WHEN Joy Barton sent an email to her brother, she never imagined it would reach the wrong Stephen, a stranger living 4,000 miles away.

The American lass was even more shocked to fall in love with Stephen Barton, from the Midlands, UK, with him eventually proposing on their third meeting.

Joy Barton accidentally emailed the wrong Stephen Barton on Valentine's Day - thinking he was her brother

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Joy Barton accidentally emailed the wrong Stephen Barton on Valentine’s Day – thinking he was her brotherCredit: Bauer/That’s Life

In an exclusive interview, Joy, now 48, from Inverness, Highland, tells her story…

As I met up with my friends a couple of days before Valentine’s Day, the chat soon turned to relationships.

I was 29, living in Colorado, USA, and had been single for a few years.

“This is such a small town, you need to get out of here if you want to meet someone,” one pal said.

“You’re almost 30, Joy,” another friend winked. “Yep, crunch time,” I laughed. I was only half-joking.

I wasn’t desperate to be coupled up, but I liked the idea of having someone to go on adventures with.

When Valentine’s Day rolled around, I emailed my sister Bekah and brothers Tim and Stephen to send them my love.

Pictured with her brother Stephen, who she'd meant to write to

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Pictured with her brother Stephen, who she’d meant to write toCredit: Bauer/That’s Life

A few hours later, I got a reply from Stephen, but when I clicked on it, I cringed with embarrassment. 

“I don’t think I am the person you were trying to email,” it said.

My message had reached a complete stranger – another Stephen Barton.

“I’m sorry about that. Bye,” I pinged back. I thought that would be it, but he sent me another email.

“I think it’s really interesting that you emailed me,” he said. “Tell me more about yourself.”

“Argh, he’s not going away,” I thought. I was wary of talking to people online, so I decided not to respond.

But a couple of days later, Stephen messaged me again.

My flatmates warned me to be careful but Stephen seemed so warm, witty and open, I couldn’t help but write back

Joy Barton48

He told me a bit about himself, including that he volunteered at his church, he was single, 30 and lived in the Midlands in the UK.

My jaw dropped. I lived 4,000 miles away. I’d assumed he was nearby and much older.

But he had piqued my interest – we both cared about our faith and were only a year apart in age.

My flatmates warned me to be careful but Stephen seemed so warm, witty and open, I couldn’t help but write back.

We continued to email and eventually I asked Stephen for a photo, but he claimed he didn’t have any recent ones – although he’d already found one of me online.

“That’s not fair,” I teased. We started talking on the phone, often for hours, despite the time difference often meaning I’d wake him by accident with my calls.

By the summer, our conversations had turned flirty. “If I was in America, I’d show up with a bouquet of flowers for you and serenade you at your door,” he wrote in an email.

“I wish we weren’t so far away,” I replied. There was definitely a spark between us, and I was developing feelings for him.

Joy and Stpehen ended up dating and got engaged on their third ever meeting

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Joy and Stpehen ended up dating and got engaged on their third ever meetingCredit: Bauer/That’s Life

By now, he’d sent me a photo of himself when he was younger. I thought he looked handsome.

But I didn’t mention anything to my family. How could anything happen if we lived thousands of miles apart and couldn’t even meet? 

Then a few months later, my brother Tim got a transfer to work in London.

My mum Melva and dad Rick made plans to go visit him and I said I’d join. Then something struck me. Maybe I could finally meet Stephen too?

My heart racing, I emailed him. “I’m coming to London with my family for five days. Would you like to meet?”

“Absolutely!” he wrote back. I finally filled my family in.

“It’s like something out of a film,” my brother Stephen said. “It’s weird we have the same name.”

They were a bit wary, but when I told them about how lovely he was, they felt reassured.

I was buzzing with excitement on the plane, but nervous too.

Was I mad? I was meeting a complete stranger and introducing him to my entire family. 

This was completely unlike me. I was usually so practical.

The plan was to invite him to spend the day with me, just the two of us, and then in the evening he would come and see a musical with my family.

After touching down, we got on a train, with Stephen due to meet me at the station.

I had to laugh as — in terms of name only — I was actually marrying my brother

Joy Barton48

I soon spotted him, wearing a blue jacket and rolling a suitcase behind him. I smiled with relief that he was attractive, with kind eyes and a warm smile. 

“You’re taller than I expected!” he said, before hugging me. My family all hugged him too – then we went to get lunch for our first date.

Inside, I felt as if I could burst. He was everything I’d hoped for. We chatted over turkey sandwiches before going to the theatre.

The next day, seeing him off at the station, my heart sank.

I cried all the way home. But I knew we’d meet again. We were immediately a couple. It felt as if I’d known him for years.

The next summer, Stephen flew over to see me. He met my brother Stephen and told him “I’ve got to thank you for having the same name as me.”

He stayed with my gran, who adored him. “He’s a dashing Englishman,” she said.

Joy pictured with her siblings Tim, Stephen and Bekah, left-right

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Joy pictured with her siblings Tim, Stephen and Bekah, left-rightCredit: Bauer/That’s Life

A few weeks later, we arranged for me to stay at his place in the UK for a month.

Stephen slept at his stepmum’s to give me some space, but we both knew what this was — a trial to see if we could live together more permanently.

We went exploring across the UK. “I could live here,” I said.

A couple of days before I was due to leave, we were in the rose garden at Warwick Castle when Stephen dropped to one knee.

“Joy, I love you and want you to be my wife,” he said, holding out a sparkling ring. “Will you marry me?”

I was elated. He’d already called my parents to ask for permission — they were delighted, too.

Less than a year later, we tied the knot in my hometown.

We felt like celebrities. Word had got around about the ‘Brit invasion’, and people lined the street as we said our vows in church.

My friend filmed a video interview with us telling our ‘how we met’ story.

I had to laugh as — in terms of name only — I was actually marrying my brother.

 Later, we flew to the Virgin Islands on honeymoon.

I moved in with Stephen straight afterwards. Luckily, my visa arrived while we were on holiday.

It’s been 19 years since we first spoke online married, I think we were meant to meet that way.

Every Valentine’s Day, we remember the extraordinary way we crashed into each other’s lives. I’m so happy I hit reply.





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