‘I’m 19 and my wife is 72’
A TEENAGER found love with a 72-year-old gran after meeting her in a pizza restaurant - despite being younger than one of her grandchildren.
Gary Hardwick, 19, has been married to pensioner Almeda for two years, having popped the question after two weeks of dating.
He told The Sun how, aged 17, he'd just come out of an unhappy relationship with a 77-year-old when he locked eyes with gran-of-six Almeda - and said it was love at first sight.
Now the couple, who live in Maryville, Tennessee, are happier than ever.
"The first thing that attracted me to Almeda was her beautiful, gorgeous blue eyes. And her personality," Gary said.
"She's always full of laughter and we just connected so well. The chemistry was great.
"Everything about her has just captured my heart since day one."
Almeda added: "If you love somebody, age is just a number. I've now been happily married going on two years with my true soulmate.
"We met at Chuck E Cheese, there was a birthday party there. I looked into his eyes and I just fell in love.
"I knew he was the one I wanted to spend my life with. I was never intimidated by the age at all."
Despite the staggering 53-year age gap, Gary and Almeda have similar interests and hobbies.
"I never feel as though I'm missing out on anything by being married to Almeda," Gary said.
"I'm really mature for my age; I do not fit into the young age bracket at all.
"I've never been attracted to younger women. Even when I was 13 or 14, I've always had an attraction for older women and when I told my grandmother, who raised me, I didn't know how she would take it. But she accepted us.
"A lot of people wait years to get married and everyone has different opinions on getting married quickly. But we knew we were in love, so I jumped on that.
"The first time we made love was on our wedding night. It was an amazing experience. There was such a deep connection there. She's a wonderful lover."
The happy couple are more than aware that a lot of people disagree with the nature of their relationship - and that includes Almeda's son, who hasn't spoken to her since the day she met Gary.
Aaron and Indiana Elliott, Almeda's grandchildren, also found it difficult to accept their relationship in the early stages - particularly 22-year-old Aaron, who is three years older than his step-grandad.
"I only called him Grandfather once and it was when I was drunk," Aaron said.
"In my head, I see him as a friend more than a grandfather. But you know, our grandmother is happy."
Indiana, 17, added: "And how can you not be supportive about that?
"For me personally, whenever they first got together it was a little bit weird. But, I mean, we live in the 21st century and those things really shouldn't matter.
"My mum on the other hand is very outspoken, because there's an age difference between him and my mum too, so it's a little weird to see your mother walking around with someone the same age as your own kids."
One of Gary and Almeda's passions is YouTube. They run their own channel, which has 49,000 subscribers, with their love being the focus of most videos.
More recently they have introduced merchandise to sell to their "fans", with pens and mugs that have their faces on.
"We do vlogs, reaction videos and pranks. And as far as I know, we are the biggest age gap couple that are YouTubers," Gary said.
Almeda is confident that she will be with Gary for the rest of her life - while her husband wants to continue to spread the message that age is just a number.
"What does the future hold for Gary and Almeda? I believe amazing things," he said.
"We want to pursue our dreams on YouTube and be able to inspire more and more people every day that age is just a number - it should not matter.
"As long as you're in love with that person, you should follow your heart and be happy and be yourself."
You can follow Gary and Almeda on YouTube.
This story originally appeared in The Sun and has been reproduced with permission.