How we stay together: ‘It’s like the bow on a present or the icing on a cake’

By Alexandra Spring

Names: Jodie Nancarrow and Jayne Watson
Years together: 20
Occupations: retired

“It was a one-night stand that’s lasted for 20 years,” jokes Jodie Nancarrow about her enduring relationship with wife Jayne Watson. And despite the casual start and some challenging times, their commitment to each other is still going strong.

They started out as friends. Both were in other relationships and Jodie’s former partner was a nurse, just like Jayne. The foursome were all close, and Jayne and Jodie found they had plenty in common. Although they didn’t meet until their 30s, they’d both grown up in country towns in regional New South Wales, about half an hour apart. Their fathers had similar jobs and they had close friends in common. “Her best friend in Muswellbrook High was my friend in Denman primary school,” remembers Jodie.

After their relationships ended, Jayne and Jodie maintained their friendship. By then, Jayne was living in Bylong, running the general store, while Jodie was living in Armidale. Neither were in a rush to get involved in another relationship. Then, in 2001, Jodie asked Jayne if she could stay with her one weekend while she was visiting family in the area. Jayne agreed and the two went to dinner with Jodie’s family. Later that evening, back at Jayne’s place, things took a romantic turn. And when Jodie hesitated, in the name of their friendship, they agreed it would be a one-off.

Yet a few weeks later, they got together again. And for the next three months, Jodie would drive four hours to Bylong each fortnight to spend time with Jayne. It wasn’t long before they decided that Jodie would move. “That’s what they say about lesbians and U-Haul trailers,” Jodie laughs.

Jodie and Jayne in 1999 before they got together
‘We knew what each other’s limitations or what your best attributes were and it just flowed.’ Jodie and Jayne in 1999 before they got together. Photograph: Jodie Nancarrow and Jayne Watson

Both were surprised at how hard they fell for each other. They’d been friends for so long and it hadn’t occurred to them. “It was so unplanned and so random,” Jodie explains. “It could’ve gone the other way. It could’ve gone, ‘Righto thanks very much. That was great. See you later.’ But it didn’t. And we ended up joining forces.”

Jodie began working in the Bylong general store. She was mindful it was Jayne’s business and essentially “worked for love”. However, Jayne was concerned that working together could cause problems – something that had happened in her previous relationship.

Instead they found they complemented each other. Often Jayne comes up with the ideas and Jodie sees them through to the end. They also took on complementary roles. “We had different strengths in different areas,” says Jayne, “so you could concentrate on separate things. You weren’t bombarded by the whole business, because you just concentrated on what you liked to do.” Jodie nods: ‘“We knew what each other’s limitations or what your best attributes were, so you let that happen, and it just flowed.”

They share an important attribute too: “We’ve both got that work ethic behind us,” says Jayne. “We’re probably very similar in that aspect. Usually there’s some difference within partnerships. I think we’re both fairly driven, and because of that, that maintains our relationship, just moves it forward really.”

They were also good at living together. “Our friends have said, ‘How do you possibly live, work, sleep, holiday, do everything together?’ And really simply, she doesn’t shit me,” says Jodie. Both agree not to sweat the small stuff and always share the workload: “If I was sitting on the lounge, and Jayne started cleaning the house, well, I wouldn’t say, ‘All right, well go for it. I’ll just watch you’. I’d step in and say, ‘OK, I’ll give you a hand’.”

‘I never, ever thought I would get married. And when the decision was yes, it [became] really important,’ says Jayne of her marriage to Jodie in 2018
‘I never, ever thought I would get married. And when the decision was yes, it [became] really important,’ says Jayne of her marriage to Jodie in 2018. Photograph: Jodie Nancarrow and Jayne Watson

When they see things differently, they end up agreeing in the long run. “We talk a lot,” says Jodie. “Like any other couple, you can still have an argument or a disagreement. But it’s not a big deal. And I’ve certainly learned as I’ve matured [not to] let the minutia get in the way. Just try and be concise in what you say, and be respectful. And don’t be taken for granted ... I think we both feel really similarly about not taking each other for granted.”

The most trying time in their relationship came when South Korean coal company Kepco arrived in the Bylong Valley in 2010 with plans to set up a coalmine. The company started up buying land and disrupting the small community. Both Jayne and Jodie protested the plans for the mine, and because their general store was the main business in town, they were often drawn into the community discussion. “It really got going in about 2012,” says Jodie. She says it was painful “to see our community just get torn apart and crumble … Turning people against people.” The pair felt that the once-happy community changed, neighbours turned against each other, and open discussion was replaced by terse, tight-lipped conversations.

Over the next few years, their relationship became strained as they struggled to hang on to the business. “We were so stressed that we were both prepared to shut the shop completely and move, and just go,” says Jayne.

They hung on for as long as they could. “We looked at each other and went, ‘You know what? This is going to kill us,’ and we don’t want to be here if the mine goes ahead,” says Jodie. “I felt very hypocritical, but in the end, we had to do what was right for us, and we sold.”

The stress had taken its toll and they knew things had to change in order for them to stay together. “That was the catalyst in us making our decision, that we did want to stay together. But certainly, not under the pressure that we’d been under.”

In 2017, the couple left the valley. They spent six months recovering from the stress, before settling into a more normal pace and eventually retiring. “Slowly, things started to improve and the pressure was no longer, well, it didn’t exist,” says Jodie.

Then in 2018, after the marriage equality bill passed, they decided to get married. It was Jayne who proposed to Jodie. “I never, ever thought I would get married. And when the decision was ‘yes’, it [became] really important.”

Jodie was thrilled even though she was “blown away” when Jayne asked. She says she’s surprised by how much being married meant to them; and what a difference it made to their relationship. “I thought about all the times we went, ‘A [piece of] paper doesn’t mean anything, we’re good, we’re solid, we’re strong.’ And we are all those things. [But marriage] also made it very legal [for] when we’re no longer here – writing wills, and all that sort of stuff. It made it a lot easier to be legal.”

She’s quick to add that it’s not just for practical purposes. “It was also very romantic, and [the wedding] was really nice. I still think about what it is that makes that bit of paper, saying our vows to each other and inviting our close friends and family to be a witness to all of that. But it’s just special. It’s like the bow on a present or the icing on a cake.”

Over the years, they’ve gotten better at dealing with any conflict between them. Says Jodie: “Being able to honestly talk about how you feel ... calmly, and try not to make decisions when you’re under pressure, and under stress. Make decisions when you’re both calm and can talk. Listen and be able to listen too.”

Jayne agrees communication is key - and acknowledges that everyone has bad days: “You just have off days. So you need your space, and you should accept it.”

Jodie Nancarrow and Jayne Watson
‘The relationship’s peaceful now. It’s contented and settled, which is really nice. We’re really lucky,’ says Jayne. Photograph: Jodie Nancarrow and Jayne Watson

While their romantic gestures are not as common these days, they say not much else has changed over the years. “We still laugh a lot, which is nice. And enjoy our company,” says Jayne. “The relationship’s peaceful now. It’s contented and settled, which is really nice. We’re really lucky.”

Jayne says her commitment to Jodie “is to be responsible, look after her, just have her back, to listen and be supportive. Just to be there.”

Jodie nods: “Just having my best mate by my side, who I happen to be married to, is a bonus, and the commitment means everything. I can’t wish for anything more to make my life better. I am blessed and I am extremely lucky to have this woman sitting next to me.”