Gary was 17 and Almeda was 71 when the pair first met. And despite the 53 years between them, they fell madly in love. But their journey wasn't simple as the lovebugs navigated life as an age gap couple...
Meet Gary Hardwick
This is Gary Hardwick, in many ways an average Joe from the southern state of Tennessee. But in recent months, this young man has become quite popular on TikTok for his unique relationship with a woman 53 years older than he.
According to Gary, his graviation towards older woman started long before going viral on TikTok. The Tennessee-native said his first age gap crush was at eight years old on an elementary school teacher. And later on, Hardwick had a formal relationship with an older woman. And that's where this story began.
An Unhappy Relationship
When Gary was about seventeen years old, he was dating a 77-year-old woman. And while Hardwick might've been smiling around friends and family, the young man was far from happy with his then-beau. "We were always fighting," he recalled. It got to the point where the relationship affected his mental health.
"I fell into depression and was looking for a way out," Gary recalled. And soon, the universe would send him that much-needed "way out." The 17-year-old and his older girlfriend called it quits. And while Hardwick might've been heartbroken, it wasn't long before the perfect distraction came along.
Enter the distraction: Almeda, a 71-year-old mother, grandma, and widow. The caring woman worked at Walmart and tried to live a fulfilling life, but the absence of her late husband was heavy in her heart. The pair had been wed for over four decades before he passed.
"I'd been married to my first husband Donald for 43 years, and so when he died in 2013 after seven months in hospital from complications with diabetes, I found myself on my own," said Almeda. "I'd turn up for work at Walmart in tears, and my colleagues would ask me what was wrong. Deep down, I was searching for a soulmate."
She Lost Her Son
Almeda still hadn't healed from her husband's passing when her son, Robert, also passed away. And while this was undoubtedly a tragic event, it also led the 71-year-old to someone very special. Robert's wife, Lisa, was Gary Hardwick's aunt and invited her young nephew to the funeral.
Gary had recently parted ways with his 77-year-old girlfriend and, while it was for a sad reason, it felt good to be surrounded by family and loved ones. So he quickly agreed to attend the late Robert's cremation. Little did Hardwick know, the love of his life would be in attendance.
It was an extremely difficult day for Almeda. The mother-of-four mourned the loss of her son, who passed due to a seizure, along with the rest of their family. Surrounded by kids and grandchildren, the 71-year-old couldn't believe she once again lost one of the most important people in her life.
Then all of a sudden, someone caught Almeda's eye. "I'd noticed this young man with a lovely smile during the service and thought, 'Wow, this is the one,'" she shared. "He was on the other side of the church, but I kept looking over at him. It was like a bright light through the grief."
A Brief 'Hello' Was Enough
Almeda couldn't shake the feeling of loneliness and loss since her late husband's passing. And when the 71-year-old saw Gary at the funeral, something clicked. "Then, as I was walking to the door at the end, he came over and passed on his condolences," she said.
Almeda added, "We didn't have much time, but it was enough." Enough for what exactly? The brief "hello" between late Robert's mother and nephew was sufficient for Almeda to confirm what she sensed the moment Gary caught her attention: he was the one. But did Hardwick feel the same way?
She Couldn't Stop Thinking About Him
But the funeral wasn't the time or the place to figure this out. Almeda was busy mourning the loss of her son alongside the rest of the family. Yet after that sad day, the 71-year-old couldn't help but dream about the young man she'd met. Almeda thought about Gary all the time.
"I wasn't looking for a young man, but Gary just came along," she explained. "I just knew straight away that he was the one." And luckily, the feeling wasn't one sided. "It was an instant thing for me, too," said Gary. "She had the most gorgeous, sparkling blue eyes." But without each other's contact info, the two didn't get in touch.
They Met Again
Luckily for them, their mutual relatives would soon have another reason to reunite. Lisa (Almeda's daughter-in-law and Gary's aunt) invited the whole family to enjoy a meal together at their local Chuck E. Cheese. Both the 17-year-old and the 71-year-old hoped the other would attend.
And since they both looked forward to hopefully running into each other again, Gary and Almeda both went to Chuck E. Cheese. But would the spark still be there? "He was just as I remembered," Almeda shared. "That smile, those good looks." Her heart raced.
"Am I Too Old for You?"
And while she still didn't know if the young man felt the same way, the answer soon became clear: Gary was just as jittery as Almeda. "We were both too nervous to eat, and at one point, he fell over his chair," the then 71-year-old recalled. The feelings and the chemistry were mutual.
But while Almeda could sense that Gary also felt the spark between them, there was still an elephant in the room: their age gap. "I just came out with it and said to him, 'Look, I'm 71, and you're 17. Am I too old for you?'" Almeda said of that day at Chuck E. Cheese. She nervously awaited his response.
Their First Kiss
But for Gary, the age gap was no big deal. This wasn't his first time crushing on an older woman, after all. "He squeezed my hand, grinned, and replied: 'Age is just a number,'" Almeda shared. And so that lunch at Chuck E. Cheese turned into a sort of first date for the lovebugs.
