"Patience, trust and a little bit of magic."
This makes the perfect foundation for a romantic love story fit for the silver screen or in the pages of a novel. However, these things also helped a 65-year-old Ukrainian woman and 72-year-old Jefferson City man meet by chance while living on either sides of the world, develop a strong friendship and fall in love.
A computer error on a dating website and a window of opportunity introduced Mariia and Tom Wade, but modern technologies of email and Skype allowed them to communicate long distance for two years before meeting in person. They faced obstacles in traveling to meet face to face, but their courage and perseverance proved love truly conquers all, with the couple now residing in Tom's hometown of Jefferson City and recently celebrated their second wedding anniversary Jan. 21.
"What I love about Tom is he respects me very much. It is not only about love, it is about who he is. He is so wonderful," she said as Tom looked at her smiling. "When someone expects you to be good, you cannot be better. He has helped me express the many sides of my personality that were suppressed because of life and because of different things. I have opened everything up because of him. He supports me and is so proud of me. I couldn't be better."
Tom said: "She is very intelligent, and she is so interesting. I enjoy visiting with her, talking with her and she isn't a strain on the eyes either," he said as the couple laughed.
"This was utter magic. It gave me hope, and it has been sheer joy."
Making a match
First introduced electronically at ages 60 and 67, Mariia and Tom had lived very different and interesting lives thousands of miles apart.
Growing up in Jefferson City, Tom served the U.S. Army for three years, retiring as an E-5. He was in Vietnam for 11 months, 10 months of which Tom was in Pleiku for Detachment 8, 330th RRFS. Pleiku is about 60 kilometers from the Laos/Cambodia border.
Studying at Lincoln University, he spent most of his life in management, primarily in the sales and manufacturing fields, and worked the last 28 years for the postal service at a regional airport before his retirement in 2012.
Twenty-six years of Mariia's career were spent teaching, however, she also was a director of a museum at a university, worked at a biological laboratory, got her doctorate degree in biology and zoology, and was employed most recently at a zoo in her longtime residence of Odessa, Ukraine.
Mariia and her husband, a fellow teacher, enjoyed their careers and family life with son, Dima, and daughter, Tanya. Mariia's husband passed away in 2009, the same year Tom's wife of 34 years died. Even though she had her work, her friends, her children and family close by, she still felt like something was missing.
"I was busy with work and had friends. You can have the best kids in the world, like I do, but they are living their own lives. They do need you, but sometimes you feel like nobody is at your side," she said.
In 2013, Mariia traveled a lot, primarily with co-workers across Europe visiting zoos. She noticed she began to get a lot of attention from men, and thought, "why not change my life?" One evening, Mariia was watching Yahoo! News, and a notification came up that said, "Are you lonely?"
"It was like the computer was talking to me. I was like, 'Yes, I am,'" Mariia said, laughing. "It was a commercial for Match.com. I opened it."
She began filling out a profile, utilizing her dog Ellis as a nickname and telling a small fib about her age, writing 55 instead of 60 in hopes to attract a few more interested suitors. She also used an younger photo of her lounging in the water during the summer. Little did Mariia know when she was ready to start her dating search that the cost was $32, about a third of her monthly salary.
"I decided to forget about it. Then practically every day I would get emails from random men — John from Jefferson City would like to take you to coffee, someone from St. Louis, St. Elizabeth," she said. "I started getting very curious. I thought, first, why is America coming up and not my country or others close by me? Second, I thought why not New York, Washington; I told my kids, look I keep getting these emails from men in St. Louis, Jefferson. I couldn't read (the whole message) or reply any way because I couldn't pay for it."
Not paying much attention to the emails after awhile, Mariia then saw notifications for free trial weekends with Match.com. She would try to use them, but they were near the end of the trial period.
"One day, I opened it up right at the beginning — you have your free weekend. I got four emails, and one was from Tom," she said.
Tom, who has one son and three grandchildren, had dated some after his wife passed away and met some nice women. However, he felt nothing had really clicked.
"The email popped up, and I see this picture of this attractive lady, and I was thinking — having been to New England a lot — where is that? I sent a question and said, 'What part of New England is that?' And she writes back, 'It is a little east of there,'" Tom said as the couple laughed.
Mariia explained Match.com was not available in her country, but when she entered her postal code, 65111, into her profile information, it thought she was in Mid-Missouri and close to Wade's Jefferson City postal code.
"So the computer thought we were local with each other. That is why my profile was never locked and I was allowed to communicate (during this free trial weekend). The men also thought I was local," Mariia said. "I replied to all four men, and two had responded including Tom. When I realized they were in America, it just seemed like it was too far. I wrote them and said, 'I'm sorry; it was a mistake and said it is too far from my kids and too far from everything.' Tom replied with something."
Tom wrote a letter, not knowing about the postal code mixup, simply finding her interesting and wanting to learn more.
"It was like God opened a small window for us to meet. I couldn't do this before and now this was my opportunity," Mariia said.
Tom got her email, they began exchanging messages outside of the dating site, and they began to realize how much they had in common, including reading and animals.
"We didn't make any plans or anything, we just started emailing. We started first talking about our likes, our thoughts, ideas, our lives. We just communicated like soul to soul, becoming friends," Mariia said.
