The moment I knew: ‘She called my mother back to say she’d changed her mind’

When Steve Roberts called Barbro to invite himself to Sweden, he felt he had something to offer. She said no. But just after midnight, she reconsidered

In 1973 I was living in a share house in London, finishing my postgraduate studies in chemistry and riding around on a sputtering Finnish motorbike. One summer evening I arrived home, covered in oil spatters, to find a beautiful Swede named Barbro sitting in our kitchen.

She had turned up out of the blue, a friend of one of the girls in the flat who had hit a rough patch. From the outset I found her to be a very interesting person to talk to and her progressive Scandinavian approach to life made her much better company than many of the British girls I knew at the time.

For those reasons, and considering it was her first time in England, Barbro seemed the perfect person to invite on a day-long mission to purchase a secondhand refrigerator from my uncle in Guildford. A few hours driving through the countryside confirmed my suspicions: this was a woman of rare character, someone I wanted to get to know better, even just as a friend.

I was already engaged to be married, and both my fiance and I became fast friends with Barbro. After she returned to Sweden, we kept in touch and even visited her there together.

A year later things had changed. My fiance had broken it off with me and taken up with another bloke who she was much better suited with (and is still married to). By October I was a newly single PhD graduate, had bought my own house and was waiting for a new job to start. I felt I had something to offer, and Barbro was on my mind.

With two weeks to spare before the job started, I asked my mother to pay the three pounds it cost to call Sweden at the time and invited myself to visit Barbro. She said no. But at half past 12 that night she called my mother back to say she’d changed her mind.

It was the first of many little lightning bolts, the moment I knew this relationship might go further than friendship.

I’m an extremely rational person by nature and I was looking for someone to settle down with. When I arrived for my three-day visit, I knew I had to ask the right questions to find out how suited we really might be. We spoke frankly about everything from politics to religion, the environment and culture and seemed to agree on everything. Our mutual disdain for football was another little lightning bolt of promise.

When two people align on the big issues, love and lasting chemistry can appear. We both had our own lives, jobs and homes in our respective countries and we could have just carried on on those individual paths. But as the questions were asked and the conversations had, it was looking like it could be more fun if we joined forces.

By Christmas we had arranged for Barbro to join me in England, the plan being we’d live together for a year before deciding if we’d get married. In the end we wed in haste at the registry office a few months later, just so she could get her papers and start her life in England. So began what has become 46 years of happy marriage.

Steve Roberts and Barbaro in 1977
‘It was looking like it could be more fun if we joined forces’: Steve Roberts and Barbro on their honeymoon in Norway, 1977. Photograph: Steve Roberts

There was an element of wonder about her then – that still remains – but you do need more pragmatic grounds than “love at first sight” to build a lasting union. The practical way we developed our relationship might not seem romantic, but it’s led to a highly stable and reliable relationship.

Even now we agree on more or less everything, we have respect for each other and have raised two wonderful children. We have our own hobbies – she has her yoga and I still have a motorbike. We’ve called Australia home for nearly 40 years and live together in great harmony, enjoying travel and food – and it helps that we like the same TV shows.

I might have gone downhill a bit, but to me she is still the impressive and independent young woman I met in my kitchen half a century ago. It’s always been good and nothing has gone wrong. Every day is like a party.

  • Do you have a romantic realisation you would like to share? Email with “The moment I knew” in the subject line, and a brief description of your story, to be considered for future columns.


As told to Doosie Morris

The GuardianTramp

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