By John Grossi
How They Met and the First Date
Val and Hector Olivares met through a youth group at the Greater Long Beach Church of Christ in 1998, when they were 15. Hector asked Valerie to the Los Angeles Youth Ministry Prom event that youth groups around the county attended. Though Hector went to Lakewood and Val to Jordan, they continued going on dates and seeing each other periodically until Hector officially asked Val to be his girlfriend at the age of 17, when Val was a senior and Hector was a junior in high school.
Sealed at Seal Beach
When they were 21, and both attending LBCC, Hector took Val on a date to Seal Beach. There he brought her a little wooden box and asked Val to write her future dreams and hopes for herself and for their relationship. They then walked down to the beach where he decided to bury the box next to a lifeguard tower to dig up later.
“I told him we should bury it by the pier because the lifeguard towers move, but he didn’t listen,” laughs Val. Sure enough, 10 days later when Hector and his friend went to dig up the box to put an engagement ring in it, they couldn’t find it… the lifeguard tower had moved.
That Saturday, Hector asked Val on another date to Seal Beach. He then walked to the spot where his sister had buried a new box and pulled out the engagement ring to Val’s total surprise.
The two got married during college and had their son a week before they both walked for graduation at Cal State Long Beach. All their friends and family attended the ceremony including their one-week-old.
Not All Rainbows and Unicorns
“We love sharing this piece of our story,” says Val. “It hasn’t been all rainbows and unicorns… nine years into our marriage we were separated and filed for divorce. We went through mediation… sought out marriage counselors, and both counselors said, ‘You’re better off as friends.’ So we tried co-parenting our son and it was really tough. For six years, we were off and on. Then in 2019, we said, ‘No, we’re going to give it our all. We like each other and we love each other, let’s commit.’ Ever since that moment, it has been really great.”
“It’s like a miracle for us and now we’re expecting our second baby after all this time,” adds Hector.
“We definitely reconciled and strengthened our marriage. We look forward to the future. Sometimes it feels like we’re dating… it’s a miracle and now we have a little miracle.”
Graves into Gardens
Hector and Valerie have learned a great lesson the hard way; to nurture their marriage, to be a little more cognizant of red flags and to find ways to reconcile.
Now at a stage of their life with much more certainty and full of gratitude, they are looking to give back in multiple ways. They have started volunteering at their church’s youth group— the same church that they met at 25 years ago. They have also started an Instagram page meant to help other couples who are facing serious problems and don’t see a way out.
“We don’t mind sharing why we split up,” says Val. “We overcame infidelity. We just want to give people hope that it doesn’t have to be over just because that happens. Our marriage has definitely been renewed and we look forward to helping any married couples willing to listen to our story, our advice, and our hope. We’re not professionals or anything like that. We’re just truly relationship enthusiasts. Love is a choice!”
Their Instagram handle @gravesintogardens562 is meant to inspire and give people hope. Marriage is hard but it can also be the most rewarding aspect of life.
“We title it ‘Graves into Gardens’ because we realize how bad and difficult a marriage can be. Our marriage was like a grave. It was dead and we were sure there was no way to bring it back. But it’s a flourishing garden now,” says Val.
Date Ideas from Hector and Val
• Dine out or having drinks on 2nd Street or Main Street in Seal Beach.
• Hike in Rancho Palos Verdes.
• Take prayer walks in Signal Hill.
• Bonfire at Bolsa Chica beach.
• Attend Concerts in the Park.
• Recreational activities at Heartwell Park.
• Dine with friends in Bixby Knolls.