Plus: The billionaire wrote out a pros and cons list of marrying Melinda before he officially proposed

By Joelle Goldstein
May 04, 2021 04:14 PM
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Bill and Melinda Gates have been one of the world's most famous couples for three decades — and along the way, they've been candid about how their relationship worked.

After 27 years of marriage, the pair announced their divorce in statement on social media Monday, saying they "no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives" but "will continue our work together" at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Court documents obtained by PEOPLE showed that Melinda, 56, filed for divorce and stated in the petition that their marriage was "irretrievably broken." The court docs also revealed that the Gateses do not have a prenuptial agreement in place, but will instead divide their assets according to a separation agreement.

It'll be no simple task, as Bill, 65, and Melinda's lives have been so closely intertwined since the beginning of their relationship.

Here are some of the most surprising aspects of their journey together.

bill and melinda gates
Bill and Melinda Gates
| Credit: Elaine Thompson/AP/Shutterstock

Bill Took Annual Vacations with His Ex-Girlfriend

Before he met Melinda after she joined Microsoft as a product manager in 1987, Bill had been dating Ann Winblad, a software entrepreneur and venture capitalist, according to Time. He developed such a strong bond with Winblad that Bill made sure to keep her in his life after they split in 1987.

"Even now, Gates has an arrangement with his wife that he and Winblad can keep one vacation tradition alive," Walter Isaacson reported in his 1997 Time story on Bill's life and career. "Every spring, as they have for more than a decade, Gates spends a long weekend with Winblad at her beach cottage on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where they ride dune buggies, hang-glide and walk on the beach."

"We can play putt-putt while discussing biotechnology," he told the magazine in 1997.

Winblad added to Time: "We share our thoughts about the world and ourselves. And we marvel about how, as two young overachievers, we began a great adventure on the fringes of a little-known industry and it landed us at the center of an amazing universe."

Melinda Gates and Bill Gates
Melinda and Bill Gates
| Credit: Christopher Farber/Gates Archive

Melinda Turned Bill Down When He First Asked Her on a Date

He may be of the most successful men on the planet, but Melinda said she was less than impressed when the Microsoft billionaire asked her out for the first time.

"When Bill first asked me out, he said, 'I was thinking maybe we could go out two weeks from tonight,'" Melinda recalled in a Facebook post in 2015. "I told him he wasn't spontaneous enough for me."

But Bill wasn't ready to give up.

"He called me an hour later to suggest we get together that night," Melinda wrote in the post. "He asked: 'Is that spontaneous enough for you?'"

It ultimately turned out to be enough for Melinda, who joked in a 2019 Instagram post that Bill had since "gotten a little more spontaneous over the years."

Bill Listed the Pros and Cons of Marrying Melinda Before Proposing

Because he was so busy running Microsoft, Bill wasn't initially sure if tying the knot was for him.

The couple opened up about the dilemma in the 2019 Netflix series Inside Bill's Brain, where Melinda revealed that she walked in on her then-boyfriend making a pros and cons list about whether to marry her.

"I took the idea of marriage very seriously," Bill explained in the documentary. "You know, we cared a lot for each other and there were only two possibilities: either, we were going to break up or we were going to get married."

Added Melinda: "Bill wanted to be married, but he didn't know whether he could actually commit to it and have Microsoft."

Melinda also spoke about the experience to The Sunday Times in April 2019, noting that Bill was upfront about his thought process.

"When he was having trouble making the decision about getting married, he was incredibly clear that it was not about me," she told the outlet. "It was about, 'Can I get the balance right between work and family life?'"

Bill Gates and Melinda Gates
Bill and Melinda Gates
| Credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Bill Sought Approval from His Ex-Girlfriend Before Proposing to Melinda

When it came time for Bill to propose to Melinda, he asked his ex, Winblad, for her permission.

"When I was off on my own thinking about marrying Melinda, I called Ann and asked for her approval," he recalled to Time in the 1997 story.

Winblad ultimately had no qualms about him popping the question.

"I said she'd be a good match for him because she had intellectual stamina," she told the outlet.

Bill Enjoyed Doing the Family's Dishes

After tying the knot on the Hawaiian island of Lanai on Jan. 1, 1994, Bill and Melinda went on to have three kids: son Rory John, 21, and daughters Phoebe Adele, 18, and Jennifer Katharine, 25.

Though Melinda chose to be a stay-at-home mom while Bill remained CEO of Microsoft, she told CBS' Sunday Morning in 2017 that they made sure to have an equal partnership.

"He was surprised, he was definitely surprised," Melinda said of her choice to focus on the family's home life. "But I said to him, 'You know, it just doesn't make sense. You can't be the CEO and go as hard as you're going and — somebody has to be at home, right? We didn't want our children raised by somebody else. I said, 'You know, if we want them to have the values we have, somebody has to be home.'"

"It's absolutely a partnership of equals," she added. "It's important to both of us that the world understands that we are running this place together. This is our joint values being played out in the world."

That partnership even included splitting some household chores, according to Bill.

During a 2014 Reddit Ask Me Anything, the billionaire was asked, "What is something you enjoy doing that you think no one would expect from you?"

In response, Bill revealed, "I do the dishes every night — other people volunteer, but I like the way I do it."

Listen below to the episode of our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day for more on Bill and Melinda Gates' divorce.

Melinda Called Their Marriage a "Surprise"

In a 2019 Instagram video, Melinda opened up about her relationship with Bill. While she knew that she would likely meet him at Microsoft, she said she never thought things would go further.

"When I moved to Seattle to take the job at Microsoft... I knew I would meet Bill because the company was small," she said. "But I certainly had no idea that I would fall in love with Bill or that we would get married."

"Even when we were dating early on, I never thought we would get married," continued Melinda. "That's definitely been a big surprise."

In the caption of the post, Melinda added, "That's been one of the best surprises of my life."