indirectly, and I know I’m not the only one who has benefited from the wisdom of Latinx matriarchs.
Ahead, I spoke to three generations of Latinx women, including abuelas (about their most meaningful relationships and advice on lasting partnership), as well as daughters and granddaughters (about the love lessons they learned from their abuelas). Each woman shared what they know about love, based on the examples passed down from the generations before them. Grab a notepad (and maybe some tissues).
“Mutual understanding and communication are the most important aspects of a partnership.”
Rosa Nelly Torres, 85, Colombia
“We met in New York, and soon after, we married. We never had any differences, para nada (for nothing), and we always collaborated on everything. We supported each other, and our families. And so for me, mutual understanding and communication are the most important aspects of a partnership. Thankfully, we never had any major disagreements and he would always collaborate well with my parents and our children. It was a really beautiful life that we had together.”
—As told to Gabriela Peralta (granddaughter)
“The key to having a lasting and loving relationship is accepting the other person just as they are.”
Laura Amador, 31, Mexico
“My abuelita married my abuelito when she was 14 years old. She was deeply in love with him long after he died—and until the day of her own passing.
I used to love observing them in action. My abuela would laugh and dance while cooking, and poke fun at my abuelo, calling him ‘mi viejito’ or ‘my old man.’ She would receive a basket of tomatoes or fresh tortillas that my abuelo brought back from the market as if they were a dozen roses. Through this, she taught me to live in a constant state of gratitude.
I don’t believe in love at first sight as that sounds too superficial, but the truth is that within the first five minutes of meeting my husband, I knew I would marry him someday. Similar to my abuelita, I was young—16 years old—when I met and married my husband. Sure enough, we’ve been married for 13 years and have three children.
I think the key to having a lasting and loving relationship is accepting the other person just as they are, and not expecting them to change in any way. We choose to see the worst or the best in people. Choosing to really see all of your partner’s daily efforts and small gifts they bring to your life each and every day can nurture the gratitude necessary for lasting love.”
“Respect is the foundation of any relationship, and if you have respect and admiration for the other person, love will persist.”
Estefania Mitre, 23, Mexico
“My abuelita and abuelito had an unconditional love. My grandpa would always say, ‘a la mujer no se le toca ni con el pétalo de una rosa,’ (one should never touch a woman even with the petal of a rose). My grandpa saw my grandma as the most beautiful human being, and the foundation of their partnership was respect.
My abuelita’s love language was being a giver. She would always have food on the table and have a Coke ready for my grandpa.
When he died in 1994, my abuelita was crushed as she had lost the love of her life. She died a few years later in 2008, due to an illness. And while she had the option to have surgery to treat the illness, she refused. She said, and I quote, ‘I want to meet with Ramón (my grandpa).’ And I hope they did.
Through her relationship with my abuelo, my abuela taught me to not settle for anything less than what I deserve. Respect is the foundation of any partnership, and if you have respect and admiration for the other person, love will persist. And this applies to both romantic and non-romantic relationships.”
“He had to study me, and I had to study him to discover what made us tick.”
Victoria Vasquez de Inga, 91, Peru
“I fell in love for the first time when I was 22 years old. I first noticed him, the man who would become my husband, while playing volleyball in our town’s plaza. I knew I was in love with him because el me buscaba (he chased me)—and in between games, our feelings for each other grew.
We dated for a few years and eventually got married when I was 26. At 27, we had our first child. We were so young, and didn’t have a lot of money, so we would constantly be chasing after jobs, buscandonos la vida (to make ends meet). But we had each other.
To make the relationship work, we had to have friendship and mutual understanding. He had to study me, and I had to study him to discover what made us tick, what made us us, as individuals, and then learn to accept those differences.
I think it’s really easy to fall in love, but I would advise you, and all of my grandchildren, to really study potential partners—pay attention to their characteristics and mannerisms. And also pay attention to how they make you feel and si te conviene (if they suit you). Because if it’s not a good fit, withdraw your cards.”
