Paolo and Lieke have been together for half of their lives: "From puppy love to parenthood"
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. Paolo and Lieke met for the first time 20 years ago, when they started their studies at Tilburg University. “I was 19,” Lieke says dreamily. “I remember seeing Paolo walk by, catching my breath, and thinking: that’s my man!”
She has a plan. Via her friend Suzie, Lieke soon finds out that Paolo is a member of study association VITE International. It later merged with what is now Asset. She also becomes a member and even joins the same committee as Paolo. “Then I found out he already had a girlfriend. After all the trouble I had gone to …,” she laughs.
What attracted Lieke in Paolo? “Ninety percent of the people walking around the campus looked the same. Not Paolo. That’s what I liked about him instantly. Besides that, his genuine interest in people appealed to me. And I was also attracted to him because of his ambition, besides his studies, to make the world a better place. I didn’t always understand what he was up to, but I admired him very much for it nevertheless. In my eyes, he truly was a ‘Good Samaritan’, someone who sets out to do good in the world. I wanted to be part of that.”
Not love at first sight
Paolo admits it wasn’t directly love at first sight for him. “I already had a girlfriend, so I was not really open to Lieke. But she did stand out in the crowd.” He turns to Lieke and says: “You came from a modest background, is that a good way to put it? You already had to take care of yourself and worked really hard to support yourself. What impressed me about you was: you really were your own woman, very early on. I did not see a girl exploring the world, I saw a girl on her own two feet.”
I think that it didn’t occur to him until an hour before our first date that it was a flirtation. It just never crossed his mind. And I was trying so hard!
Cultural differences emerge
Eventually, Paolo’s relationship broke down and Lieke saw her chance. “I asked Paolo to come and watch a movie at my house. He agreed. The funny thing was: Paolo has always been a bit naive. I think that it didn’t occur to him until an hour beforehand that it was a flirtation. It just never crossed his mind. And I was trying so hard!”
Paolo was an hour late for what she considered their first date. Lieke: “I was pretty annoyed, to put it mildly. It was one of the first experiences with the cultural differences between us. Paolo is from the Caribbean, from Aruba. People take a more relaxed attitude to time there.” Finally the doorbell went. And there was Paolo, with a bag of McDonald’s. “Bringing food to a date is the usual thing to do in his culture,” Lieke explains. He scored some Brownie points there. “McDonald’s is one of favorite guilty pleasures. Still is. So my irritation evaporated on the spot; he had completely won me over. From that moment we were an item.”
I earned very few credits in the first six months of our relationship
The two spent a lot of time together. Lieke: “I think I was in my second year of International Economics and Paolo in his third year of International Business. I don’t know exactly. What I do remember is that I earned very few credits in the first six months of our relationship. I did manage to pass that year, by studying really hard right through the summer. We both stayed in Tilburg. Paolo was involved with his study association a lot.”
Paolo had in fact set up a study association all by himself: Awake International, Student Association for World Affairs. “We worked on awareness around three global issues: environment, human rights, and equality. So diversity and inclusion avant la lettre, themes that weren’t as topical then as they are now. For me this was a great way to develop myself. I had been a student assistant to Pieter Winsemius for some time, a renowned Dutch management consultant and former politician. He was a guest lecturer at Tilburg University at the time and talked to us about sustainability. That was so inspiring for me. That, too, was not such a hot topic then as it is now.”
Sustainability, then and now
In their current jobs, both Paolo and Lieke continue to be committed to the topics that used to inspire them as students: sustainability, diversity, and innovation, as well as to the things they learned during their studies. He is Head of Innovation at energy company Eneco, she is a Director of Innovation of the online supply chain at Albert Heijn’s. In September 2023, Paolo gave a guest lecture himself at TIAS Business School. “In the same lecture hall where I listened to Pieter Winsemius. It was the first time in years that I was back on campus, and I felt right at home immediately.”
From puppy love to dad and life partner. That is something you could never foresee during that first date.
Growing as an individual and as a family
After graduation, the couple left Tilburg fairly soon. Paolo: “I have one good friend who lives in Tilburg. So I come back to see him now and then, for instance, when the funfair is on. After many years in Amsterdam, we have now settled down in Diemen. We got married in 2012 and have two children: Zoë has just turned nine, Dex is six. And we have two cats, mainly to please Lieke and the kids. We have recently celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary with a big party. All our family and friends were there. We both still have a stable group of friends whom we met in Tilburg. They know us from the time we had just fallen in love, so that is quite special.”
Lieke adds: “It is such fun to look back together and to realize that we have spent half our lives together. I have really seen Paolo grow. From a student discovering the world to someone who is co-responsible for a household with two kids. From puppy love to dad and life partner. That is something you could never foresee during that first date.”
Date of publication: 27 October 2023