Gary, 18, and Almeda Hardwick, 71, of Sevierville weren't looking for love when they saw each other at the funeral of Almeda's son in June 2015, but that's exactly what they found with each other months later.
Gary, who's always been attracted to older women, was still in a troubled relationship with a 77-year-old woman and depressed.
Almeda was mourning her son Robert's death from complications due to seizures. He was 45.
Love was in their future, however.
Gary and Almeda met again in September 2015. His aunt Lisa Harrell, who was married to Robert, reintroduced him to Almeda after he had ended his other relationship.
"It was like an instant connection. (There was) so much chemistry there. We both loved music," Gary said while the two sat next to each other on the edges of matching red love seats in their living room.
"I had prayed about my soul mate for like two years, so, you know, I was lonely," said Almeda. "I had no one, so God sent him to me."
"When I looked into her eyes I knew it," he said. "Her eyes were a dead giveaway."
"His were too ... I knew," she said.
After dating three weeks, they got married on Oct. 26, 2015, inside Harrell's condo.
Almeda was 70. Gary was 17, and his mother gave her consent. His dad passed away when he was 15.
The wedding date was six days before Gary would turn 18, but he said he couldn't wait that long to make Almeda his wife.
"I just knew she was the one, and she knew I was the one, and we just knew we were right for each other, so it really didn't matter," he said.
As more of their friends and family found out about the marriage, the Hardwicks said they received support.
"Everybody was happy for us really," said Gary. "Like the day after the wedding, I posted the wedding pictures on Facebook, and obviously (they were) shocked that we got married because nobody even knew we were dating or anything until I posted the wedding photos. They were like, 'Whoa.' But, I mean, they were happy for us.
"They didn't say anything about the age difference. Our family and friends support us."
The Hardwicks say they weren't worried about their age difference when they began their relationship, that it didn't bother them then, and it doesn't bother them now.
Gary, an author and songwriter, grew up in Maryville and lived with his mom, grandmother, grandfather and two aunts. While in sixth grade, he contracted mononucleosis, strep throat and the flu at the same time and was home-schooled after that. When he was 13, he learned about his father and tried to locate him when he was 16 only to learn that his father had passed away a year earlier.
Gary said he's always been attracted to older women.
"I've never dated anyone my age. Even in school, I was never interested. ... I don't know why. It's just my attraction, my preference I guess," he said.
Almeda, who used to work at Walmart, was married to her previous husband for 43 years. He was six years older than her and passed away in 2013. She has three children and eight grandchildren. Two of her grandchildren, a 22-year-old and a 17-year-old, live with her and Gary.
"It's good," said Gary, describing his relationship with the grandchildren. "We get along really well. ... We have a lot in common obviously."
Though they have an age difference of 53 years, the Hardwicks say they share many of the same interests.
They both enjoy traveling, watching movies, singing and cooking together and sharing different types of music with each other.
Gary has introduced Almeda to rap music, and Almeda has introduced him to music from the 1950s.
They've also had the chance to travel together recently because several media outlets want to know about their story. Two weeks ago they went to Los Angeles for an appearance on "The Robert Irvine Show." Their segment will air on Sept. 1 on The CW.
The Hardwicks will also make the trip to New York to share their story. Their marriage and relationship has been written about by news outlets including Elite Daily, Complex and Perez Hilton.com.
"The media hasn't really affected us that much at all," said Gary. "It's really cool to have all this support."
They also document their daily lives on a YouTube channel called "Gary and Almeda Hardwick."
The Hardwicks have almost 300 subscribers and make videos about their travels and what they do from day to day. Gary also shares his music on the channel.
They have received support on social media from an Instagram group called May December Society, an online community made up of couples with large age gaps.
Not every response to their story has been positive ,though. News coverage of their relationship has led to many negative reactions.
"We've probably had two or three thousand negative comments, but it doesn't bother either one of us," said Gary.
"We just laugh about it and go on," he added. "We just find it comical ... We're happy and in love, and that's all that matters."
After being married for almost a year, Almeda said she and Gary don't have disagreements and their age difference hasn't caused any issues for them.
"Well, we connect on everything," she said. "We've never had an argument. Never fussed about anything. We always talk about things we like to do and places we want to go, and we act a fool all the time. He's always teasing me."
"She gives me respect, honesty, and we're committed to each other," said Gary. "She takes pride in her appearance (and) herself."
"He's good looking, handsome and he takes pride in himself too," she said. "I couldn't ask for a better husband. He's the best."
The Hardwicks plan to have a larger wedding ceremony sometime in 2017 at their church, so they can invite more family and friends. They said they are content and have found their soul mates.
"I mean time isn't a measure on love," said Gary. "That's just my opinion."
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