At just 20 years old, Harry Manning and Emma-Jane Girdlestone are engaged! They haven’t set a date yet but are planning on saying ‘I do’ to each other in the Summer of 2018. They are pretty young to be getting married; according to the office of national statistics: ‘For those entering their first marriage in 2013, the average age was 32.5 years for men and 30.6 years for women, representing increases of almost 8 years since 1973.’
Of course, 50 years ago, they wouldn’t have been considered young to tie the knot and even today in certain parts of the world, getting married in your very early twenties is not so unusual. So how ready are they for marriage? How do they know if they are right for each other? These questions and more were put to Harry and Emma over coffee and waffles and here’s what they had to say…..
Tell me a little about yourselves, are you working, studying or both?
Harry (H): I’m a sports coach for primary schools in Havering, working for Stretch UK.
Emma (E): Deputy Youth and Children’s minister at The Church of the Good Shepherd (unpaid role) and doing a degree in theology, mission and ministry. I also work a small amount of time as an assistant coach (alongside Harry) with Stretch UK for some extra cash.
H: (Laughing and smiling) At Stretch, Emma has to let me be the leader for once!
How long have you known each other?
H: We’ve known each other since February last year.
E: That’s a year and three months.
That’s not a huge amount of time, when did you get engaged?
E: Last month (April) and technically, we’ve only been together for 9 months.
Emma and Harry were introduced to each other in February 2016 by their friend David at a youth event:
E: I said to David “I’m begging you don’t do this, I don’t want a relationship!”. A week before I’d written in my journal that I didn’t want to meet anyone until I was 25 – ‘no it’s not happening’. I didn’t want this person to turn up, I didn’t want to like him. The pressure was on because we were being set up. If David had not said that and we’d met, it would have been different. When we met though, we ended up chatting for hours, but that night, I knew I was going to marry him and I thought this is a disaster!
“….that night, I knew I was going to marry him and I thought this is a disaster!”
Why didn’t you want to meet anyone until you were 25?
E: Mainly because of the challenges of past relationships. I’d had a really long-term relationship from when I was 14 to 16 and when we broke up, things were difficult at that time. I then ended up getting into another relationship a year later. I didn’t think I was fully ready but allowed the attention to feed my emotions. As time went on, it became clear we weren’t right for one another. We broke up in October 2015 and then it was an ‘on and off’ situation until the January. Then in the February I met Harry!
Harry and Emma had said technically they’d only been together 9 months and that’s because close friends and people of influence in Emma’s life didn’t think Harry was a good idea for her because of his previous ‘messy’ relationship:
E: I spoke with some friends and said “I’ve met Harry Manning”! Their response was, “no, he’s not for you”, but I knew I was going to marry him. I’m very ‘justice’ focused, he’s more ‘grace’ focused and my sense of justice was frustrated because I felt as though they’d made a judgement on him when some of them didn’t even know him.
H: ….And she also fancied me, it’s not all about justice!
E: (Speaking to Harry and laughing) “You were such a hassle at the beginning and I could have given up but I stood up for you!” This whole process took a while for everyone to come on board so we were together in secret until the end of last July.
E: We’d said that we’d be friends only.
H: But I didn’t want to be just friends.
E: That choice was so stupid though because we both knew the end result, we knew what was coming. In the back of my head we knew we weren’t just friends but said let’s just honour the end result and not go public until then…. but there was a level in which we weren’t just friends, it was inevitable.
Tell me more about when you met and how your first date come about?
H: At the time of the youth event where we’d met, it’d been about 5-6 months since my last relationship had ended. I was craving romance and I really liked Emma but it didn’t seem right to chase her and thought if she adds me on to Facebook I’ll go for it.
E: Irony is that I got home and had fully expected him to add me on to Facebook and he didn’t and I was like, ‘I’m not going there first’, so I sat there stubborn and went through the whole of the next day and he still didn’t add me and I’m like, ‘who is this kid?’ And I journaled, ‘what’s going on, why do I have these feelings?’ Then I thought, ‘I’m just going to add him and be that strong independent woman’ and eventually that night I added him and he obviously took that as a sign.
H: (Excited voice) When I looked at my phone and saw that she’d added me I was like so excited and I accepted it and I still have the message on my phone.
E: We met again at a party just a few days later and then I asked her out and our first date was to the Cinema and then to Nandos.
What do you enjoy doing together?
H: When we have money, if we can, we’d usually go up to London and explore.
E: It’s really good fun, we are quite adventurous together, we want to explore new things so we rarely do the same thing twice.
H: We’ve been to museums, the zoo, the aquarium, ice-skating….
E: We both want to travel together in the future too.
Do you argue and if so, what happens when you argue?
E: At the beginning of our relationship, we argued quite a bit, just quite immature in it. We are quite similar in how we handle things, we are quite ‘shouty’, if one of us starts shouting, the other one will rise-up louder and then we are in a match of volume, we are so stubborn, neither of us wanting to back down. However, we both absolutely hate being shouted at and so we got to a point a few months in, (it wasn’t that we were having an argument every night but when we did, it wasn’t handled well), of realising we needed to grow up a bit more and consider ‘how are we going to handle this situation?’ But it was still a struggle for a few months.
