SOME BELIEVE it doesn’t exist; others think it might but believe they’ll never experience it. Some believe it exists only in Hallmark movies and chick-lit novels.
You know how it goes. Curled up on the couch with a crackling fire under your favorite fuzzy throw, the screen flickers, casting a glow on Ben & Jerry’s chocolate therapy. You’re hoping they’ll get together as they navigate emotions that have caught them off-guard.
They connect through their shared values and dreams, but just as things start falling into place, conflicts arise, leaving the future of their relationship hanging in uncertainty. The thrill of hope and the sweetness of a happy ending leave you with a satisfied smile and a warm feeling in your heart.
But this isn’t a movie; it’s Robert and Tabby Stem’s story, and many call it what it is — true love.
Like the Hallmark movies, theirs is a heartwarming story centered around romance and family. Unlike those movies, grief and loss are real, and a series of events fill their days that continuously prove how they complete one another.
Their story opens in Shelbyville with Robert and Tabby working in the Big Springs Shopping Center businesses in the late ‘90s. When time allowed and their paths crossed, they forged a friendship over shared interests, swapping life updates and stories along the way.
Tabby played the role of the hardworking protagonist, opening her own business in June 2000. The odds were stacked higher than the reams of paper in The Express supply room against the single mom of three and her business that offered copy and fax services to the general public.
Soon, Robert and Tabby’s life circumstances changed, and romance sparked, complementing their solid friendship. Marriage followed, and the change in the lives of Tabby and her three children was immediate and overwhelmingly positive.
“When we married in May of 2003, it was the happiest day of our lives. And I mean all of our lives. Brock and Robert connected instantly through their love of music. Lauren and Paisley were intrigued but cautious. Robert came into our family amid chaos and settled the storm. We were all so happy,” said Tabby.
In cinematic timing, everything changed. “Brock wrote a poem about how Robert completed all of us in December 2003,” she said. “Little did we know that in January of 2004, we would lose our precious Brock forever in a snow skiing youth trip with a local church. On that day and every day since, Robert has literally carried us and held us up as a family.”
Being present for Tabby and the girls is as natural as breathing for Robert. He said, “It goes back to my childhood. I want to give them what I didn’t have, and that’s just unconditional love.”
Some feared the worst for the couple, pointing out that many marriages collapse around the loss of a child. Her business was equally vulnerable.
“Robert supported me through everything. It was sketchy as to whether I would make it through Brock’s death as a fairly new business owner, but with the support of family and a very thoughtful banker who gave me a few months to get back on my feet, we survived and even thrived,” Tabby said.
She was thriving like many lead characters in the movies we love, pulled in too many directions. With Robert’s blessing, Tabby purchased a gym and became a fitness instructor, was active in local theatre productions both on stage and behind the curtain, and held positions on various boards, all fueled by her commitment to giving her best to her community and a desire to challenge herself.
She sold the gym but continued to lead fitness classes at the Shelbyville Recreation Center. Preparation for the one hour class on top of work at The Express and her other outside activities filled most of her waking hours. Robert, her true prince charming, worked quietly beside her and held down the fort with family. He was happy for every minute he spent with her but longed for more.
Tabby said, “I’m so guilty of doing things just because I can or because someone asked me to. Maybe I always felt like I had to prove that I was better than what people thought of me. But I just kept on [saying yes], and all of a sudden, Robert said, ‘I remember when it was just us working and doing everything together. I want my wife back.’ And it hit me like, What am I doing? So after that, I pulled back, and now we’re focusing solely on business and each other.”
Not everyone understands.
Robert said, “There have been customers who come in and ask, ‘How do you work together every day?’ For me, there’s no other place I’d rather be. I want to be by her side every day. Tabby is not just my wife; she’s my best friend. She’s everything. I just want to be with her all the time.”
“I don’t think I realized how much time I was taking away from him. He’s always been there, making me feel safe and secure. He wanted to see me do all the things I always wanted to do,” Tabby said. ‘He wants to see me happy. But maybe that wasn’t what was truly making me happy. I was searching, doing things I really loved, but it was just too much.”
It’s a love that’s still breathtaking.
“I think my favorite thing about him is his kindness and the way he loves me. That love is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” she said. “He looks like a tough guy, but he’s the most gentle, kind, loving man I have ever met in my whole life.”
And Robert’s favorite thing about Tabby? “She constantly wants to see other people happy, and I love that about her,” he said. They know their story is unique.
“We don’t take this love for granted; we know this is special, and we’re lucky. A lot of people don’t have this,” said Tabby. GN