In a world of internet dating and rising divorce rates, it can be easy to think romance is dead.
So when England and Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford recently revealed that he and his long-term girlfriend Lucia Loi are engaged to be married, it was hard not to feel cheered by the announcement.
Rashford and Loi, both 24, met at secondary school in Manchester and, bar a brief split in 2021, have been dating ever since. The proposal looked lavish, judging by the footballer’s latest Instagram post – but the love seems real.
In fact, as Rashford captioned a sweet Instagram slideshow of the pair only a few months ago, the couple have been together “through thick and thin”.
Life – and relationships – aren’t always easy. But some pairings do last the course. HuffPost UK has spoken to other long-term couples who met when they were young to hear their stories, from those in their 20s to those in their 60s.
We hear how they got together, when they knew they were in it for the long-haul, and what makes their relationship continue to work. Oh, and we made sure to ask if they had any advice for the rest of us, too.
Lauren and Peter: ‘We always knew we needed each other’
Lauren and Peter Gallagher, both 24, live in Bournemouth with their springer spaniel Maisie.
Lauren: Peter and I were in the same primary school from when we were five, but weren’t in any classes together so never really spoke. However, I did have a massive crush on him. We reconnected properly when we were in Year 10 of different secondary schools, and it was like we’d been best friends for years.
I developed the hair loss condition alopecia when I was eight. Peter always made me feel comfortable about it and asked very sensible questions. I knew what we had was a forever thing when he asked to see me without my wig on for the first time, about a month into dating, and he cried while saying: “You’re so beautiful.” He recently told me this was when he knew I was the one, too.
We were 19 and had been dating for four years when he proposed to me, and we got married aged 20. A lot of people warned us that getting married so young would not end well, however, we always knew we needed each other.
When people find out we are childhood sweethearts, we usually get the “awww that’s so beautiful”, “when exactly did you meet?”, “is it weird or nice growing up together?” The answer to that last question is that it’s incredible. I feel so privileged to have loved him and been part of his life for so long.
And I’m thankful, too, especially because it’s meant we have been there to support one another through the personal difficulties we’ve faced over the years. Obviously there are times where we argue, but coming back to each other, apologising and talking through situations calmly is the best way.
Any advice for others? “It’s true what they say: ‘never go to sleep on an argument’. Additionally, hug each other. At random times. Sometimes, especially at the end of a long day, a nice long hug is exactly what we both need and science backs up that it’s good for you, too.”
Mandira and Samin: ′We’re still best friends’
Mandira and Samin Sarkar, both business owners in their 50s, live in Surrey.
Mandira: “I met my husband in our ancient creaky lift in Calcutta. My family had moved into our lovely apartment from the tea estates. Samin lived in the other apartment on the same floor, separated by a long corridor. The lift journey took 45 seconds from the ninth to the ground floor and I remember sizing him up.
I was 12, Samin was 18 and we became friends. He says he knew it was serious when I was about 16, but didn’t want to say anything as he felt I was still too young and needed to go through university and make up my own mind. By the time I was 19, I knew it was serious, too – and we were married when I was 21.
We’ve since moved countries and continents to the UK and are privileged to call two countries home. We live in Surrey where both of us run our own (very different ) businesses. Mine is artisan Indian food while Samin does technology consulting. Our 20-year-old daughter is at university studying law.
When I tell friends our lift story and that we are still happily married after 30 years – it was our anniversary this year – they usually find it very uplifting. Our daughter and her friends, typical to their generation, find it “weird”.
I love him to bits although I could murder him some days. I’m impulsive and hot headed but an eternal optimist – he’s calm and assumes the worst all the time. However at the end of the day, we are still each other’s best friends and able to laugh together and that keeps us going .
Any advice for others? “The fact that both Samin and I are very different but allow each other the space to be and respect each other’s difference makes it work for us. We say that he is the brakes and I am the accelerator in our relationship.”
Andy and Louise: ‘There was no “aha” moment’
Louise, 38, who runs a marketing communications agency and husband Andy, 38, a contracts manager, live in Ewell with their three children.
