'Every Day Is Valentine's Day' for Dan and Joy Flynn - 27 East

‘Every Day Is Valentine’s Day’ for Dan and Joy Flynn

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When they were dating and in their 20s, Dan Flynn recorded an album of love songs he had written and performed for Joy Flynn, who he married in 1971.

When they were dating and in their 20s, Dan Flynn recorded an album of love songs he had written and performed for Joy Flynn, who he married in 1971.

Dan and Joy Flynn on a boat trip in Finland. They have traveled the world, competing in Masters Track and Field events.

Dan and Joy Flynn on a boat trip in Finland. They have traveled the world, competing in Masters Track and Field events.

Dan and Joy Flynn on their wedding day in November of 1971. They have the same birthday, February 13, one day before Valentine's Day, and say that every day is like Valentine's Day for them, after more than 50 years of marriage.

Dan and Joy Flynn on their wedding day in November of 1971. They have the same birthday, February 13, one day before Valentine's Day, and say that every day is like Valentine's Day for them, after more than 50 years of marriage.

authorCailin Riley on Feb 7, 2023

In the summer of 1969, Dan Flynn set off from the University of Florida campus, where he was a student, and headed for nearby Interstate 75. He carried with him not much more than a homemade sign that said “Michigan” and, as he says now, “the blind optimism of a young guy.”

He stuck out his thumb and waited.

It was either fate or good luck — perhaps a combination of the two — but the first car that pulled over was a Volkswagen carrying two college students on their way to the same state more than 1,000 miles to the north, to within just 30 miles of Flynn’s specific destination, Michigan State University.

Flynn was embarking on a 1,000-mile hitchhiking adventure for a simple reason: He was in love.

The previous summer, he met Joy Banch while they were both living in the same “big old rambling house” in Westhampton, along with more than 30 other college students who had summer jobs in the area.

The story may already sound like it is veering into a predictable Hallmark Channel romance cliché. But the couple — now in their 70s and married for more than 50 years — freely admit it was not love at first sight.

Joy was still attached to a boyfriend who had recently left for medical school in Mexico, and her first meaningful interaction with Dan occurred when her roommate — who had a crush on him — dragged her along to go visit him at the Yardarm Beach Club, where he was lifeguarding.

A conversation on the beach that day revealed that Joy and Dan shared a birthday, February 13; he turns 77 this year, she turns 76.

They started spending time together that summer — much to the disappointment, Joy admitted, of her roommate — keeping it casual but staying in touch.

The sparks that were initiated that summer didn’t flame up and then out quickly; rather it was a slow but steadily building burn.

A few weeks before his south-to-north cross-country trip, Dan sent a recorded album of six love songs he’d written and performed for Joy, complete with an album cover bearing a portrait style photo of them on the front, ethereally superimposed together. When he arrived after the long journey, Joy sneaked him into her all-girls dorm room for the weekend.

After they graduated, they found themselves in close proximity again. Joy began teaching in the Syosset School District, and Dan was in New York City, working for ABC as a copywriter. In 1970, Joy let Dan know she was going to spend her summer off in Europe, and asked if he wanted to join her.

“I said to Dan, ‘I’m going to Europe, either by myself or with you,’” she recalled, with a laugh, during a recent interview. “And he said, ‘OK, I’ll go with you.’”

More than half a century later, the couple — who reside in Quogue — are still together, and say that “every day is like Valentine’s Day” when it comes to their relationship.

They understand that a statement like that could elicit an eyeroll from some, that it may seem far-fetched. Marriage is aptly characterized as something that requires constant work, after all, and the passage of time doesn’t necessarily make it easier.

But it is clear, listening to them happily recount the early days of their courtship and marriage, and the adventures they’ve had together over the years, that they are sincere. They also freely admit that there is no magical or hard-to-define intangible that has kept their relationship on solid ground for so many years.

