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VALENTINE'S DAY: For the high school sweethearts who made it

This is the first of five articles to be published in The Post's Valentine's Day Series. A new article will publish everyday Feb. 7-11.


Susan and Brian Bariola

People say young love never lasts, but every now and then you come across a story of two high school lovers who made it, and the child-like glimmer of love that remains in their eyes warm the heart. Meet Susan and Brian Bariola, the local couple who have been together since meeting in high school. Aside from a breakup in college lasting all but two weeks, since their teenage years the two have been inseparable, marrying in 1997. Twenty-four years later the two remain happily married, with three children.


When Susan and Brian first met at her sister's January wedding in 1993, Susan, who lived in Little Rock and was a sophomore, had never before dated anyone; and Brian, who lived in Bryant and was a senior, had never dated anyone seriously. On their first date the two went to the movies in Little Rock with a group of Brian's friends accompanying them. The movie playing was Point of No Return.


"I didn't even watch it, I was so nervous," Susan said, laughing. Afterward they went to TCBY for dessert, and nearly 29 years later the rest is history.


"It's been great, because we've known each other since we were kids," Brian said. "We've experienced everything from late teens through adulthood together, and we've always been together, so it's kind of helped us get through things (and) learn things."


The First Selfie

"And I think it's a little different when you don't know what someone's going to be when they grow up before you date them," Susan said. "... So we got to like set our goals together instead of like, 'OK, this is how I'm going to be,' and then you go and find that person you think is compatible.


"We ... did that together, and it kind of just worked out that we were ... both on the same page of what we ... wanted to do in life, and where we wanted to go, and with kids, and everything. So it ... worked out because we grew up together."


Despite being young lovers, the two were certain about their relationship from the start. Brian even turned down numerous sports scholarships to different colleges when it came time to him to graduate high school, but Susan was only graduating to her junior year.


"I had all these different things lined up and I said, 'You know what, this isn't where I need to be,' and just made that decision and signed on the dotted line in Little Rock, and she was living in Little Rock," he said.

"We kind of had no doubts, and that's why it's kind of weird watching our kids date because we didn't do that," Susan said. "We didn't like break up with people, and I know that's normal, but we never did that. ... We found each other and we knew — and we were very lucky to find each other, and we know that."


"It's really weird because we don't really give our kids advice because we don't have any advice," she added, laughing.


Family Photo

Brian said he tells his children, "If you find that person, don't be scared of that commitment or what if that person's the one, I don't know. Maybe it is, but just let things happen and it will or won't."


"The thing is, you'll know it. You'll know it," Susan added.

And after knowing it, Susan and Brian have gone on to learn how to keep their marriage strong after all these years. One way is they acknowledge one another's strengths and weaknesses.


"We're always working as a team. ... I might be stronger at one thing, and she might be stronger at another, and I mean we just rely on each other," Brian said.


"And we don't care what other people think," Susan added. "I think that's the number one. You know, if roles are reversed in certain areas, we don't care. People can bring them up to us and it doesn't bother us.


"I'll give you an example, you know, Brian might do the laundry, and people think that's the woman's role, and that's not how we ever looked at a marriage. You wouldn't believe how many people, especially our age, will make that comment. Or our parents age.


"And that's something we have never cared about, so we just kind of divide and conquer, and I think that's what's really made it work. And when it's something I don't like, or something he doesn't like, we let each other know so that we can take that part, because we want to have that balance, and we want each other to be happy. We really do have good communication."


When it comes to resolving conflicts between the two of them, Brian said that communication remains key.


"If you're not honest about how you feel, or how it makes you feel then it's just still going to be there," he said.


At her wedding shower, Susan said one woman gave her the age-old advice to "never go to bed angry," and that she found it to be helpful in the years to come.

"Who wants to just like have to lay there and stew on everything?" she said. "So just get it out of the way. It's OK to be uncomfortable and talk about it and get over it and get on with life, and I think that's what we do."


Another piece of advice she received when she was pregnant with her first child was from a man in a restaurant who told her and Brian to "never stop dating."


"And I think that's something that we do," she said. "We do date, and we go out. We have our own life; we know that we have to have our own life, our lives are not just our kid's lives, and that's important to us."


"And that's why we like Hot Springs so much, because we can go on day dates, night dates, just really easy just a couple of miles down the road," Brian said. "... We can go to a restaurant downtown or go walk downtown or go get on our bikes and ride the greenway. There's always something that you can do here together."

"I think we laugh a lot," Susan said.


"Yeah, we still flirt, we still like to be around each other, so I mean I think that's just a huge deal," Brian said.

"And then we surround ourselves I think with our friends who have really strong marriages," Susan added. "Like I want to hang out with my friends who support my marriage. And, you know, want to hang out with my husband, because I want to enjoy hanging out with him, so when we all hang out together. When we moved here we met a group of folks and we all hung out together, so I think that really helps when you all have like-minded folks."


As for advice to present-day young lovers, the two had a little more to add.


"Don't let in outside influences," Susan said. "I think that is so hard, and I think that was, not hard for us, but I do remember people trying to say, 'you're too young to get married,' (or,) 'you're too young to date someone that long.'


"(But) know yourself. Be very strong in your relationship and don't worry about outside influences. Don't let a parent influence you, don't let your friends influence you. This is between you two, and I think when other people get brought into it is when you have issues, and I think that's something we never did."


"And just being honest with yourself," Brian said. "'Am I happy?' (or,) 'Am I not?' And I mean in the end, you have to be happy with the decision you make. If you're unhappy in a relationship or not in a relationship, you still have to be honest and make that decision to stay or leave.


"And if you make that right decision you just know it; you feel better. You don't want to try to trick yourself into believing something or not doing what you really want to do. I think just knowing yourself and being confident in your decisions and do what feels right — we've been doing it for a long time."


All-in-all, the two recommend to just take it slow and go back to the basics; keep it "old fashioned," for lack of a better term.

"We really dated, and we took everything so slow," Susan said. "... He would say, 'Would you like to go to dinner?' And we would go to dinner. And he would walk me to the house. Like, we had real dates, and I don't know if that exists anymore.


"I don't know, maybe it does, but we really — like every weekend he was going to ask me out on a date, and I wasn't going to call him; he was going to ask me out on a date. And we did that every single weekend, and I think that's how we got to know each other. And it could be a date going to the airport and watching the airplanes, and that's how we — it wasn't about money, but we made sure to have some time with just us.


"Not hanging out. And I think that's the key, is we formally dated. And I would suggest that to people that are starting out to date. If you're a gentleman, ask a girl on a formal date, take her on a formal date. They don't always want to hang out. They want to go on a date, they want to get dressed up."


"I enjoyed every bit of it because we were doing stuff together," Brian said.


"And talk on the phone ... without FaceTime!" Susan added. "... We always tell our kids, just pick up the phone. You don't have to look them in the face on FaceTime, just pick up the phone. ... Just listen."

"Don't always just text," Brian said. "It's kind of like talking blindfold, just on the phone, but you get to hear how excited they are, or how not excited. You just get to hear their reaction without just watching. I think people, when they're, even just FaceTiming, you look at their face and you may not always get the true emotion as you do if you're just listening to their voice. And that's what we did and I liked it. ... I think it was just a more deeper connection."


High School Sweethearts