A couple who met via an online Secret Santa event on Reddit and became virtual pen pals have now moved in together after falling in love.
Jono, 32, from Leicestershire, admitted he’d been going through a tough time and was ‘trapped in a loveless marriage’, so decided to sign up to the gift exchange to ‘cheer himself up’.
When he received his present and card from Rachel, 25, who lived in London, he was moved to tears by how thoughtful it was and the pair decided to stay in touch and connected on Facebook.
After several months of chatting online, they agreed to meet up in person – and soon realised they were attracted to one another.
Jono, 32, from Leicestershire, and Rachel, 25, originally from Manchester but living in London, met via the Reddit Secret Santa gift exchange
The couple have now been an item for seven months, with Rachel giving Jono the ‘strength’ to get out of his marriage and combat his depression.
They moved in together in Leicester three months ago and believe they’ve each found their ‘soulmate’.
Speaking to FEMAIL, Rachel said: ‘Our relationship blossomed from a strong friendship which came from having so much in common.
‘I don’t think either of us saw it coming to be honest. It flowed so naturally, I felt at ease talking with Jono.
‘I didn’t realise I had developed feelings for him until I found myself missing him when we were busy doing other things and not texting.’
Jono added: ‘We’re both really excited about Christmas. I keep joking about how she’s going to have to drastically up her game this year in terms of gifts – as she was the real Christmas present last year!’
Rachel sent Jono a book about Amazon Original show The Grand Tour, a box of Toffifee and a Chocolate Orange – but it was the card that touched Jono the most and even made him cry
In an emotional post shared to Reddit, freelance photographer Jono recalled how last year he was in a bad place when he signed up to the gift exchange – having first taken part in it five years ago.
‘I was having a really tough time. I was trapped in a loveless marriage, fighting to stay afloat financially and stuck in an emotional rut I couldn’t get out of,’ he said.
‘Little did I know the impact Secret Santa was going to have on my life.’
Jono told how his giftee was a ‘really interesting guy’ and a ‘pleasure to buy for’ – adding that his reaction when he received his gifts made it all worth it.
But when he received his gift from Rachel, after worrying he’d been ‘forgotten’ when she made little contact with him throughout the process, he was ‘blown away’.
‘I was treated with the best group of presents ever,’ he said. ‘My Santa had taken so much time to get to know me, made such an effort, right from the packaging to the card they included, I was absolutely blown away.’
The couple have now been an item for seven months, with Rachel giving Jono the ‘strength’ to get out of his marriage and combat his depression
Rachel, who worked for a five star hotel before being furloughed due to the pandemic, told how she had to turn detective to work out what Jono might like to receive.
‘His Reddit Gifts profile was extremely bare,’ she recalled. ‘He answered the questions with the simplest of answers.
‘I had read on the r/secretsanta subreddit that people had dug into their matches’ social media profiles and decided that this was a possible route to get to know a little more about him and try and work out more of a personality around his stone-cold answers!
‘I was very worried about how much was “too much” after digging through his social media and decided to stick with fulfilling presents to the answers he had added on his Reddit Gifts. I wanted the card to be more of a personalised effort with information that I had found on his social media.’
Rachel sent Jono a book about Amazon Original show The Grand Tour, a box of Toffifee and a Chocolate Orange – but it was the card that touched Jono the most and even made him cry.
‘The card and the words she wrote really were the best bit, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I mattered,’ he said.
Jono said the intention was to become friends, and it only became clear to him that he was attracted to Rachel when they met up just before the Covid-19 lockdown in March. They’ve now moved in together
‘One of the main things I did actually write in my profile was how much of a bad time I’d had through 2019. I mentioned how I’d not been out of the house much, and the most exciting thing I’d done outside of work all year was build my own PC.
‘Rachel’s message was written like a warm hug. She assured me that even though she didn’t know me, from what she knew, I was trying my best and to not give up on myself.
‘From the gifts she sent over to me, it was apparent she’d done her homework. I’ll just never forget sitting in the middle of my living room and reading her card. It’s something I’ll never get rid of, and it sits on my desk all year round as a bit of a pick me up.’
How does the Reddit gift exchange work?
Reddit Gifts’ Secret Santa Exchange is the largest online gift exchange in the world.
Over 1,700,000 gifts have been sent through Reddit Gifts exchanges.
Every year, Secret Santa brings together thousands of people across the globe to spread joy and holiday cheer.
Notable celebs have been known to participate, including Bill Gates, Snoop Dogg, and Alyssa Milano.
This year is the 12th annual Secret Santa exchange; sign ups close on December 7 and you have until December 21 to post your gift to your anonymously allocated giftee.
When you receive a gift, you’re encouraged to post a thank you note with photos on Reddit.
Agreeing to stay in touch after chatting on Reddit, they added each other on Facebook.
Jono said the intention was to become friends, and it only became clear to him that he was attracted to Rachel when they met up just before the Covid-19 lockdown in March.
‘We talked throughout the whole of lockdown and met each other at every given opportunity. Each of us travelling miles across the country to see the other as soon as it was safe to do so,’ he explained.
‘We have so much fun together, we’re constantly laughing to the point where we can’t stop and it’s been the same from day one. Having said that, I am really attracted to Rachel, and I’m definitely punching above my weight.
‘She turned out to be the most amazing girl I’d ever met. She’s beautiful, caring, loving and I’m not ashamed to admit this one single bit, my soulmate.
‘She’s given me the strength to get out of my marriage, listened to me cry, picked me up when I’ve been down and helped me find a new flat.’
Rachel added: ‘Meeting each other just confirmed the strong connection that we had. It was really great that it continued into a physical connection for us both too.’
Having moved in with each other in September, the couple are now excited for their future together, which they eventually see in London.
They’ve both signed up to take part in the gift exchange again this year – and urge other people to do the same.
‘The whole premise of this is that no matter how terrible things are, the best things in life usually come from the most unexpected places,’ Jono wrote on Reddit.
‘You never know what’s around the corner and just how much even the smallest thing like a card can completely turn someone’s life around.
‘I’m not saying everyone will find love and happiness through Secret Santa, but the whole concept lends itself perfectly to positivity and spreading a bit of joy, and is that so wrong with everything that’s going on at the minute?
‘If you’re on the fence about joining, do it, because you never know how much of a difference you can make. I wanted to show a random person on the internet that they mattered, and I was lucky enough to find a Santa that wanted to do the same thing for me.’
To sign up to the Reddit Secret Santa gift exchange visit https://www.redditgifts.com/exchanges/manage/#/exchange/secret-santa-2020/