Everyone loves a good love story.
Especially one with fairy tale aspects: Meeting a stranger from a far-away land, falling for each other against the odds, having a great adventure in search of a happy ending.
Now what if it was true? And with a distinct 21st century twist — the involvement of social media?
That’s the story of Courtney Brooke and Bruno Ribeiro, who met in person for the first time on March 10 — already knowing that they wanted to get married.
Brooke, a Somerset native, former Southwestern student and recent 4.0 GPA graduate of Somerset Community College with a nursing degree (currently studying in the same field at Eastern Kentucky University), met Bruno Ribeiro of Portugal over Instagram in 2012.
Instagram.com (specifically the Instagram portable media app) is one of the most widely-used social networking websites today, with a focus on photography — sharing your photos, manipulating them, talking about them with other people from around the world.
“(Bruno) was on Instagram, and I started an Instagram page when I started my photography,” said Brooke, who takes photos professionally. “I don’t remember exactly how I found his page, but I remember I started following him and sporadically commented on some of his pieces — he would comment back to me.
“He had thousands of followers (on Instagram); I had very few,” she added. “He would always make a point to comment back to me. Other people would comment and he wouldn’t reply to them. I thought it was sweet.”
Ribeiro is considered one of the more prolific “Instagrammers” in Europe under the handle @sinched, noted Brooke, and his work is well-known in photography circles, doing well in numerous contests or publications. So to have him commenting back to her so frequently got her attention.
“His artistry was extraordinary,” she said. “He had the ability to turn the simple into something that would stop you in your tracks from behind his lens and that transcended into feelings he made me feel with just his words, and we hadn't even really spoke as people yet, we were still just two social networking users.”
Brooke considers their two-year anniversary to be this coming April 12, as that’s when they exchanged messenger addressed and started talking personally. The relationship blossomed from there — despite it being a long-distance relationship. Very long-distance.
“We would text all throughout the day on a messaging system called Kik, which is free internationally,” she said. “We’d FaceTime once a week if our scheduled matched up, even though there was a five-hour time difference.”
Brooke admits that her heart had been broken “more times than I care to recall” and she had written off men and “gave up hope on love and anything that might resemble it.” She devoted herself to school and to her newly born daughter Nylah. She certainly didn’t expect to meet anyone in so unconventional a manner. However, it allowed her to get to know Ribeiro in a way she hadn’t done with anyone else.
“A lot of issues in long-distance relationships happen because of trust, and that’s usually the main culprit in fizzling out relationships, or losing interest because it gets boring, but for us, it never got to that point,” said Brooke. “A lot of times, physicality gets in the way.
“It was just very easy, communicating and cultivating a relationship in a way others don’t,” she added. “... It’s never lost its spark, even over two years. I’ve had people message me and ask how we did it, because they’re on a long-distance relationship or their husband or boyfriend has had to move for some reason.”
Brooke said that they talked about Ribeiro coming over here to live from early on. “He had visited the U.S. and really liked it and as we progressed in the relationship, in the back of his head, ever since he was little he always thought he would meet an American girl and come here,” she said. “It’s one of those things you dream about but don’t think will happen.”
As a native of Lisbon, Portugal, a major European capital with 3 million in its larger metropolitan area, any inevitable culture shock would not involve merely going to another country but also from a big city to a much smaller rural area like Somerset. But Ribeiro, a fluent English speaker with the Portugal flavor still heavy in his voice, has taken to it immediately.
“It’s been perfect,” he said. “To be honest, I don’t miss Portugal at all now. I’m totally converted to America.
“It’s a whole new world for me, but I have everything I need here,” he added. “When you have everything you need, you feel at home, no matter where that place is.”
The biggest change is the pace of life. Ribeiro said every day in Lisbon was hectic. Here, however, “you always have time to do everything. I was used to the stress of the city. It was awful. Here’s, it’s amazing.”
Also a plus: The much lower gas prices in Pulaski County as compared to Portugal, he said, and eating habits (like less common use of silverware).
Ribeiro has been exploring Kentucky and trying to reinvent himself and his work, posting on Instagram every day. Meanwhile, he and Brooke are in the process of forming their own new photography studio here, Red Shutter Studio.
“We’re teaming up,” she said. “It’s a combination of my style (of photography) and his style, and a new style we have together.”
They’re also working on getting married eventually and helping Ribeiro get permission to stay in the country. They’ve sought the services of an attorney that specializes in that area and once Ribeiro has been here 60 days, they will need to get married. Not that either wasn’t planning on that already.
“We need a ton of paperwork. They want to see pictures of us together with Nylah, read our emails, tons of stuff to prove I didn’t meet him on line and he tricked me into getting him here,” said Brooke. “It’s very costly for us to do, but one of things we had to do this way. Fiancé visas are available only for those who have met in person in the last two years and because of our situation, that wasn’t an option for us.”
Brooke met Ribiero when he arrived at the Louisville airport in March to stay, and appropriate had a photographer there to capture the occasion.
“We both thought we would be a mess, in tears and emotionally all over the place, but we were excited and happy, but just like, ‘I can’t believe you’re here,’” said Brooke. “It wasn’t until a couple days later that it sank in that he was real and he wasn’t going home.”
Ribiero has also bonded with young Nylah “flawlessly,” said Brooke.
“She started calling him ‘dada’ already — she was the one that started that. “He knew from the beginning I had a daughter, but I didn’t push the issue. I didn’t try to incorporate him into her life too early. It just happened very naturally.”
The ease with which Ribeiro, not already a father himself, took to Nylah wasn’t surprising though. “I wouldn’t have pursued a relationship with him even early on if I didn’t think he could be the role model I needed him to be in that area,” she said.
Now, with a big anniversary coming up, the couple is looking forward to their fairy tale ending. Yet even that might be something distinctly more tailored for the age of the instantaneous, the age that created social media — the source by which Courtney and Bruno met.
“I’m the typical girl who wants the dress, to walk down the aisle, and that’s not something that’s feasible to play in such a short time, and with school,” she said. “We’ll probably do it very low key. We’ll do a wedding photo shoot and not have a ceremony. We have (a bigger wedding ceremony) and a reception later.
“I can't thank everyone enough for their overwhelming support for us on this incredible journey, and I can't thank him enough for being so patient and perfect after all this time.”
Everyone loves a good love story.
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