The quality family time continued after the meal was over as the whole crew headed to Lisa's house. And that's when Gary surprised Almeda by making a pit stop and showing up at the home with roses and a bracelet. As the 17-year-old gave her the gifts, the duo shared their first kiss outside Lisa's house.
They Fell in Love
As Gary and Amelda shared their first kiss, the sparks between them only got brighter and stronger. "It made me feel like a teenager again," the enamored 71-year-old said. It might've only been the second time the pair met, but the love and affection between them was undeniable.
And since they were both on the same page in terms of the age gap, there was nothing stopping them from seeing where this bond could go. So Amelda and Gary began seeing each other every night once both of the lovebirds were home from work. And the new couple didn't keep it a secret from their family...
What Did Their Family Think?
Gary and Almeda were happy in their newly-formed love bubble. "We are always complimenting and kissing," she shared. "We're enjoying our relationship. When you meet that perfect one, that's when you know you don't want to lose that feeling." But what did their family think?
The pair was head-over-heels for each other despite the 53-year age gap. And when their loved ones saw how happy they made each other, the couple quickly got plenty of approval. Most of Gary and Almeda's family and friends, including his then 48-year-old mom and 71-year-old grandma, were happy for them.
Two weeks after confirming their feelings were mutual during the family outing at Chuck E. Cheese, Almeda and Gary were practically inseparable. The two lovers were open and honest about their love. And since they had the blessing of loved ones, nothing was holding them back from taking things to the next level.
When Gary proposed over the phone mere weeks after their second time meeting each other, Almeda didn't hesitate in saying "yes." And the couple didn't want to waste any time: they got married six days after the proposal. Gary was eighteen by the wedding day on October 26, 2015. Their adventure was only beginning...
He Was Her Real Soulmate
The lovebirds had a roughly $200 wedding in a place nearby where they shared their first kiss: the yard outside Aunt Lisa's home. It might've been a whirlwind romance, but Gary and Almeda had no doubt they were each other's soulmate. "She really is my dream woman, and the physical side of our relationship couldn't be better," Gary said.
And Almeda felt the same way. "I was married for 43 years, and there wasn't a lot of kissy, huggy stuff going on... no romance," the 71-year-old admitted in a YouTube video. "[My current relationship], it's a whirlwind." But their relationship would soon be tested.
An Unconventional Living Situation
The two lovebirds already spent most of their free time together even before marrying. But they still had separate pads. Naturally, once they became husband and wife, Gary and Almeda wanted to build a home together. But they didn't do it in the most conventional way.
After becoming Mr. and Mrs. Hardwick, Gary moved into Almeda's house. But they weren't the only residents; the 71-year-old's grandson, who was three years older than Gary, also lived there. Would the unique living situation affect the newlywed's marriage?
Making Things Extra Permanent
Fortunately, the couple's love and dedication to one another was greater than any stressor their housing situation brought. They lived a honeymoon phase like many other couples. In fact, according to Gary, "Almeda is so young at heart that age never bothers us; we never really think about it."
Garry added, "I just know that God answered my prayers that day she walked into my life." After their wedding day, the 18-year-old wanted to make his love even more permanent. So Mr. Hardwick had Almeda's name tattooed on his arm, and both of their names etched permanently onto his chest. Would their love be as long-lasting?
Did Gary Feel He Was Missing Out?
Regardless of their strong bond, the truth was that Gary and Almeda met at completely different stages of life. Some couldn't help but wonder whether the 18-year-old ever feel like he missed out on young adult adventures because of his age gap relationship.
Fortunately, Mr. Hardwick didn't feel like there was anything missing in his love life. "I never feel as though I'm missing out on anything by being married to Almeda," he said. They certainly had plenty to talk and laugh about. But how did Gary and Almeda's 53-year age difference affect their physical relationship?
"I've Never Been Attracted to Younger Women"
As for the physical aspect of the newlywed's life? The couple waited until their wedding night to get intimate and described one another as a "wonderful lover." And while some might've been surprised by their chemistry in all aspects of the relationship, Gary probably wasn't.
The young man could hardly remember a time before he was attracted to women older than him. "I've never been attracted to younger women," Gary confessed. "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."
Of course, we know already that Gary's grandmother accepted her grandson's attraction to older woman and his marriage to someone about the same age as she. But as for the rest of the world? That was, perhaps not surprisingly, a whole different story.
Even after the post-wedding honeymoon phase passed, Gary and Almeda were over-the-moon in love. And the age gap couple wanted the rest of the world to know it. So the duo created a TikTok account and an Instagram where they shared photos and stories of their daily life.
Hate Came Rolling In
As of the time of this article's writing, Gary and Almeda's TikTok account had over 98,000 followers and over a million likes. The couple's Instagram account wasn't far behind, with over 17,000 followers. But along with all of the likes and supportive comments came plenty of hate.
