After eight years, there was no denying it was love
Many loves have their origins on campus, though not all of them last. Some campus couples are still together to this day. Towards the university's 100th anniversary, we collect their love stories. No, it wasn’t love at first sight for Hervé Tijssen and Loet van Wijk. The two staff members of the School Office of our Law School needed almost an entire decade in the 1990s to discover that they were more to each other than just colleagues. They have been inseparable for 25 years now and are living the good life, full of joie de vivre, in France.
Loet (65) and Hervé (62) are living in Fontenay-près-Vézelay, a sleepy village in Burgundy. A typical French hamlet where you step right back in time. And that is what we are going to do in this love story, too. In 1988, the year that the Netherlands won the European football championship, Hervé started his job as a research policymaker at Tilburg Law School. Two years later, he welcomed a new colleague, Loet. She worked as an academic counselor. Research and education were separate worlds, so professionally they did not interact very much.
Still, they got to know each other better pretty soon. The traditional morning coffee with the School Office to start the working day was the perfect opportunity. At the time, the School Office was a kind of family, Hervé recalls. “We used to interact a lot and always had a lot of laughs. It was a good time!”
I wanted to be clear so I told Hervé that he was not my type at all
Loet van Wijk
For years, there was nothing more than a good working relationship between the two. Loet was in a relationship and so was Hervé. But Loet’s longstanding relationship ended in 1996. A year later, Hervé went through a divorce. He calls it the hard times. “My dad had just passed away. And then there was the divorce on top of that. I left our home and moved into an apartment. A bunch of colleagues came over to help me move my things and paint the apartment. I was so grateful.”
Loet was one of those colleagues. But she did not want Hervé to get the wrong idea about her willingness to help out. “I wanted to be clear so I told Hervé that he was not my type at all. And relatively shortly after ending a long-term relationship, I was neither ready nor keen to enter into a new one.” Hervé was happy, too, to continue on a friendly basis. “I was in deep misery. A new relationship, with Loet, or anybody else for that matter, could hardly have been further from my mind. But you could say that we very gradually grew upon one another. We increasingly met away from the work floor. Hiking together, having a meal together. We started to connect on a deeper level.”
Knocking on doors
In different ways, Loet and Hervé were in the same boat. They sought and found mutual support. Their offices were in the same corridor in Y Building, now Dante Building. And well, work permitting, they came knocking on each other’s doors. It wasn’t difficult to find pretexts.
Several hikes, a couple of dinner dates, and numerous long conversations later, there was no denying it: Loet’s earlier claim that Hervé was not her type desperately needed updating. “Hervé was and is a man with a warm personality and I realized really liked him after all. Ultimately romance blossomed for us.” And Hervé had grown more than fond of Loet. They became an item at the beginning of 1998.
A chat, a kiss, and a hug
When their relationship got underway, Loet and Hervé wanted to see as much of each other as possible. By a stroke of luck, they were still in the same corridor at work. Hervé: “That made things a lot easier. We could just pop over for a chat, a kiss, and a hug. However, our jobs changed so, in the years that followed, our offices were further apart and we saw less of each other during the day. That was OK, too, because it meant that we had things to share when we rode our bikes to the home we had bought in Riel in 2005.”
Buying the house in France was a coup de coeur. A choice from the heart.
Own little corner of France
That Hervé and Loet now own a little corner of France has much to do with one of Loet’s precious memories from way back when. “In the 1990s, I was on holiday in this area. It was so beautiful, very peaceful and with wonderful starry skies. When Hervé and I had been going out together for a while, we came back to this place, without dreaming of buying a house. During a hike, we saw this house with a sign ‘à vendre’. It looked big and expensive, but our hearts made a little leap. We were sold.” Not much later, so was the house. “We bought it. It was simply a coup de coeur. A choice from the heart.”
A totally different world
For a long time, the French dream house was a second home, because the couple continued to live in Riel and work at Tilburg University. Hervé: “Life in Brabant went ahead as usual. Still, we tried to spend a quarter of our time in France. When I started my PhD research in 2005, this is where I wrote the best parts of my thesis, like a sort of monk, in the peace and quiet of the Burgundy countryside and without any internet access.” Loet: “Around Christmas, I usually had a pile of exams to mark. This was the perfect place to do so. Sometimes I had to take my laptop to the Office du Tourisme to use the one bar of Wi-Fi to send or receive a few e-mails, but I managed and I loved the peaceful environment. It is a totally different world here, a seven-hour drive from Tilburg.”
In my last year, I worked via Teams a lot. It was a strange farewell, but the whole Covid experience was new to everyone
Hervé and Loet eventually emigrated in October 2019 to their beloved Burgundy. Loet had just retired whereas Hervé, who is somewhat younger, had to continue working a little longer. Given the Covid restrictions, he did not need to come to Tilburg University. “My supervisor in fact barred me from coming to the campus. In my last year, I worked via Teams a lot. It was a strange farewell, but the whole Covid experience was new to everyone.”
The amiable couple is happy with their existence in la douce France, that much is clear. They enjoy the local specialties that France is famous for. But most of all they enjoy each other’s company and their new life together. They are active in meditation, have a vegetable garden, and are fully integrated into village life. Once a year, they visit family and friends in Brabant. Sometimes they receive visits from family and friends. And from former colleagues of Tilburg University, the place where their fairytale love story first began.
Date of publication: 12 October 2023