H: The arguments we had after that conversation didn’t end up being as big.
E: We went through a process of learning and now we very rarely ‘blow’ and our communication has massively improved. When a disagreement came, we’d get irritated but we’d recognise that we can’t shout and would cool it down. We’ve grown to a place where we communicate, so a lot of the time, if Harry irritated me, I’d say “you’re irritating me”, we’d talk about it and then you’d give me a hug, I’d say, “there we go, we got there, we’re all done, it’s all finished”.
“At the beginning of our relationship, we argued quite a bit, just quite immature in it…..we needed to grow up a bit more and consider ‘how are we going to handle this situation?’ But it was still a struggle for a few months.”
Do you think forgiveness is important?
H: Yes, I’ve had to realise that some of the stuff we’ve argued about in the past I haven’t sincerely apologised for or we haven’t actually sorted it out. Several times, passed issues came up and I’d ask Emma “why are we talking about this?” And it’s turned out that she’s still quite angry about it, and I’ve asked, “are you actually really angry about this?” Once we went back to loads of different arguments and I said “ok, what else are you still angry about, what else have you not got over?” And honestly, I’ve had to explain to her and say “I’m really sorry for that” because I hadn’t actually apologised properly. When I’ve said I’m really sorry and Emma’s forgiven me, the issues from the past were then dealt with.
What have you learnt about each other and how to communicate and how has that impacted your relationship?
E: I’m more of an extrovert and we are often really busy. I love being busy and can go from one thing to the next, but this can be too much for Harry. He has to have time out and I know that now. So tonight after a busy day, we’ll put a movie on and I’ll play with his hair and it will be a completely chilled out evening. Recently when we were out in the car and we’d had a really busy time, Harry had become snappy but it was his introvert personality crying out for some space. That sense of justice in me was wanting to say, “don’t talk to me like that”. But I didn’t say anything, I just stayed silent. His love language is touch and when we arrived at our destination and got out of the car, I just gave him a hug and immediately his attitude changed. Understanding each other in this way has been a massive transformation in our relationship over the past 4-5 months.
E: Just recently, I’d really been struggling with an essay for my degree and Harry came over to mine and helped me through it, he knew exactly how to calm me down and support me. We’ve both grown a lot and this wouldn’t have happened 8 months ago.
H: At the start of our relationship, I thought that I was an amazing boyfriend, ‘she’s going to love me and all of my ways are perfect’ and I didn’t think I had to change, so I always thought that she was in the wrong at the start. This attitude was in part due to my reaction to the complications of my last relationship and that girlfriend’s constant ‘put-down’ of me.
E: He’d never had the experience of ‘learning someone else’ his ex-girlfriend had just told him off, told him what to do and how he should be. We are very affectionate with each other and Harry never had that before. We have both now learnt to respond to each other in ways that we ourselves want to be treated.
H: When I was younger and my dad would lose his temper with me, my response was to lose my temper too. Then as I grew up I learnt to listen to what was being said behind his temper. So whenever Emma would get upset about something, instead of responding with my natural reaction, I had to stop. I’d want to respond and say “you’re just being stupid”, but I’ve learned to listen to what is being said behind the emotion.
E: We had one of those crucial moments earlier on when we were arguing and I remember getting to a point of “RIGHT, sit down” and I explained, “if you do this action, this causes this emotion, this emotion causes this in me and then I’m left hurt afterwards”. I felt so bad because speaking that way was so patronising and if it were said to me, I would receive it so badly, but he was saying, “that makes so much sense, I’ll do that in the future”. We’ve had to learn how each other receives things.
When did you first say “I love you”?
E: (Speaking to Harry) “In the first month, you told me that you thought you were falling in love with me and I didn’t say it back, so that was fun!” It was because of the initial negativity around Harry (which I’d wrestled with), that I decided I couldn’t tell him the truth about my feelings. I knew what he’d be like if I told him I loved him; nothing would stop him and he’d say “we’ve got to get together” and then not wait until July before officially telling others we were boyfriend and girlfriend. Once it was official I told him I loved him. In the meantime, everyday he’d tell me that he loved me.
H: Yeah, I was a bit rubbish, a bit uncool, I couldn’t control myself, my mum would say, “just calm down Harry, be cool, slow down or you’ll scare her away”!
When did marriage first come up in the conversation?
E: Despite holding back from telling Harry that I loved him, within the first couple of months of our relationship we had chatted and asked ourselves “what is this, what are we actually saying about each other?” We both agreed we’d be getting married.
E: The discussion had come up before Christmas and Harry would have married me straight away. I said I’m not getting married before the end of the third year of my degree and others were saying this to me too but I wrestled with the idea. Then others were saying to us “why are you waiting until the end of year three if you know you want to be married?”. I then began giving the idea of getting married at the end of year two a lot of thought and once I’d made that decision that it was right for us, I stopped stressing and got really excited.
