Disillusioned by the romantic tropes pervading popular culture, two friends are crisscrossing the country in an effort to document 100 great love stories to learn what makes a marriage last.
He grew up in a large Mormon family in Utah, she was raised by a single mother in Queens County, N.Y. Despite their disparate backgrounds, Nate Bagley and Melissa Joy Kong shared a common quest to uncover what real love is. After they were introduced by a mutual friend, the two piled inside Bagley's Mini Cooper and embarked on a roadtrip across the United States to find couples in what were considered successful relationships. They call their project the Loveumentary.
"People our age are jaded from the realization that the Cinderella story does not exist," said Bagley, who is 29. "Generation Y has been force fed that kind of love story since we were children, over and over again. So we have a large group of people who are disenchanted with marriage and really cynical."
Kong, 26, agreed.
"We have very unrealistic expectations of what marriage should be like from 'The Bachelor,' romantic comedies and TV shows," she said. "At the same time, there is this negative feedback we're always told about 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce. So the basic question for us is, What about the other 50 percent? What about the ones that make it work?"
After logging more than two dozen podcast interviews and myriad related blog posts on relationships, both storytellers said they'd already learned a lot about the difference between real love and marriage myths.
"I came into the project thinking we'd find the same underpinnings or foundation for all the successful relationships, but really no two stories are the same," said Kong. "Every couple seems to have a slightly different perception of the purpose of marriage and what it means to be in love."
In considering potential couples to interview, Bagley said all Loveumentary subjects must be married for more than a decade. Beyond that, the ages and lifestyles of those interviewed have ranged widely.
"One of the most moving interviews was with a man whose wife developed a brain tumor after 10 years of marriage," said Bagley. "While surgeons were able to successfully remove it, her personality was altered. And for the last 30 years this man has remained committed to a woman completely different from the one he married. ... It all comes back to what you define as being in love."
For Kong, another lesson has been the difference between how those in rural areas perceive relationships versus city dwellers.
"Something I've realized from living in big cities my entire life is that we are always hopping from one relationship to the next, because there's so much choice," she said. "Being in the suburbs and the country, I can feel my perceptions shifting a bit. Life is hard and cyclical, and some seasons are good and some are bad. So when I leave this project I hope I am more prepared for a relationship, with an open heart and with more integrity."
But before that, the Loveumentarians are seeking out supplementary funding so they can continue their travels and document at least 54 more relationships. A Kickstarter project has been launched to help Kong and Bagley pay for future accommodations, gas and other incidentals.
"Everything we've done so far has been out of our own pockets," said Bagley. "I basically quit my job a year ago and have devoted the last year of my life to this project."
One might even call it a labor of love.