"The only bittersweet thing to all of this, is here we are now at 64. We're making up for lost time," Laura Lee Estes said.
Love comes in all shapes and sizes. It's hard to know when you are in love with someone. For one couple, love hit them nearly four decades after they got divorced.
Paul Mattingly and Laura Lee Estes were high school sweethearts who first exchanged vows in September 1980. Their first marriage, they agree, was destined to come to an end. "We were just very young, and we didn't really know how to be married, I don't think, at that time," Paul, 64, tells PEOPLE.
However, they both fell in love and got married again in February 2021.
The two first met during their freshman year at Centre College in Kentucky while Mattingly pledged Phi Kappa Tau fraternity and Estes was a fraternity little sister. Though he had fallen head over heels for Estes, Mattingly recalled how she wouldn't agree to date him until their final year of college.
"We were great friends," Estes, also 64, revealed. "The best of friends." After they started dating, Estes only agreed to marry Mattingly a year after their graduation. The couple settled down in Mattingly's hometown of Hyden, Kentucky, where he worked for his father in telecommunications and she taught at a local school.
After four decades apart, Laura Lee Estes and Paul Mattingly got to have an I-do-over. They married each other again last year. https://t.co/nXuL8ljrSl— KYTX CBS19 (@kytxcbs19) February 14, 2022
Now, looking back at those first few years Mattingly and Estes agree they didn't know what they wanted in life or how to talk about small problems which later turned into big ones.
It soon got so bad that after four years the two got divorced. But despite calling it quits they remained friends. "We were so close," Estes said. "Paul would always remember our anniversary. He would send flowers. He's very sweet, very thoughtful."
However, over time their calls became less frequent. "As time went on, you just start having that distance," she said.
After about a decade, Mattingly remarried, had a child, and divorced again after four years. Meanwhile, Estes became a school guidance counselor, retired, and became a private therapist. She never remarried.
In December 2019, when Estes was driving from her home in Plano, Texas, to her parent's home in Georgia, she asked Mattingly—who was living in Alabama—if he'd like to meet for dinner in Birmingham.
Both of them were single at the time. The moment they saw each other again, they knew their hearts wanted something else. "It was love at second sight," Mattingly says. "I looked at her and knew it was. I looked her in the eye and I thought, 'This is it.'"
"It's just like, that person, that best friend that you haven't seen for years, you see each other and there's no hesitation," added Estes. The two soon began talking to each other regularly, and eventually, Mattingly joined the love of his life in Texas just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
"The thing that we thought most of all, when we finally did get back together was, 'Gosh, we wasted a lot of time.' We wish we'd gotten back together earlier,'" Mattingly says of the time they spent catching up.
Without wasting any more time, Mattingly went up to Estes' mom and brother to ask them for her hand. Then he took her to a French restaurant and proposed. The two remarried on Feb. 12, 2021, and held a Kentucky Derby-themed wedding reception in May.
"Paul is such a good man," Estes said of her husband. "He is kind and sensitive. He's honest. He loves me. He wants the best for me." And now that they're older, they're convinced that this time their marriage is forever. "We both do a better job communicating," Estes says. "We laugh a lot."
"The only bittersweet thing to all of this, is here we are now at 64. We're making up for lost time," she continues. "Sometimes I'm sad that 40 years had to pass, and yet, I think that's part of what makes it so extra special right now."
Representative Image Source: Getty Images | Adene Sanchez