—As told to Brenda Barrientos (granddaughter)
“I learned that love is not supposed to be chaotic or confusing.”
Ann Dunning, 43, Chile
“The last time I fell in love was with my husband. It was unlike anything I ever experienced before—it was an instant attraction and connection. Everything about him was amazing to me, even the fragrance of his aftershave. It’s difficult to describe, but he felt like ‘home’ and I didn’t know that feeling existed before I met him.
I met him later in life—I was close to 40—and by that time I thought I knew what love was. But I was wrong. I loved everything about him. The relationship was not difficult nor stressful like previous ones I’d been in, and we both had to compromise on nothing. I learned that that’s what love is supposed to be like; it’s not supposed to be chaotic or confusing.
I learned from my abuela that what makes a great relationship is mutual respect. You never disrespect the other person, no matter how angry or annoyed you get. Also, you need to set strong boundaries and not compromise on who you are. Both of my abuelas had incredible marriages that lasted well over 50 years because of that dignity and respect they held.
My advice: When you find that person who legitimately cares about you and is genuinely watching out for your wellbeing, stick with them—they may be the one.”
“They each came with their own cups filled and were able to equally pour into each other’s cups, rather than expecting the other person to fulfill all of their needs.”
Greisy Hernández, Mexico
“My abuela was in a 16-year long-distance relationship with my abuelo—she was living in the U.S. while he was living in Mexico.
During that time, she says she was able to stay connected with him because of ‘el amor de Dios’ (the love from above). They were able to have a successful relationship because they each came with their own cups filled, so to speak, and were able to equally pour into each other’s cups, rather than expecting the other person to fulfill all of their needs. That was the first lesson on love she taught me.
One day, I remember coming home and telling my abuela about someone I was infatuated with. I was very prideful of not seeming attached as I grew up witnessing my parents love bombing each other (or demonstrating over-the-top and disingenuous acts of love early in a relationship in order to manipulate someone), and that really affected my views on relationships. I kept bragging about how the other person was going to get their heart broken because they think I’m in love, and I’m not.
My abuela essentially said to me that there’s a duality to love—it’s about holding both the pain and the passion that comes with it.
Recently, I’ve been telling myself that I won’t deprive myself of the possibility and fullness of love because I’m scared to get hurt. The more I kept saying this to myself, the more it began to manifest itself. I opened myself up to a beautiful relationship that I’m now experiencing. And while the fear still comes up, we hold each other in that fear and allow ourselves to move past those insecurities—because in those moments, we know it’s not our hearts speaking.”
“There are times when he annoys me, but we always come out on the other side because our relationship is more important than those small disagreements.”
Amparo Rodríguez, 80, Mexico
“My very first love was a boy named Emilio from my hometown of Zacatecas, Mexico. Another early love was a man named José from San Antonio, Texas, who was the father of a friend of your mother’s. After school drop-offs, we would just walk around the neighborhood and chat to get to know each other. It was all very innocent.
The last time I fell in love was with your grandfather. At the time he was with another girl, and she decided rather quickly that she wanted to get married to him, and she wanted the ceremony to be held at her home. But when he took one look at me, that relationship ended because he realized he wanted to be with me instead. We’ve been together for 60 years.
There are times when he annoys me and the things he does get on my nerves, but we always come out on the other side because our relationship is more important than those small disagreements. I think the key to a lasting love is not focusing so much on those small annoyances that may taint your partnership if you let them; rather you should focus on the deep love you have for each other. After all, nobody is perfect.
Now that we’re much older, he helps me with keeping track of my medications and even bathing. He’s my rock, and without him I wouldn’t have been able to keep going.”
—As told to Amanda Hernández (granddaughter)
Interviews conducted in Spanish have been translated, and all interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
This story was created as part of From Our Abuelas in partnership with Lexus. From Our Abuelas is a series running across Hearst Magazines to honor and preserve generations of wisdom within Latinx and Hispanic communities. Go to oprahdaily.com/fromourabuelas for the complete portfolio.
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