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Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates' Relationship Timeline

Melinda Gates and Bill Gates speak on stage during The Robin Hood Foundation's 2018 benefit at Jacob Javitz Center on May 14, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Robin Hood)
Melinda Gates and Bill Gates speak on stage during The Robin Hood Foundation's 2018 benefit at Jacob Javitz Center on May 14, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Robin Hood)

Kevin Mazur/Getty

After nearly three decades of marriage, Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates announced their divorce in May 2021.

"It wasn't one moment or one specific thing that happened. There just came a point in time where there was enough there that I realized it just wasn't healthy, and I couldn't trust what we had," Melinda revealed to CBS Mornings in March 2022.

Throughout their 27-year union, the philanthropic couple welcomed three children together: daughters Jennifer and Phoebe as well as son Rory.

In 2000, they founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to combating global poverty and disease. Upon announcing their surprise split, the pair noted that they planned to continue their work together on the foundation.

From a lackluster first date request to tying the knot in Hawaii, raising a family and ultimately splitting, here's everything to know about Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates' relationship timeline.

1987: Bill and Melinda first meet

Bill Gates and his wife Melinda stand together, wearing formal attire, New York City
Bill Gates and his wife Melinda stand together, wearing formal attire, New York City

Victor Malafronte/Hulton Archive/Getty

The Microsoft co-founder met his future wife, né Melinda French, soon after she started as a product manager at the company. After first connecting at a sales meeting in New York City, the then-CEO went up to Melinda in a parking lot and asked her on a date. She initially turned him down, citing his lack of spontaneity.

"He said, 'You know, I was thinking maybe we could go out two weeks from [tonight],' " the mom of three told AOL's MAKERS in 2015. Unimpressed, she replied, "Two weeks from tonight? I have no idea what I'm doing two weeks from tonight," she told him. "You aren't spontaneous enough for me."

But Bill persisted, calling her an hour later. "He said, 'Is this spontaneous enough for you?' " recalled Melinda. "And I said, 'Okay, I guess that's pretty spontaneous. I guess we can try.' "

1993: Bill and Melinda get engaged

Bill proposed to Melinda in 1993, six years into their relationship. While neither has opened up much about their engagement, Melinda noted in a 2017 essay for AARP that the two celebrated their engagement with a trip to Africa in the fall of 1993.

The newly-engaged pair's first visit to Africa became a deeply formative experience for the couple.

Calling the trip her "first real encounter with extreme poverty," Melinda remarked that she and Bill "took a walk on a beach in Zanzibar and had the conversation that would end up changing our lives." There, they agreed on where and how they would redistribute the wealth earned from Microsoft. A few years later, they formed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000.

January 1, 1994: Bill and Melinda get married in Hawaii 

Bill Gates & wife Melinda
Bill Gates & wife Melinda

KMazur/WireImage

After seven years of dating, the couple jetted off for their top-secret destination wedding on the Hawaii island of Lanai on New Year's Day in 1994. The intimate, lavish affair took place at the Manele Bay Hotel, according to the Seattle Times, and was held in front of 130 of their family and friends. The couple reportedly bought out all 250 of the rooms at the hotel, as well as all of the helicopters on Maui, in order to maintain privacy and avoid media interference.

April 26, 1996: Bill and Melinda welcome their first baby

Bill and Melinda became first-time parents in April 1996 when they welcomed a daughter, Jennifer Katharine. According to The New York Times, baby Jennifer was born weighing 8 lbs., 6 oz. at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, Washington.

"They're home," said Microsoft spokesman Dean Katz at the time. "Everybody's fine."

1996: Melinda leaves Microsoft to become a stay-at-home mom

​​"He was surprised, he was definitely surprised," Melinda told CBS' Sunday Morning in 2017 of Bill's reaction to her decision to stay home to raise their daughter. "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.'"

December 2, 1998: Bill and Melinda establish a children's vaccine program

Bill Gates and Melinda Gates at The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City on December 2, 1998
Bill Gates and Melinda Gates at The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City on December 2, 1998

Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection

The couple held a press conference in New York City at the end of 1998 to announce a $100 million investment in children's vaccine access and distribution in developing countries. The evening prior, they were honored alongside Hillary Clinton at ​​the charity For All Kids benefit.

May 23, 1999: Bill and Melinda Gates welcome their second baby

The pair welcomed their second child together, son Rory, in 1999. ​​

Describing Rory in an essay for TIME in 2017, Melinda wrote he is "compassionate and curious." She continued, "He's intelligent and well-read and deeply informed about the wide range of issues that interest him. He's a great son and a great brother. He's inherited his parents' obsessive love of puzzles. But one of the things that makes me proudest is that Rory is a feminist."

