WHEN her best mate decided to play Cupid, lonely Lauren Gore never expected to be set up . . . with her 17-year-old son.
The mum of five, then 33, laughed it off when friend Sarah said her lad Ryan Appleton had a crush on her.
But Sarah, 40, was deadly serious. And so was Ryan.
Three years on and despite the 15-year age gap, Lauren and Ryan, 21, plan to marry.
Lauren, 36, who lives in Northampton, says: “My cousin jokes that Ryan’s so perfect he’s like my Ken doll. It’s true.
“Sometimes supermarket cashiers assume he’s my son, but we just giggle. We try not to worry about the future and just enjoy each day as it comes.
“No one has ever made me feel more loved than Ryan.
“And as I’m young at heart and he’s an old soul, we meet in the middle.”
Romance blossomed for them in the unlikely setting of Sarah’s kitchen in Milton Keynes, Bucks, in 2015.
Lauren, who is mum to Cameron, 18, Ebony, 16, Nathan, 13, Rhyan, nine, and six-year-old Elliott, recalls: “Sarah is also a mum of five and our youngest were at the same pre-school. We helped each other out with school runs and childcare.
“We lived minutes apart at that time and spent a lot of time chatting in her kitchen.
“I hadn’t seen Ryan in ages when he walked into the kitchen one day. He was a strapping young man all of a sudden. I had to stop myself staring and remind myself he was my best mate’s son.”
Over the next few weeks matchmaker Sarah kept dropping hints that Ryan had a crush on Lauren. And then he started sending flirty texts.
Lauren says: “One day we were alone in his mum’s kitchen and he said he liked me and wanted to be with me.
“I told him nothing could happen between us because he was too young.”
But she couldn’t ignore her growing feelings for Ryan. And with Sarah’s approval the pair began seeing one another.
Lauren says: “Sarah said Ryan was serious about me and if I wanted to see how things went she didn’t have a problem. She trusted me to treat Ryan well. She just wanted us to be happy.”
At first they kept the romance secret, unsure how Lauren’s children would react — Ryan was just a few years older than her eldest son.
She says: “Cameron was 15. But he caught us kissing on the sofa and just laughed. He and the others had twigged something was going on.
“They weren’t angry. They were happy for us . . . Our two families became one. We’d have hilarious sleepovers and Ryan was effortlessly brilliant with my kids from the get-go.”
She adds: “Strangers used to do a double-take if they saw us kissing in public, which made me feel self-conscious, but it’s never bothered Ryan.
“If he doesn’t care, why should I? His mates have been brilliant, as are most of mine.”
After a month, Ryan told Lauren he loved her. She says: “I felt the same way. We have so much in common. We’re both car obsessives and spend entire weekends at car meets.
“He’s my soulmate — charming, funny, considerate and handsome. I’ve never felt more comfortable in a relationship.”
When Lauren moved to Northampton, Ryan went with her. He is now her carer.
As well as fibromyalgia, which causes chronic pain, she has Elhers-Danlos syndrome, a disorder that affects the joints.
In October 2016, Ryan popped the question.
Lauren says: “We’d had a few drinks at our neighbour’s. When we got home, Ryan got down on one knee and proposed, presenting me with the most beautiful ring. I said yes. We haven’t set a date just yet.”
Ryan says: “I love Lauren because she puts everyone before herself. The love she shows her kids, her friends, her family and me is crazy.
“Plus, she is beautiful. Age is just a number. Our relationship is the same as any other. We argue, we love, we laugh.”
His mum Sarah adds: “Lauren is loyal and loves with all her heart. And Ryan was persistent in pursuing her.
“If he wasn’t happy I would intervene, but they really are both so happy together, like two loved-up teenagers.
“If Lauren needed any advice I’d happily give it as her friend — just not when it comes to their personal life.”