Louise: Andy and I were in the same year in primary school and his mum even child-minded us for a while. In the photo below, Andy is in the top row far right, and I’m in the middle row, fifth from left.
We weren’t particularly close and went to separate secondary schools, but started working in the same local pub, in the kitchen, when we were 15. We became really good friends and got together as a couple when we were 17.
After we survived the uni years with me living away in Liverpool and Andy staying at home, we bought our first home together as we turned 22. I don’t ever remember having a conversation about it, or there being an ‘aha’ moment. It’s as if we always knew we would be together – so our hopes, dreams and plans were always ‘our’ hopes, dreams and plans.
When I say that we’ve been together longer than not, we get a resounding “wow”. People can’t imagine how we’ve made it work, but I don’t think we’ve ‘made‘ anything happen. We’ve been lucky enough to live and grow together, which is really special because I know it doesn’t happen often.
Any advice for others? “Keep talking. Even when it feels hard and you’re frustrated as hell. Making the effort to talk through it means you care to make it right. And... couple time. So much of us is now shared with children, family and work, it’s important to have time when we can be fully present.”
Eliot and Helen: ‘We are very different’
Helen, 58, a medical secretary, and business director Eliot, 60 live in St Albans.
Helen: We met at a local youth group disco – I was 15 and it was three weeks before Eliot’s 17th birthday. We split up when I was 18 and he was 20 (this was the second year of uni when he met somebody else), but got back together about six months later when I came back from Ibiza and was all tanned.
I think he asked me out once and I said no, and then I said yes a couple of weeks later. At the time, my mum told him he mustn’t muck me around if we got back together, so I guess we knew it was forever when we did.
We just celebrated our 35th anniversary and two lovely children – tragically, our youngest died four years ago and that has made us even stronger as a couple.
People can’t believe it when they hear we have been together for so long and make jokes about how you get a shorter sentence for murder! I don’t really know what makes it work for us. We are very different. Maybe that is the answer.
Any advice for others? “There must always be give and take, compromise and togetherness, but you have to retain your individuality and independence.”
Louise and Elliot: ‘We split everything 50/50’
Louise Ali, 39, head of campaigns for an SEO agency, and husband Elliot, 37, a new business development manager, live in Haslemere with their two children.
Louise: I saw Elliot on the very first day of Freshers Week – I was chatting with a girl (we are best friends to this day... I like to keep people). I said: ‘See that guy in the yellow T-shirt, he is such a hottie!’ For the next three months, he was ‘yellow T-shirt boy’, because I was too nervous to talk to him. Eventually I plucked up the courage, timing my cigarettes at the same time as his.
We realised we had loads in common and, along with a couple of other friends, became an inseparable group. After a few months of friendship, we hooked up one night, but both decided we were at uni and didn’t want to tie ourselves down, so became friends with benefits (which actually worked out pretty well).
When we graduated in 2006, we both assumed that was that but six months later he called me up and asked to go on a date, and the rest is history. We moved in pretty quickly and travelled loads. In 2016, he proposed to me in Paris in front of the Eiffel Tower – just after a bird had pooped on my head.
We now have two kids and are absolutely a team. We split everything 50/50 – we alternate cooking every night, who puts the kids to bed, who gets up with them, who goes to the shops, who pays for dinner... everything. That way there’s no resentment and everyone’s pulling their weight. We also laugh, a lot.
The minute I saw him that first day I knew that he was going to be a massive part of my life. Something in my soul just told me that he was for me and we were destined to be together. I thank my lucky stars I found him before dating apps became a thing – I don’t know how I would be able to navigate all that.
I think people today miss out on the opportunity to just meet a random and get chatting – a friend of mine the other day said they get weirded out if a guy starts chatting to them in a bar, which seems so bizarre and closed off to me.
Any advice for others? “Communication is key. We don’t fight. We might get moody with each other but we always come back when we’ve cooled down and discuss the issue. We also know each others flaws and don’t expect the other to change – although I’m glad he’s got better at cleaning up after himself and he’s probably glad I’ve got a bit better at cooking.”