Some people loved seeing the couple's content and related to their age gap; although most users commenting didn't have five decades between them and their partner. But others accused Gary of being with Almeda for money or called their relationship unhealthy. And that's when things took a turn.
Their Videos Got Banned
Much of the couple's social media content, especially on TikTok, showed Gary lip singing sweet nothings to Almeda before swooping in to kiss his wife on the lips. And it seemed that some of the haters disliked it so much that they reported the Hardwicks' videos.
Users reported Mr. and Mrs. Hardwick's content as inappropriate. And eventually, so many people did so, that the video uploading app took action. "We had some of our content pulled down; it was reported," Gary revealed. "It put us on block; we couldn't post on TikTok for seven days." How would this affect their love?
Did the Hate Affect Them?
Maybe Gary and Almeda had been living their relationship in a sort of bubble. Their loved ones accepted the couple's 53-year age gap, and the lovers were both of the mindset that age was nothing but a number. But clearly, strangers on the internet felt differently.
And the social media app's banning of some of their content likely brought some validation to what online trolls said about the Hardwicks' relationship. Would the unending negativity take its toll? The couple imagined forever together, but maybe that was unrealistic.
Overcoming the Tough Times
Fortunately, Almeda and Gary's love was stronger than any hate from random TikTok and Instagram users. "The one thing I've learned is that when you truly love somebody, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks," Mrs. Hardwick said. Nothing could stop the age gap couple.
And Gary felt similarly. "We've been through ups and downs together that we always overcame, looking back, it truly only made us stronger," he said. So the lovebirds were going strong, and the decades between them magically didn't seem to make a difference.
The Test of Time
But still, some relationships fizzle out over time, even when there isn't an age gap to take into account. But the years passed and, if their social media content was any indication, that didn't seem to be the case for Gary and Almeda. Four years after their union, the lovers celebrated.
"Four years ago on this very day, I gave my heart and my soul to the woman who steals it over and over again every day," Gary unashamedly gushed online. "Until the day I met you I never knew that it was possible to love someone so deeply." And just when they thought things couldn't get any better, the Hardwicks once took things to the next level.
Taking Things to the Next Level
Gary and Almeda might've received a lot of online hate, but they also formed a steady fan base. There were a good number of people who enjoyed seeing the age gap couple's affectionate content, whether it was because they simply appreciated the Hardwicks' love or because it was relatable.
Sensing that there were people out there who wanted to see more of their relationship, Mr. and Mrs. Hardwick took their online presence to a new level. The couple began selling pictures of themselves online through a popular content subscription service. And just when they were making some moolah, tragedy struck.
Almeda Had a Heart Attack
Almeda and Gary were still as happy as ever. There were people who didn't understand their love, but there were also others who showed appreciation for their content on all platforms. Then, around April 2020, something horrible happened: Mrs. Hardwick had a heart attack.
"The three blockages she has to her heart are high risk," Gary shared in a video updating followers on Almeda's health status. At a time like this, the Hardwicks came to appreciate their fans more than ever. Gary thanked them for their "overwhelming love and support."
As the couple got more updates on Almeda's health status, they shared it with followers. "She had a stent. Her artery was clogged 100 percent; another was clogged at 90 percent. Two more were pretty clogged," Gary said. "It was high risk. Pray for her."
Followers showed the couple they'd come to know with blessings and well wishes as Gary continued updating them. "We are praying he [the doctor] inserts all three stents and she will not have to do heart surgery," he explained. And then another health scare hit them.
Another Health Scare
Fortunately, Almeda recovered from her heart attack. The couple was back to their old shenanigans on TikTok and Instagram when things once more took a turn: the Hardwicks revealed that they were positive for the rampant coronavirus and experienced some symptoms.
"So the test came back positive," Gary explained. "We do have COVID-19. We're in quarantine now for the next two weeks. We are only experiencing mild symptoms, which is a blessing... We both have complete loss of test and smell, chills, body aches, fatigue, and a very dry cough."
Finally Healthy, Again
As time passed, the symptoms remained manageable, a relief for the age gap couple as Mrs. Hardwick was considered high-risk. "Almeda and I are now currently on day six of COVID-19 since we first started having our initial symptoms, and thank goodness they have all been mild symptoms," Gary said.
And just a few days after that, it seemed that their health troubles were (hopefully) behind them. "It is now day ten for my lovely wife and I, and we are over out symptoms, finally," Gary updated followers. "We are out of quarantine, thank goodness."
Still Madly in Love
Gary and Almeda certainly faced many obstacles together. From being shamed online for their 53-year age gap to navigating multiple health scares, it seemed that these difficulties only brought them closer together. As of this article's writing, the couple has been together for nearly six years and counting.
"You are such an amazing wife in every single way," Gary expressed to Almeda online. "You support me in everything I do, you show me unconditional love everyday and you always make me laugh and smile no matter what. You are truly the best my love." Want to keep up with their adventures? You can follow the lovebugs on TikTok @_garyandalmeda_.