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Love Through the Ages: Maneesha and Duminda

How many of us can say we fought for our love?

‘Back in 2000, we fell in love. I was 14 years old’, Maneesha told us. Duminda, then working as a water sports instructor, lived next door to Maneesha, a tomboy who encapsulated all the vibrancy and confidence of a curious teenage girl: both ‘brutally honest’ and ‘very gentle’ at the same time. 

‘I first saw him when I was going home from school. He walked past me, he was wearing a pale pink shirt. I don’t know if anyone believes me now but I still remember the strange feeling I had at that moment. I thought: he is going to be my husband’.

From that day, Maneesha would wait outside her house when she knew he’d be coming home. Preferring loose t-shirts and trousers to anything that would have been considered girl’s clothing, Maneesha confronted the uncertainty that came with choosing to veer away from the world’s expectations of who she should be. ‘No one knew, but I was very lonely… I craved love and care’. Her parents had separated and her mother and sister moved away, leaving her alone with her father. But what started as stolen glances from across the street turned into companionship when Maneesha’s older sister struck up a friendship with Duminda on one of her visits, giving Maneesha the chance to introduce herself. The three of them would speak on the street, out of sight, and the feeling that she had found someone who saw her for who she was, her authentic self, became overwhelming.

One evening while we were talking, me and him alone, tears started falling from my eyes because the whole thing was so exciting. I wasn’t used to being alone with boys… because in our culture teenage girls were not allowed to date. [When he saw I was crying] he started talking to me very dearly and gave me a hug. In June 2000, we said we loved each other.

— Maneesha

But when their families learned they were dating, their world split in two. ‘My father went to the police when he found out’, Maneesha explained, saying that it simply wasn’t accepted that teenagers, particularly girls, could find love outside of their parents’ control and discretion. For three years their families tried to keep them apart and eventually Duminda moved to Bahrain to work.

But they stood by each other’s side through it all, even the long separation across countries. When Maneesha turned 18, finally allowed to legally take control of her life, Duminda came back from the Middle East so they could be married. 

‘It was such a beautiful day’, she says of moments leading up to what they’d been hoping for for years. There was no big ceremony, only vows exchanged and the knowledge that they were going to be together ‘for this lifetime and as well as the next’.

'This photo is taken in [our culture’s] traditional dress for brides upon their homecoming. But since we didn’t have a wedding function, we went to a photo studio, got dressed up, and took the photos anyway!'

What advice would they give anyone getting married today?

Since then, the couple agrees that their most joyful experience they’ve shared was the birth of their son and daughter. This is followed by being able to build a house together for their family.

After the ‘battle they fought’, these two know that they’ve created a relationship that can be felt all around them. And even though there are times when they don’t agree or argue, there’s no going back on what they’ve sacrificed for each other. 

What love has taught them is that every person is different and it’s by accepting your  differences that you find the beauty in your relationship.

Maneesha feels like this lesson has the power to change society and uplift the next generation, who will soon be falling in love for the first time themselves.

When it comes to what advice Maneesha would give to someone getting married, she only hopes that women in particular foster their own intrinsic value before sharing their heart with another. ‘Things would have been different if I had been educated about sex and I was taught about self worth. [Because I know now] that a woman is not any less worthy if she doesn’t bring a dowry to her husband’.

A significant part of marriage in Sri Lanka, where Duminda and Maneesha live, a dowry has long been tied to a woman’s value entering a relationship, something Maneesha feels strongly against.

Instead, she insists that a woman should be judged on who she is as a human being and as a partner. ‘I always felt I was somehow lower because I came to him with nothing. He laughed when I told him later how much I had worked in the early years of our marriage to prove that I was worthy!’ 

Sharing your life with a partner who gives your world shape and meaning is the most natural thing in the world. But what happens when you’re told you aren’t worthy or that your love flies in the face of someone else’s plan for your life? If you’re anything like this tenacious couple, you rise above it to build a bond that’s stronger.

Maneesha and Duminda are living proof that real love doesn’t follow a template. It gets interrupted, it suffers from doubt, and it tests you. Still, it’s the most beautiful thing we can experience with another person. No one’s love story is alike, and we want to thank these incredible people for sharing theirs with us.

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