After their first conversations in May 2014, that friendship grew stronger. While visiting his son and grandchildren in early September that same year, Tom's grandson set him up on Skype so Mariia and he could communicate virtually face to face.
About a month later, an opportunity arose for Mariia visit the St. Louis Zoo and also meet Tom in person. They began planning their trip, but Mariia was denied a travel visa to the United States. With the strict immigration laws preventing Mariia to visit the United States and travel restrictions also making it hard for Tom to travel to Ukraine, it seemed like the friends may never get the chance to meet in person.
"I was very unhappy (after hearing Mariia's news), and I was sitting there thinking and thinking: 'What can I do? I can't let her go,'" Tom said. "After that, we continued to talk for about a year, and the relationship just grew and grew."
In 2015, there was a moment when there was little to no communication between Tom and Mariia, and she said, in large, it was because she was listening to what other people were saying about their relationship.
"I communicate with my friends and my coworkers at the time, and they knew I was talking with someone from the USA. People knew also knew that, as time was going, nothing was happening. People said, 'What are you thinking about, it will never happen,'" Mariia said. "Here is good advice to other people: Never listen to other people because it is something like poison in her heart. You start to think maybe they are right. There was a moment nothing happened, and I thought, 'OK, I will stop this.'
"Then I thought 'oh, it is OK. Maybe we'll just be friends. He is such a good friend and let it be like that.' Then Tom decided not to stop," Mariia said with a laugh.
He discovered the Dominican Republic would accept Mariia's visa.
"I wrote her and said, 'What is your passport number?'" Tom said as the couple laughed.
They decided on a date, Tom ordered the tickets and had everything arranged for Mariia to meet him, his son and his son's girlfriend at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Tom and his family arrived first, going to pick up Mariia at the airport.
"I started to see people come down the ramp. Then I saw this beautiful woman walking down the ramp, and I was just relieved as hell — it was absolute utter fate," Tom said. "We embraced and kissed, and that was it."
"Now, don't say we embraced. He was standing like a statue and I was the first to give you a hug and a kiss," Mariia said as she smiled at Tom.
"You sure?" Tom replied.
"Oh, I'm sure," Mariia said, as the couple smiled. "See when people meet for the first time, that first moment is very important. If there is no physical connection, nothing can be possible. I had other men who wanted to marry me and (were) in very nice professions and very nice people, but it just wasn't for me. From the first time I hugged him, I was relaxed and knew this was something."
After a wonderful week in Punta Cana, the couple's friendship blossomed, and Tom asked Mariia to marry him. After they went back to their respective countries, they started the preparations for Mariia to come to the U.S. However, getting her green card and making all the proper arrangements took about two more years.
Once everything was finalized, Tom was able to order plane tickets to Atlanta with a changeover to Indianapolis where she would meet Tom and his family. Little did she know, Tom and his son and girlfriend would surprise her at the Atlanta airport.
"She was a big 'Gone with the Wind' fan. When we went to Atlanta, I spotted her at the airport and walked up behind her. I tapped her on the shoulder and said, 'Hey Scarlett?' No reaction. I said it again, and she turned around and she was just shocked," Tom said, who was officially down on one knee at this point with an engagement ring in hand.
"I finally realized this was my Tom," Mariia said with a laugh. "I was so happy."
The couple went to Indianapolis, met Tom's grandchildren and extended family, came back to Jefferson City and 90 days later were married Jan. 21, 2017, at Immaculate Conception Church.
Happily ever after
Mariia has learned a lot about living in the United States at Tom's country home outside Jefferson City. She said at first it was an adjustment as she was not used to the silence of the woods and quiet away from the large city life of the seaside city of Odessa, Ukraine. However, she discovered Tom's personal oasis is filled with wildlife; she has learned to horseback ride and drive and has met many new friends in Mid-Missouri and hopes to get her teaching license or find a job here.
She had the opportunity to spend time with her children after spending the summer back in Odessa last year, also being able to meet her now 16-month granddaughter. Like it did in keeping Tom and her closely connected, she uses Skype and other technology to stay in touch with her family and friends back in Ukraine.
"Modern technology makes the world very small. You can communicate with anyone across the world. You can talk with your friends or whoever. It made the world common," Mariia said. "In the '70s, we didn't have any idea how other people were. Americans were martians, but we are all humans. We can differ how we eat sandwich or cook potato, but we are all the same inside. It just makes life more interesting. I think the younger generation that grows with it will make the world more common."
For Tom and Mariia, they have found not only modern technology allowed their love and friendship to bloom, but so did being open and honest with each other, listening to your heart and taking reasonable risks.
Tom and Mariia enjoy celebrating their love with champagne and special occasions, including last Valentine's Day at Das Stein Haus, with travel plans this year to Charleston, South Carolina, and for their delayed honeymoon six months after their nuptials in Durango, Colorado. While there, conversations with fellow bed and breakfast guests led to Mariia and Tom sharing bits of their love story. To those who heard it, it is inspired them to find love.
"Women would come up to her and then hear our story. They would say, 'You gave me hope.' This happened quite often and still does," Tom said. "Once you have an opportunity to meet a fabulous woman like I did, you just can't pass it up. I love her more and more each day."