E: In the December, Harry, without telling me his plans, just came out with it at my parents that we wanted to get married and it didn’t go down well.
“….without telling me his plans, Harry just came out with it at my parents that we wanted to get married and it didn’t go down well.”
H: I hadn’t told Emma, I was really nervous and just thought, ‘I’ve got to do this’. Emma was like, ‘what’s he doing?’, she was really angry and upset with me because I didn’t go through it with her first.
E: It was a really painful process and that day I cried with Harry. The next day, I went to see my family and their issues with the marriage were our ages, that we don’t have any money, that my parents couldn’t help us out financially, Harry doesn’t have a full-time job and is on a low wage. So it was mainly practical issues. If Harry had a full-time job, that would have been a big shift in their minds and they may have actually considered that we might be mature enough. I told them that they had to stop worrying and I said “I can promise you that in 20 years time, you’ll be sitting there looking after the grandkids”. My parents said that they have no doubt that it will last, they just need to see that Harry can take care of me.
E: This was a reality check for us both, that tough stuff happens and that’s what marriage is about, the good times and the hard times, both now and in the future, even the reflection that we will see each other’s parents die and would walk with each other through this and everything.
H: In February, I texted Emma’s dad and then met with him in March to ask for his blessing.
E: I didn’t want Harry to ask for permission to marry me but wanted him to ask for my dad’s blessing because I knew it was important to my mum.
E: After the initial mention of marriage in the December and the fact that Harry had brought it up without discussing with me first, we talked about the importance of being a team, doing things together and this is something that has grown.
“…tough stuff happens and that’s what marriage is about, the good times and the hard times…”
H: I decided to propose on her birthday weekend and had bought three birthday cards as part of the plan. On the Thursday, we went out for something to eat and I gave her the first card that included a cute message about how much I loved her and then a question at the end, ‘how much do you love me?’ On the Friday, we went to the zoo and I gave her the second card. Inside I’d written ‘I love the adventure we’ve been on today and I’d like to carry on having adventures for the rest of my life with you, how far will you travel with me?’ On the Saturday, we went to London and I took her to the roof-top garden in Canary Wharf. I gave her the third card which had another cute message about God’s promises and the promises I have for our relationship and that I have another promise I’d like to make to her. Followed by ‘Ask me what the last question is?’ I said “have you read it?” And Emma said, “what’s the last question?” I got down on one knee and said “will you marry me?” (Emma said yes of course!)
What sort of wedding would you like?
E: Church wedding, White dress, rustic, vintage, fun, we don’t want a ‘sit-down’ because that’s not really us, informal, simple.
H: (Harry smiling) Not long ago Emma asked, “what suit are you wearing for the wedding?” I answered, “I don’t know yet”. “Well you’re not allowed to wear blue”.
E: It’s got to match everything else!
How did you know you were right for each other and how did you know you were in love?
H: I get on so well with Emma from the beginning, we enjoy lots of the same things and although some parts haven’t been easy and we’ve had to work at it, when I look back, it’s been so easy to get on with Emma, we just connect, we’re best friends.
H: How we knew we loved each other is different. I don’t think you can ever just decide and say “you know what, I think I’m in love with her”. It just happens over time and you begin to know that you want to be with them for the rest of your life. I’ve never had before what I have with Emma; holding hands, her affection towards me, knowing each other well and responding positively to this and thinking that I want this for the rest of my life. We are best friends and I’m attracted to her so all of these things together… yeah I just want to be with her for the rest of my life, you don’t really realise it’s coming – love, it just suddenly appears in your life.
E: When I met Harry, I had an immediate connection with him. In past relationships, I was determined I didn’t want to lose my identity but was instead made to feel insecure and so I really lacked trust because of this which is something we’ve had to work on. But, from the day I met him, I’ve not wanted another day without him – yes, I’m in love! Last summer, we went to Southend and had so much fun together and had been laughing all day – yeah, we’re best friends. We realised that we’d actually not kissed or held hands at all that day because we were just having such a laugh and had so much to say and so we hadn’t noticed.
“…we just connect, we’re best friends…you don’t really realise it’s coming – love, it just suddenly appears in your life”.
What do you think are the most important things needed to make a relationship work?
E: Trust, communication, love and friendship.
H: I don’t think you can be best friends without communicating well, or being able to laugh with each other so if I had to put it under one phrase I’d put it under ‘best friend’ because it covers everything. I trust my best friend, I can communicate with my best friend, I get along with my best friend, my best friend cares about me, they want to do what I want to do and I want to do what they want to do.
It was amazing to spend time with Harry and Emma and hear their story. They were an inspiration to listen to as they talked about overcoming the challenges of a relationship, valuing their relationship enough to tackle the tough questions, being willing to be open and vulnerable with each other in order to grow together, learning to say sorry and why that has been important to them and how all of these things have clearly enabled them to trust and love each other more.
They are so completely committed to each other and whilst they are excited about the big day, they were even more excited about the marriage that will come after!