The first time Charlie spoke to Grace, it didn’t quite go as he planned.
When he was 18, he’d been invited to a church youth group by his friend, and had noticed Grace from across the room. His friend said that Grace was in the year below them, and was single. Feeling pretty confident, Charlie introduced himself to her, and asked whether she’d like to go for a drink sometime.
Her reply? “Um, I’m 14…”
Despite being thoroughly stitched up by his mate, Charlie spent the next few years at church trying to impress Grace at any opportunity. While she’d (understandably!) been a bit confused by their first conversation, she quite enjoyed the attention, and over time they became good friends.
When Grace was in college, they started meeting up just the two of them. However, Grace suspected her parents wouldn’t approve of her being in a relationship at that age, so she kept it secret and didn’t want to put a “label” on things. Charlie found this difficult – he wanted to tell everyone! He tried to ignore his worry that, even though he felt they could spend the rest of their lives together, Grace might not be proud of being with him.
It was only in the summer before university, when Grace’s best friend mentioned that shequite liked Charlie, that Grace realised her own feelings for him were stronger than she’d admitted to herself. She had a frank conversation with her parents, who gave it some thought, and decided that they trusted her judgement.
Five years after he first asked her on a date, Grace and Charlie started “officially” going out. They got engaged within a year, and a month after she finished university, they were married.
At first they rented a house near where Charlie worked, and Grace thought they would probably stay there for a while. However, due to Charlie’s careful planning and proactive searching, within a year they had bought a place of their own. “He is really forward-thinking, and has great ideas and vision. I love that about him,” says Grace.
Once in their new place, Charlie gave up his job to start a photography and filmmaking business. Grace had been working in an office while she tried to find a job in the arts, but was becoming frustrated. With the extra attention, soon Charlie’s company boomed, and they decided that it would be great if she worked for the business as well. This came with a new set of stresses! “As a husband, I would never tell her to ‘do the hoovering’, that would always be a discussion,” explains Charlie. “But as a boss, sometimes that changes a bit!” Over time though they have used working together to have meaningful conversations about where they find their satisfaction and value.
They have recently moved into their current home, that Charlie renovated in the off-season at work. As I chat to them, their nine-week old baby, Imogen*, falls asleep on Grace. Some of their friends struggled to conceive, so they didn’t want to assume that having a family would be an easy thing. But they were lucky – within just one month of trying, they got pregnant.
The key to their eight years of happy marriage? They are still good mates. “We laugh a lot every day,” says Charlie, “she really makes me laugh.” Grace smiles and adds, “Sometimes even on purpose”.
Charlie and Grace discovered Explore through Grace’s parents, who are also an Explore couple! They are really passionate about being open and relatable role models for young people, especially after some of the secretiveness of their early relationship. “We want to show them what marriage canlook like, to give them the freedom not to just copy their mates,” says Grace. They get lots out of the experience too – they enjoy seeing the students understand relationships in a new way, and it helps them to talk openly with each other even after the Explore session has finished.
*Names have been changed throughout to protect the privacy of the family.