Dennis and Tessa Valdes Celebrate 25 Years of Wedded Bliss
When it comes to romance, some are of the mind that opposites attract, while others may beg to differ. Though there have been a multitude of studies conducted by psychologists that are sufficient enough to support or negate the theory, results vary on a case-to-case basis depending on the circumstances surrounding the couple. This rings true for Dennis and Tessa Valdes—he of the smart suits and well-organised timetables; she of the elaborate wardrobe and hairstyles, and larger-than-life effervescence—who, when they met in 1993, had next to nothing in common save for a deep affection for the sea.
Dennis, then based in Hong Kong, was invited by his former scuba pupil Gigi Santos to join a group dive while he was on holiday in the Philippines. Tessa just so happened to be part of the bunch (an all-girl group, of which Dennis was the lone gentleman). His first impression? “Oh, she was the noisiest one there.” Her first impression? “Not my type.” Scuba trips came and went, and she always seemed to be along for the dive when he was. It was not until October of the same year that Dennis decided to take a gamble, inviting Tessa to see an opera with him in Hong Kong. Shortly after—December, to be exact—they got engaged. It was a whirlwind courtship, but, according to Tessa, they were already at a point where they knew what they wanted, adding, “I was a single mum and a party girl; I needed someone who was grounded and stable—and Dennis had that in spades.”
Aside from serving as the president of PhilWeb Corporation, Dennis—aka HK Pirate on social media—enjoys photography and leads an active lifestyle, with underwater hockey being one of his biggest passions. This year, he is on duty as the competition manager for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games), where our team will be participating in for the first time. Dennis, once a competitive athlete in the sport, last represented the Philippines in the 2016 CMAS World Underwater Hockey Championships in South Africa. “One time, I was overseeing the coaching staff put the players through the monthly fitness test, and I asked if I could try,” he shares. “They were coming in at around 12 and a half to 14 minutes. I haven’t been training as intensively as I used to—I’ve already retired from active competition—but I finished the course in 12 minutes, 11 seconds.”
An interior designer by profession, the Sea Princess maintains a column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, hosts events, attends socials, joins triathlons, and enjoys yoga and Zumba. “My weeks are never really the same because of my crazy schedule—which is so crazy that I used to tell my kids I worked as a night nurse because I was always out!” she says with a laugh. Also active in charity work, she has her annual Red Charity Gala, a fashion event that showcases the best of Filipino design while raising funds for the projects of the Philippine Red Cross and Assumption College Batch ’81 Foundation. Tessa finds sanctuary in religion and spirituality. She is devout to her faith, but is also a firm believer in Feng Shui, meditation, and reiki healing.
As a pair, they balance each other out. Ever-tolerant and patient, Dennis remains a constant, solid presence by Tessa’s side—and she understands that it isn’t always easy to have her as a wife. “Because of my costumes and my ever-changing hair colour, he often jokes that he’s married to a different woman every night,” she says. “But even though I am so flamboyant and over-the-top, Dennis lets me be me; that is how confident and loving he is.” He celebrates her as a writer, too, having surprised her with Tessa: Ten Times Ten, a book chronicling some of her most memorable written works for her column. Tessa looks back on it with fondness; it is no easy feat to keep things secret from her, and Dennis managed to do so—with the help of close friends and family members, some of whom penned the chapter introductions for the book—for a year. “We concealed the launch from her under the pretense that Virgie Ramos had asked her to come to National Book Store to host an event for a Sheaffer pen!” he recalls. In turn, Tessa is his staunchest supporter—so much so that she has been encouraging him to go back to underwater hockey training upon finding out his impressive finish time.
They have worked their way through the intricacies and demands of marriage, all the way down to the detail of perfecting their pre-event preparation rituals. Everyone who knows Tessa understands her love for glamming up; she has been doing so for years, but still lights up like a child on Christmas Day when asked about her costumes and grand-themed parties. “I take ages to get ready, and he has mastered the waiting process,” says Tessa. “Dennis will ask, ‘Honey, are you ready?’ and if I respond with ‘I’m almost ready,’ that’s his go signal to get dressed. Why? Because my ‘almost’ entails another 30 minutes!” And once they arrive, Dennis waits for Tessa to have her solo moment before making his own entrance—then they walk into the event together.
When it comes to family matters, they are a solid unit. Their four children (Bryan, Tyrone, Annika, and Athena) are the centre of their universe. “Because our kids are so spaced apart—there is a 20-year gap between Bryan and Athena—the method of parenting we apply can vary,” Tessa shares. “It can be challenging, but it is also a fun learning experience. All four of them are at different stages in their lives; Bryan, for example, got married last year, while Annika, who is very much into film, just graduated from university. We let them be their own persons; we don’t want them to shortchange themselves because of any expectations they think we might have.” Dennis (whom Tessa claims is the better disciplinarian between the two of them) also believes that it is important to give them something constant to look forward to, hence their yearly Easter and Christmas family vacations. Their shared love for the ocean runs in the blood, and activities such as swimming, parasailing, windsurfing, and, of course, diving are enjoyed by all. For the Prieto-Valdes clan, weekends are reserved for family. Time for just the two of them is just as important—though, with all the things they have going on, has become more and more difficult to squeeze into their schedules.
For their milestone anniversaries, support for a charitable initiative close to their hearts is requested in lieu of gifts. When they celebrated 20 years, they raised money to build 20 homes in Samar. This time around, they are pledging support for the protection of 25 reefs. “We love the oceans so much—it is where Dennis and I began—and for our silver anniversary, we want to go full circle and work with resorts whose visions align with ours in hopes of establishing an initiative that can be sustained. We are so blessed; it is really important to us that we pay it forward,” says Tessa. One of their anniversary celebrations was held at Balesin Island, where practices such as energy and water conservation, eco-friendly transportation, and protection of marine and forest wildlife are employed to optimise ecological sustainability.
What is their secret to staying married for a quarter of a century? “You have to give each other space to grow,” opines Dennis. “Even though you are married, you will continue to change and evolve as individuals, and that process isn’t always linear: one can go this way, and the other can go in the opposite direction. And that’s okay; for as long as your commitment to each other and what you have built remain strong, you can and will come back. You can go wherever you want to go, but you always have to return to that fixed point to stay together. Communication is key, too. And so is patience.” Adds Tessa, “You have to learn how to say sorry as well. We believe that laughter can be the best medicine. We have gone through so much. There was even a time—perhaps the darkest point in our relationship—where I had to choose between Dennis and the family, but it all worked out in the end. It’s always going to be a roller coaster ride for us, filled with ups and downs, but fun and exciting.”
- Photography Marty Ilagan
- Location Balesin Island CLub
- Art Direction Anton San Diego