2000: Bill and Melinda establish the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 

The couple merged the Gates Learning Foundation, their 1997 charity dedicated to providing libraries across the U.S. with PCs, with Bill's father's foundation to create the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, which was funded by their wealth from Microsoft as well as a large contribution from Warren Buffet.

"It's absolutely a partnership of equals," Melinda told CBS's Sunday Morning about their joint work on the foundation. "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."

October 7, 2001: Bill and Melinda share a sweet moment 

Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates attend the Schick XTreme III Tennis Challenge October 7, 2001 at the Key Arena in Seattle, WA. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Allsport/Getty Images)
Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates attend the Schick XTreme III Tennis Challenge October 7, 2001 at the Key Arena in Seattle, WA. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Allsport/Getty Images)

Jeff Vinnick/Allsport/Getty

The Seattle-based pair, who are avid tennis lovers, took a break from business to share a sweet look during the Schick XTreme III Tennis Challenge at Key Arena in their hometown in 2001.

September 14, 2002: Bill and Melinda welcome their third baby

The Gates' welcomed their third child, daughter Phoebe, in 2002. To mark Phoebe's 13th birthday, Melinda wrote an essay for TIME in which she described her youngest as "smart, playful, thoughtful, compassionate" and remarked on her hopes for a world in which young women would have equal opportunities.

2005: Bill and Melinda are named TIME's Persons of the Year 

After their foundation pledged $750 million to vaccine access and distribution in January 2005, they were named TIME's Persons of the Year — alongside U2's Bono — under the title "The Good Samaritans."

March 2, 2005: Bill and Melinda visit London

Bill Gates shows off his honorary knighthood with his wife Melinda outside Buckingham Palace in London 02 March 2005
Bill Gates shows off his honorary knighthood with his wife Melinda outside Buckingham Palace in London 02 March 2005

ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP

Melinda showed support for Bill when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2005 for his charitable work.

2015: Melinda founds Pivotal Ventures

In 2015, Melinda pledged $1 billion to launch Pivotal Ventures, aimed at advancing women's professional lives and achieving economic equality.

2016: Bill and Melinda are awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their philanthropy

As a tribute to their work with their eponymous foundation, the Gateses were awarded the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2016.

April 21, 2017: Bill and Melinda are awarded the Legion of Honor for their philanthropy

Bill and Melinda Gates pose in front of the Elysee Palace after receiving the award of Commander of the Legion of Honor by French President Francois Hollande on April 21, 2017 in Paris, France
Bill and Melinda Gates pose in front of the Elysee Palace after receiving the award of Commander of the Legion of Honor by French President Francois Hollande on April 21, 2017 in Paris, France

Frederic Stevens/Getty

The following year, they received yet another award honoring their charity work — this time, the French Legion of Honor.

February 14, 2018: Bill and Melinda tell PEOPLE how they unwind

Speaking to PEOPLE in 2018, Bill and Melinda shared what they do in their downtime. "We do a lot of reading and we do more jigsaw puzzles than most people. We watch a ton of video series. We recently watched all of Downton Abbey," Bill said.

Melinda added that the pair were watching This Is Us at the time, "although it can be very emotional some nights, and you have to say, 'Okay, maybe we won't do that,' " she said.

In the same interview, Melinda reflected on their secret to their shared success.

"We lead this organization together — the goals, the people we hire, the values we set — we enjoy doing that together. Bill is the first person I want to talk to when I get back from being out in the field. We sharpen each other's thinking."

January 1, 2019: Bill and Melinda celebrate their 25th anniversary

Melinda shared a sweet tribute to her then-husband on their 25th anniversary in 2019, posting a video of a cake-cutting mishap from their wedding day on Instagram.

"New Year's Day 1994. We told you it was time to cut the cake. You thought that meant you needed to cut a slice for everyone and did some astonishingly quick math to calculate exactly how big each slice should be. This is the moment I realized what was happening—and also the moment you realized that cake had a cardboard middle and I had forgotten to mention it. I laughed so hard I couldn't speak," she wrote.

"I thought my heart was full that night, but the last 25 years have taught me just how full a heart can get. Happy anniversary, @thisisbillgates!"

September 20, 2019: Bill opens up about meeting Melinda for the first time

Bill and Melinda Gates in the CBS Toyota Greenroom before their appearance on CBS THIS MORNING, Feb 12, 2019
Bill and Melinda Gates in the CBS Toyota Greenroom before their appearance on CBS THIS MORNING, Feb 12, 2019

Michele Crowe/CBS

In 2019's Netflix docuseries Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates, Bill and Melinda admitted that neither of them saw their relationship turning serious at first.

"When we first met, she had other boyfriends, and I had Microsoft," Bill said. Melinda added, "I was new to Microsoft. There were a lot of men there."

