Nine days after Valentine’s Day and exactly 21 days after their engagement, Patrick Payan and Andrea Juarez will exchange vows and wedding bands in front of family and friends.
The two Manteca High grads won’t be renewing their vows, as so many do, but re-doing them during an intimate ceremony at the Christian Worship Center.
Their love story is as sorted and unique as the conversation hearts that have come to symbolize the holiday of love and romance. If their union was indeed a candy, the message inscribed on would be thus: Second chance at first love.
“There was a time when she hated me; when none of this seemed possible,” Payan said. “Look at (us) now. We’re engaged again and set to be married this month. You just have to believe in it and don’t give up.”
Payan and Juarez were married once before, a shotgun wedding in Reno about three weeks after the birth of their first child together (and Juarez’s third) in 1997.
They were just teenagers back then, adjusting to new roles and responsibilities. Parenting. Marriage. Adulthood. The burden was all too much for the two young Valentines to bear.
Instead of chasing the American dream – house with a white picket fence, etc. – Payan raced the other way, away from responsibility. Away from his bride. He struggled to hold down a job, and struggled mightily with control issues and infidelity.
“I was a horrible person,” he said. “I was just being childish. I knew what I wanted but wasn’t ready for it ... just being a dad so early. I tried but did a lot of cheating and stupid stuff.”
Juarez was almost too busy to notice. She and Payan had a second child together, and along with raising four children, she was working multiple jobs and attending college.
The love that brought them together so quickly had fizzled out, replaced by anger, frustration and sadness. In 2009, they separated. Payan moved in with his mother in Manteca, while Juarez and the children sought a fresh start in Tracy.
“I kind of hated him at that point. I didn’t want anything to do with him,” she said. “I never thought we’d get back together. If he died, it was like ‘Oh well.’ That was my attitude at the time.”
Juarez felt victimized. Payan wasn’t the husband or father he had promised to be, and he fell grossly short of the examples from her childhood.
“I come from a different type of family. I had standards. I worked really, really hard. I worked my butt off. For me, a man is supposed to be 100 times better than what I can do. That’s how I was raised,” she said. “He wasn’t meeting those standards.”
This love story was far from over, though.
Their divorce was finalized in 2012. They spoke only briefly about issues that involved the children, but found themselves in close quarters again when their youngest son, Matthew, struggled with Chron’s disease.
Close-calls and check-ups developed into day trips to Jackson Rancheria – “Casinos were kind of our thing,” she said – and casual conversation. While they continued to date others, their relationship began to re-spawn.
“I missed the companionship,” Juarez said.
Still, she was understandably guarded. The Payan she remembered – the Payan she knew all too well – was a dead-beat dad and cheating husband without much motivation or religion.
Had he changed?
For better or worse, Juarez was about to find out. Two months after they began talking, Payan asked to move back in.
“It was like, ‘Oh, God. Now he’s going to have to live here and we’ll go at it. This is going to be horrible,’ ” she recalled.
Payan surprised her. Time apart had served him well.
He was pursuing work at all cost, applying for jobs in the Bay Area while he worked part-time at Taco Bell and later full-time with Manpower Temporary Services.
He rekindled his relationship with God, and with Juarez, returned to the Christian Worship Center, the birthplace of their relationship.
More importantly, Payan honed in on what was truly important in his life – family.
“I didn’t get to see my kids every day like I used to. The kids had resentment because dad wasn’t there and daddy did a lot of bad stuff,” he said. “It made me realize I didn’t want to be single anymore. It made me realize I didn’t want to be living with my mom and not having my wife and kids with me. It was an eye-opener.”
Payan proposed for a second time on Super Bowl Sunday during a club meeting at church. With the blessing of family and friends, Payan dropped to his knee, surprising Juarez yet again.
“I wasn’t afraid. At that moment, it couldn’t get any more perfect,” Payan said. “It had to come from the heart and from the being for her to say ‘yes.’ It was just the perfect moment.”
It had to be.
Juarez was pretty adamant that anything less would have resulted in a “no.”
“It was really cute,” she said. “I’m a really creative, detail-oriented person. I told him if you propose and it’s not the best proposal, I’m going to tell you no. When he did this, it was such a romantic, heart-felt proposal, it was perfect.”
In yet another full-circle moment for this couple, the two will be wed in the married couples classroom at church on Feb. 23. It was in that space in 1994 that Payan first laid eyes on Juarez, his soon-to-be, two-time bride.
The 35-year-old is determined to make good on his second chance with his first love.
“I don’t want to end up being alone again. This could be my last chance,” he said. “This time, I don’t want to throw it away. I’m making the steps to change.”