Streaking, tattoos and Disneyland: 15 years of an unconventional marriage and why it works
Few storybook romances begin with a couple streaking across a bridge in the middle of the night, but Luke Hellwege and Jaime McNamara’s meeting was divine intervention. Hundreds of trips to Disneyland, a spontaneous Vegas wedding, multiple moves and lots of tattoos later, the Hellweges marriage is anything but boring. With their 15th wedding anniversary approaching, they took some time to reminisce and give the Emerald an inside scoop on how they’ve made their atypical relationship work.
Luke, Jaime and their friends decided to streak across a Fullerton, California, bridge to say farewell before it was demolished in 2000. The two had mutual friends that planned the trek, but its impact changed the pair’s lives forever. “For me it was love at first sight, and for her, I had to convince her for about two years to like me back,” Luke said.
As students at Hope International University in Fullerton at the time, Disneyland was as close to them as Gateway Mall is to the University of Oregon. Even better, season passes were a whopping $99 for the entire year. “Every night we’d be like, ‘alright let’s go to disneyland for a couple hours,’ and that’s where we’d hang out with people,” Luke said.
On their way to visit family in Pacific City, Oregon, the couple made a quick stop at the Cape Kiwanda sand dunes. Luke proposed to Jaime by singing her a song he wrote about their relationship. He also made her unwrap a duct-taped box with five other duct-taped boxes packed inside of that one — it eventually led to an empty final box. Jaime said she had no clue about Luke’s intention to propose that day, although she was aware of his duct tape obsession.
“I thought that was the end, and then I thought he was giving me flip flops because I love flip flops,” Jaime said. Unfortunately Jaime didn’t find her beloved flip flops inside the shoe-box-sized present: “It was empty and I was like, ‘this is stupid’ and I was really annoyed, so I went to look at him to get mad at him. In that moment, he got down on his knee in front of me and asked me to be his wife.”
A fiance beats flip flops any day.
Luke and Jaime got engaged in August 2002, and started to plan a beautiful wedding on the beach in Santa Barbara. By February, the couple realized how expensive their special day would be. They were tired of waiting.
“It just felt like a legality to wait until May. Why not just do it now? We’re ready,” Jaime said. They gave their close friends and family two weeks notice and flew to Las Vegas to elope.
One month later, Luke joined the military and shipped out for boot camp. “I didn’t have a great job and we were out of college, and I was like, ‘I need to do something to provide for my family.’ It was shortly after Sept. 11 and I was feeling very patriotic,” he said.
Following boot camp, Luke went to medical training in San Antonio; however, despite being married, Luke and Jaime weren’t allowed to live together during their time there. Luke said his commander told him, “If we wanted you to have a wife, we would have issued you one.”
Shortly thereafter, Luke went to work in the Demilitarized Zone, (DMZ, the border of North and South Korea) for sixteen months. Jaime was only allowed to be there for a month of the total time, so the couple entered a season of long-distance marriage. Cell phones were not as advanced as they are now: “No texting, no Skype — we had to learn how to communicate at 16 hours time difference,” Luke said. “It’s not something I would suggest doing. I mean, this is where faith comes in, but really, without Jesus neither one of us would have made it through.”
Both Luke and Jaime described the toll separation took on their relationship. “We had both been so independent that it was almost like we were frustrated that we were in each other’s lives again,” Jaime said. “We had to re-learn how to be a couple and live together and communicate in person.”
It took about a year before the Hellweges were comfortable with ordinary married life.
“We fell out of ‘like,’ if you will. We had to become friends again,” Luke said. “And that’s made us strong since then because we know how to make each other happy, and we know what each other needs. We know how to enjoy each other again and it’s been beneficial for 14 and a half years now.”
Jaime values Luke’s honesty — even when it is tough to hear. She appreciates his unwavering devotion to her, though she says there have been times she doesn’t deserve it.
“He has loved me through some really hard things in my journey through life and loved me enough to stay committed to me when it would have been really easy to walk away,” Jaime said. “I didn’t deal well with him going into the Army so he stuck by me and has continued to just love me more than I even thought I deserved … I get to see a piece of God’s grace for us through [Luke’s] grace for me.”
Despite saying the sentiment is cheesy and cliche, Luke acknowledges that Jaime truly does make him a better person.
“I love how kind and compassionate she is and just how genuine she is with people. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like Jaime,” Luke said. “I love how nice she is to people because I’m not always the kindest … And I think she’s hot, so that helps.”
The couple doesn’t take themselves very seriously, but they certainly don’t mess around when it comes to the vow of marriage. On their wedding day, Jaime’s father told Luke that love is a commitment, not a feeling. “In our society, love is so disposable,” Luke said. He described how couples are no longer willing to stick it out when things get hard, so the couple promised to not contribute to the country’s rising divorce rates.
The Hellweges have lived together and separately all over the globe. Their marriage map is a little hard to follow — so hang on tight:
“We got married, lived in Arizona,” Luke began. “I went to Oklahoma for boot camp; [Jaime] was in Colorado at that time. We lived in San Antonio together. We were in Korea together briefly — I was there for longer. When she wasn’t there, she was in Colorado. When I got out of the Army we lived in Colorado for a year. From Colorado we lived in Portland for a year. From Portland we lived back in Colorado — different part of the state, but for about six years. Then we went to Washington state, like Eastern Washington for two years. Back in Colorado again for three years. We briefly went to California. Her dad passed away and so we went out there. She was there for a year — again we had separation. She was there for six months without me, and then I was there for six months with her before we moved up here.”
By now, the couple has mastered packing light.
Luke and Jaime moved to Eugene in September, 2016 and are now ready to settle down and make Track Town, USA their permanent home. Luke works for a worldwide ministry called Young Life where he acts as the Eugene-area college director. Jaime is also a volunteer leader for Young Life.
They decided they didn’t want to have children so they could act as parents to those who don’t come from a healthy home. “We wouldn’t be able to do Young Life or ministry the way that we would want to with having a child,” Luke said. “So it’s not even like my vocation, but it’s our life. It’s how we live our life and we do it together.”
The Hellweges marriage has not been conventional by any means. Like many couples, they have endured hardship and had their relationship tested many times. Yet they continue to honor their vows of marriage and are in love — as well as in ‘like’ because they value an emphasis on friendship first. If they ever retire from Young Life, they plan to become cast members at Disneyland or Disneyworld. But their dreams for the rest of marriage basically all boil down to a simple mantra: “We want more tattoos.”
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