March 2020: Bill and Melinda donate to COVID-19 relief efforts

At the onset of the pandemic, Bill and Melinda announced that their foundation, along with Mastercard and Wellcome, would donate $125 million "in seed funding to speed-up the response to the COVID-19 epidemic by identifying, assessing, developing, and scaling-up treatments," per a press release.

The following month, the billionaire shared that their foundation planned to fund seven factories developing potential vaccines at the time.

May 3, 2021: Bill and Melinda announce their divorce

After 27 years together, the pair announced their separation in a joint statement on Twitter on May 3, 2021.

"After a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage. Over the last 27 years, we have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives," they said.

"We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue our work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life," they concluded the statement.

August 2, 2021: Bill and Melinda finalize their divorce

The former pair finalized their divorce just three months after announcing their separation. According to court documents obtained by PEOPLE, the marriage dissolution documents stated that Melinda would not change her name or receive any spousal support.

October 16, 2021: Bill and Melinda reunite for daughter Jennifer's wedding

Bill and Melinda Gates are guests on "Good Morning America," Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Bill and Melinda Gates are guests on "Good Morning America," Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Lou Rocco/Disney General Entertainment Content

The newly-divorced pair reunited publicly for the first time at their daughter Jennifer's wedding to Nayel Nassar in October 2021.

​​"So grateful we were able to find a way to safely gather for this special day. ❤," Melinda wrote on Instagram.

December 2021: Bill opens up about his "difficult year" after their divorce

In a year-in-review blog post, Gates discussed his divorce in December 2021, admitting, "I can't deny that it's been a year of great personal sadness for me." He continued, "I've been impressed by how resilient my loved ones — especially my kids — have been in this challenging time."

March 3, 2022: Melinda breaks her silence on their divorce 

Melinda spoke about the pair's split in an exclusive interview with CBS Mornings' Gayle King in March 2022. "Well, we certainly have a working relationship," she shared. "And I would say we're friendly at this point. 'Friends' is a different word for me, and that might come over time, but for me there's still healing that needs to happen."

At another point in the interview, Melinda shared that she felt like she "needed to take a different path" than where their relationship was leading. The decision was an emotional one, she admitted, noting that she cried "a lot of tears for many days" and found herself thinking, "How can this be? How can I get up? How am I gonna move forward?"

She added that beyond the sadness, there was anger as well. "I mean, this is painful stuff," she said.

Now, she's "starting to get to the other side" on her "journey to healing," she shared.

When asked if she'd be open to dating in the future, she replied that she "definitely" is and is already "dipping [her] toe in that water a little bit." She added, "I hope that happens for me again."

May 1, 2022: Bill reflects on his "great" marriage to Melinda 

Bill Gates shares the stage with his wife Melinda during the 123rd Stanford commencement ceremony June 15, 2014 in Stanford, California
Bill Gates shares the stage with his wife Melinda during the 123rd Stanford commencement ceremony June 15, 2014 in Stanford, California

Justin Sullivan/Getty

Gates opened up about processing his divorce in an interview with the Sunday Times.. "I'm also grieving the same way she is," Gates told the outlet. "You know, we grew up together."

Reflecting on their early relationship, he explained, "I was a young 38-year-old and she was a mature 28-year-old [when we married] and over those next few years, in terms of what we learned together, what went well, what didn't go well … I mean, that's more than half my adult life. We did a lot together."

He added that while their relationship has changed, he still feels "lucky that a part of it continues" through their work on the foundation.

"Every marriage as the kids leave the house will go through a transition. Mine sadly went through this transition called divorce," he said. "But from my point of view it was a great marriage. I wouldn't have changed it."

September 2022: Bill and Melinda reunite at their foundation's Goalkeepers event

The former couple have been adamant about continuing their working relationship through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In September 2022, they both attended the foundation's annual Goalkeepers event in New York City.

"We met for the first time with our board of trustees last week in person," Melinda told Bloomberg. "What I think they would all tell you is that Bill and Melinda remain completely committed to this institution and to working effectively together. And that's what we're doing today."

At the event, Bill and Melinda posed for photos with a number of world leaders and the year's four winners. They also gave separate speeches.

October 3, 2022: Melinda calls her divorce from Bill "unbelievably painful"

Speaking to Fortune magazine, the philanthropist discussed her split from ex-husband Bill. "I had some reasons I just couldn't stay in that marriage anymore," she said in the interview. "But the odd thing about COVID is that it gave me the privacy to do what I needed to do."

She continued, "It's unbelievably painful, in innumerable ways, but I had the privacy to get through it."

The philanthropist also told the publication that her "main concern" was "trying to protect my kids through it." She added, "And we got to the other side."