“Our situation is so unique,” Joy said, when asked why their relationship has stayed so strong over the years. “One thing is that we never had children, by design. We decided after about three years that it just wasn’t for us. I taught child psychology, so I knew how hard it was to raise kids. Fortunately, we both felt the same way.”

Joy also credits taking the advice of a friend, early on, to engage in marriage counseling as another reason why their relationship has been so solid. A Catholic co-worker suggested they attend something called “Marriage Encounter,” and she said that while they are not Catholic, the counseling — which included a retreat weekend for couples—was invaluable.

“It really laid the foundation of our relationship,” she said. “It made you talk, and taught you how to communicate. So we entered into it with a much stronger foundation than most people do.”

Eliminating the stress that child-rearing can place on a marriage and committing to learning communication strategies early on no doubt helped set them up for success, but Dan and Joy seemed naturally well-suited in a variety of ways as well.

A shared embrace of spontaneity and adventure, openness to new experiences, and an ability to roll with the punches are traits they shared. They have been to Burning Man together. During their summer in Europe, they traveled all over in a chartreuse green Saab Sonnet sports car that Joy had purchased in Germany, and then had shipped back to the states after their trip.

“I don’t know what made me buy that car,” she said with a laugh, before adding, “it was a really sexy car.”

At that point, they had discussed marriage and their future together, so Joy was prepared for Dan to propose during the trip. Her only requirement, she said, was that the proposal be “in a romantic place.”

The city — if not the exact location within that city — fit the bill. Dan proposed in Paris, the last stop on their trip, at the Hotel du Commerce. Joy laughed as she described it as a “dive” that ran them just $2.50 per night. They did not even have a ring yet, failing to find one they liked while in Europe.

The fairy tale elements did not all fall neatly into place. In their place were other elements that formed a stronger foundation, they say.

“It’s safe to say our relationship has lasted for 51 years because we had very little expectations,” Joy said. “Everyone goes into marriage with this Hollywood idea in mind.”

“Some of our friends marvel at how pragmatic we are,” Dan said. “We didn’t even have a ring, and we never got engagement rings.”

The pragmatism carried over into their wedding. Joy wore a dress that was handmade by a former student from when she taught home economics, from a pattern out of Vogue magazine, with $100 worth of fabric that Joy purchased.

Their wedding was a modest affair, with a reception in the backyard of Joy’s mother’s home. Later that night, they arrived at a hotel they had booked to discover that their room had accidentally been given away to another couple.

“We had to drive to one of those one-hour rate hotels, with bulletproof glass at the check in counter, and one of those artificial green carpets,” Joy said with a laugh. “It was no big deal. We had fun, and it made for a great story.”

When it was pointed out that many people would not have taken that approach to that situation on their wedding night, Joy responded: “We’ve learned that life is all about how you interpret it, and how you respond to things. If you take yourself too seriously, you’ll get in trouble.”

The couple honeymooned in Montreal and Quebec, spending a few days skiing before heading back home. Their decision to be outdoors and hit the slopes for their honeymoon represents another theme that has been a big part of their lives over the decades — a shared interest in staying active. For the past several years, both Dan and Joy Flynn have competed around the country and even the world in Masters track and field competitions. At the end of January, they traveled to Providence, Rhode Island — along with fellow Quogue resident Hala Lawrence, who is in her 90s — to compete in the New England Masters Track and Field Championships. Joy brought home four gold medals, Dan came away with a gold, silver and bronze, and Lawrence earned two gold medals.

They say they try not to put limits on what they can do, especially when it comes to expectations or norms for their age.

When it comes to longevity, generally speaking, defying expectations seems to be their specialty. Staying the course over the long haul — whether it’s a 1,000-mile-plus hitchhiking journey, an overseas track and field competition, or 50-plus years of marriage — is the defining feature of their enduring love story.

“Every day is Valentine’s Day for us,” Dan said. “We’re so fortunate, and we express that to each other every year.”

“We never take each other for granted,” Joy said. “We’re incredibly grateful for this relationship.”

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