This is Part I of our three-part series on love that lasts. Tune in Wednesday for Part II.
From near-homelessness to times of plenty, Ciara and Melinda Lilly have built a partnership for all seasons.
It was 2008 and Ciara and Melinda Lilly almost didn’t meet. Melinda, 32, had every intention of staying home that night, and Ciara’s old car died—several times—en route to the Charlotte club where the two eventually connected. And when they did, Ciara, 30, says it was like something out of a movie.
“It sounds crazy but I noticed her like in the movies, where the spotlight shines on one thing and the whole room remains still,” she says. “I kept feeling ‘This is someone you need to have in your life.’”
The two recent college grads moved in together at the height of the recession and struggled to survive. They slept by the fireplace because they couldn’t afford heat and often had to make $10 stretch for groceries for the month. But a decade later, they’re happily married, have successful careers and just bought their first home.
Create a true partnership: The first few years of their relationship were a real struggle. Both were unemployed (often at the same time) and would have to go to Crisis Assistance Ministry to make sure they didn’t end up homeless. During those tough times, Ciara remembers asking Melinda if she would live with her in a cardboard box if they had to.
“She said yes,” Ciara says. “That answer set the foundation for us that no matter what, we’re gonna be together and we’re gonna get through whatever we face together.”
Melinda echoes Ciara: “We’ve grown to understand what a partnership really means.”
Find your common values: Both women agree—giving is a part of who they are as individuals, and as a couple. Melinda is now the communications manager for Alliance for Climate Change. But when they were unemployed and struggling just to keep a roof over their heads, they still took a portion of their unemployment checks and helped others. And every Christmas, they’d adopt a family.
“We’ve always been very philanthropic, no matter what’s happening in our lives,” Ciara says. “We’ve been blessed now to be able to do so much more.”
You really should be best friends: The women know they sound cliché when they describe each other as “yin and yang,” but insist it’s the perfect description. Ciara, the director of business development and diversity for Environmental Service Systems, is the go-getter.
“She can go from zero to 100,” Melinda says about her wife. “She’s a big dreamer and a visionary. I take her ideas, troubleshoot them, and sometimes have to pull her back. But sometimes I doubt myself and she has to boost me up.”
And no matter what, Ciara says, “We’re each other’s safe places.”
This story first ran in the February 2018 issue of SouthPark Magazine.
Photos by Casey Hendrickson Photography