By Emily Phillips via SWNS
A divorced mom-of-two looking for love on Tinder fell for a man 23 years her junior - after forgetting to change her age limit settings on the app.
Rachel Caudele, 48, and Alex Michael, 25 met on Tinder in 2020.
Rachel flew to New York from Texas, to meet Alex for the first time where they shared an ''instant connection."
Now living together in Austin, Texas, they claim "age is just a number" and they are ''rock solid'' despite some initial ups and downs.
It wasn't all plain sailing as the pair nearly split when Rachel found out Alex, who works as a website creator for pharmaceutical companies, was messaging other women.
But they are back on track and are now fully committed to each, despite disapproval from some relatives.
Rachel, an ASL director at an international school, who has two sons aged 23 and 19, said: "We had an instant connection, but there was something more than that.
"It's like an energy. I can tell when he has a thought, and he can do the same with me, it's really strange."
Alex said: "I definitely knew that it was different and unique with Rachel because she's so much like me.
"It's been the best decision I've ever made."
Rachel was recently-divorced in September 2020 when she signed up for the dating app.
She said: "I was in a new place and wanted to try something different.
"I was enjoying my freedom, and my friend convinced me to go on Tinder.
"I was very skeptical and taken aback by the messages I received.
''I was getting unsolicited pictures, and I didn't like it.
''Alex messaged me, and I just kept coming back to his picture.
"It sounds really cliché, but I thought he had kind eyes.
''We started chatting and the age question came up.
''When he told me he was 23 I was like 'Woah, that's way too young, nothing is going to come of this.'
"He liked to talk on the phone, and his voice was very sexy and appealing to me.
''We had great conversations and lots in common.
''He's literally like the male form of me."
Alex added: "I happened to change my age range on Tinder, and matched with her. I thought, oh my god, she looks great for her age, she doesn't look like she's in her forties at all.
"She was super cool and genuine, she's more than just a pretty face."
Rachel then flew out to New York when she was on a break from her teaching job, where she met up with Alex for the first time.
Alex borrowed his parents' car to take her to dinner.
"I had to go home afterward because I wasn't allowed to have the car overnight," Alex said.
"We hit it off really well, but I remember saying to her 'have a nice life' because she was located in Texas and I was in New York, so I didn't think anything would come of it."
But they kept in touch and traveled together to Miami and Austin in October and November 2020, where they both realized their feelings for each other were strong.
They officially began dating in December 2020, with Alex calling Rachel ''his girl."
"In January 2021, I went to Houston where Rachel was living," Alex said.
"I had a remote job and she asked if I wanted to live with her.
''I got a suitcase and never went back.
''We lived together for that whole year."
Five months into living together, Rachel discovered Alex had been messaging other women on social media.
"He had never experienced those sorts of boundaries in a relationship before, and I felt heartbroken and betrayed," Rachel said.
"He has issues with anxiety, and female attention made him feel better.
''I wanted to leave the relationship, but I'm not a person who gives up easily."
Alex added: "It was very wrong of me, what I did. I grew up with a lot of insecurities, and I didn't get a lot of attention when I was younger.
"I wanted to experience that. I never had the intention of hooking up, I just wanted the attention."
Alex has since deleted his Instagram and Facebook and has worked hard to progress in his relationship with Rachel.
"It helped me to come full circle and realize what the right thing to do is in relationships," he said.
The pair have also faced hard times due to backlash from their TikTok account, and disapproval from some friends and relatives.
"We started sharing our story on social media in February 2021," Alex said.
"We based it around our age gap to start with, which was a niche we had that got us the following, but now we've progressed to more dating-style content."
The couple's first video, 'tips for dating a cougar,' blew up online and was on track to receive one million views.
"I was in the gym and students from the school I taught at were coming up to me, so I told Alex to take the video down straight away," Rachel said.
Rachel's eldest son found out about the relationship because a friend sent him the TikTok post.
"It was hard at first," Rachel said.
"But he respects it now, he just wants me to be happy.
''Oddly we have a lot of age gap relationships in my family, and they're respectful of Alex and me."
But Alex's family disapproves, and won't support them.
''It's very hard for him, they think it's strange and that I'm grooming him, or some sort of a sexual predator.
"We're literally a normal couple with a large age gap."
In January this year, the couple decided to take a break and see other people, but this only lasted for two weeks.
"Sometimes you need to step away to realize you truly want something," Alex said.
Despite their different ages, the couple doesn't identify with terms such as 'sugar baby' or 'cougar.'
They note that pursuing an age-gap relationship is not easy, but their advice to others who might be in their situation is to "do what makes you happy."
Rachel said: "I don't judge people, I just want people to know that's not our thing.
"I would ask, 'is it worth it to you?'
"It's not going to be the easiest thing, things outside the relationship will impact you like people thinking it's weird or strange.
"Age should not be the main factor, if you are both consenting adults with a connection - do it.
"If you find something so real like what we have, you should do it."
Alex said: "You shouldn't let other people affect the decisions in your life. You only get one life after all."
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