Cleaner Ayse, 26, and Darrin, 24, from Detroit, met online during the coronavirus pandemic, after Ayse joined a Facebook group aimed at pairing up pen pals from around the world.
She started talking to Kenda, 56, who said her son Darrin was a similar age and would love to chat to someone from the UK – despite being based in Michigan, US.
The two began chatting as friends in July 2020 but were soon inseparable and on the phone to each other every night, even with the five-hour time difference.
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After becoming an official item, Ayse began planning a trip to the States to meet her boyfriend for the first time in July – but travel restrictions to the US made this impossible.
The couple continued to share weekly date nights on video calls and on May 21 2021 Darrin surprised Ayse even further by proposing.
Knowing it would be a long time before they’d get to meet for the first time, the couple made the brave decision to get married via Zoom, in a legal ceremony officiated in Utah, US.
On August 19 this year, Ayse and Darrin officially became husband and wife, supported by a small number of friends and family via video call.
They are still yet to meet face-to-face but speak multiple times a day and are eagerly waiting for Ayse’s visa application to be accepted so they can fully enjoy life together as a married couple.
Ayse said: “I never imagined this would happen to me in a million years.
“I don’t think anyone expected this when we started talking last year. But we’re married and it’s all completely legal and official – I still can’t believe it.
“It’s been really hard not being able to meet properly, but in the long run it will make us stronger because we’ve had to go through all of this to be together.
“We just really love each other.”
On how the couple met, having linked up with carer Kendra, she added: “It’s funny that I met my mother-in-law before I met my husband.
“We got on so well, so when she suggested speaking to her son, I thought it was a great idea – although I was a bit nervous at first because I’d seen photos of him and he looked lovely.”
Kenda passed Ayse her son Darrin’s number, and she sent a message to introduce herself.
Darrin responded and the pair began chatting frequently, before he suggested they call each other on the phone.
Ayse downloaded a mobile app which allowed her to call the US for free, before calling her pen pal for the first time.
“I worried it might be awkward, but we talked for hours,” Ayse said.
“We have so much in common, including both being terrified of thunder and lightning, and both having owl tattoos with blue eyes.
“I’m not a flirty person, but it came so naturally when I was chatting to Darrin – we got on so well straight away.”
The pair began chatting every day - via phone, video call and text - and each night would fall asleep while on the phone to each other so they felt closer.
Due to the five-hour time difference, it meant Ayse was falling asleep 2am - a sacrifice she says was ‘completely worth it’.
“It was during the pandemic so I wasn’t working as I’d been furloughed and just altered my sleep pattern, so I was sleeping at the same time Darrin was,” she said.
“We’d be on video call and just be chatting when we fall asleep – then usually when I wake up, he’s still there sleeping.
“It’s the closest we can get and might sound strange but it’s a huge comfort.”
Darrin asked Ayse to be his girlfriend in November 2020 after a few months of chatting every day, and the couple began planning for Ayse to visit the US for them to meet for the first time.
Hoping the travel restrictions in place due to Covid19 would be lifted by the summer, Ayse booked flights to Detroit for July 23 2021, for herself, and mum, Elaine, 67, and dad Nigel, 74, both retired.
Unfortunately, the US was still restricting travel from the UK, which meant Ayse and her family weren’t able to fly directly.
Hoping to avoid the ban on UK arrivals but determined to meet her boyfriend in person for the first time, Ayse flew to Mexico for 15 days before catching an onward flight to Detroit.
In another heart-breaking turn of events, Ayse was then turned away at US immigration, because the immigration office claimed she ‘didn’t have enough money in her bank to support herself during her stay’ and ‘didn’t have strong enough ties to the UK’.
“I think they thought that if they let me into the US then I’d never leave because of Darrin,” Ayse said.
“His address was listed as where I was staying on my tourist visa and they asked my relationship to him, so when I told them he was my boyfriend and they saw I’d been in Mexico for 15 days I guess they thought I’d try to outstay my visa.
“I would never have done that, and it was so heart-breaking to be so close to him in the same city, but not be allowed through the border.
“I was put on the next flight home and cried the whole way back.”
Just days after she returned to her home in Lancaster, Darrin suggested a ‘special date night’ where they both got dressed up to spend some virtual time together.
“When he answered the call he seemed so nervous which was unlike him – but I soon understood why when he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him,” Ayse said.
“I couldn’t believe it. He said he’d been planning to propose when I came to Detroit but couldn’t wait any longer to ask.
“Despite never meeting, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to marry Darrin.”
The couple’s engagement was fully supported by both of their families.
“I didn’t tell my parents straight away when we first started talking, but they twigged there was something going on when I was on the phone all the time,” Ayse said.
“They had reservations about it to start with – but I suggested they chat to Darrin on Skype and they saw straight away how crazy we both are about each other.
“When Darrin proposed he spoke to my dad beforehand to ask his permission, which I thought was really sweet and know my dad really appreciated.
“In our heads, as long as our family and friends are supportive, that’s all we need.”
The couple initially planned to tie the knot when they finally got the chance to meet for the first time, but after reading about a new law passed that made international virtual wedding ceremonies legal in the state of Utah, US, they decided to go ahead straight away.
Ayse and Darrin tied the knot on August 19, in an online ceremony officiated by the state of Utah, and are now officially husband and wife.
Although not a conventional wedding, Ayse wore white and was accompanied by her proud parents, and Darrin was joined by his mum and wore a smart burgundy suit to deliver his vows.
“We’ll make sure we celebrate together when we can – but for now, this was perfect,” Ayse said.
“I still can’t believe it – I never expected any of this but you’ve got to take what life throws at you.
“I miss Darrin every day but I know we’ll be together one day and it’ll all be worth it.”
Despite travel restrictions being lifted to the US from the UK this week, Ayse has to wait for another visa to be accepted before she can book her flights.
“We don’t know when I’ll be able to get over there but are trying to be as positive as we can while we wait,” Ayse said.
"Looking back it seems like so long ago we started as pen pals and now we’re battling against the world together," Darrin said.
"As we haven’t met in person yet we haven’t been able to have a physical relationship, which means that our marriage is based off of more than that.
"This hasn’t affected our relationship like it could do others, as it’s not something we see as the most important aspect, and we value other things, such as communication more.
"It’s not everyday you find your best friend and the love of your life in one, so I wasn't going to let her get away simply because we live in different countries”