Ashley Stevens never imagined that a photo she took with her dad and boyfriend after catching the bouquet at her cousin’s wedding would get not only millions of views, but also brutal comments from strangers across the country.
“I told them we should make funny faces,” Stevens, 21, tells PEOPLE. “We posted it on Facebook, our friend sent it to Reddit, and the following morning we were on their homepage.”
The negative comments started to flood in as soon as the photo was posted to the site on June 21.
“People were saying she was too good-looking for me and that it looks like I have Down syndrome,” her boyfriend Christopher Reed, 21, tells PEOPLE. “Some comments said there was no way I could be her boyfriend and they made fun of my weight.”
But the couple, who are both from Columbus, Georgia, and have been dating for almost two and a half years, refused to succumb to the negativity.
“When we looked at what people were saying, we laughed,” says Reed, who attends Columbus State University with Stevens. “We both have the mind-set that that we understand who we are as individuals and what we have for each other.”
Stevens echoed her boyfriend’s sentiments, adding, “Our relationship is real, and we both care about each other very much. Our relationship – it’s not about looks – it’s about what is inside.”
“People should care about what’s inside,” she says. “What matters is how happy and special he makes me feel. I’m the luckiest girl in the world.”
The surprising comments inspired Stevens to share how she felt in a new Facebook post – but this time, the comments were all supportive ones from their friends and family.
“After all of these negative comments, we were blown away by how our family and friends stood by our side,” Reed says.
And at the end of the day, it’s the little things that matter most to the couple.
“Just this morning, he bought me my favorite type of biscuit with strawberry jelly,” she says. “Those small things mean the world to me.”
As for how Reed feels about Stevens catching the bouquet, he says, “I’m kind of excited about it. But we are definitely going to wait to get married until after college. That comes first.”