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How we met: ‘I’d been out as gay for a long time, but I thought Imogen was straight’ | Life and style

In 2019, Imogen was working as a freelance musician and studying sound art when she stumbled on a new hobby. “I was inspired to try out bellringing after speaking to a friend,” she says. “I didn’t have any expectations, but I was really interested in the bells and wanted to see what it was like.”

In September, she went to a church in Hackney, London, to join a local bellringing group. She followed the spiral staircase to the bell tower, where people were gathered in different patterns. There, she spotted Aine, who had been taking part for several years. “It’s mostly older people, so you notice when someone younger comes in,” says Aine. “Because it can get quite crowded in the tower, you end up perched on the edges. When Imogen arrived, I accidentally dropped my water on her, which was embarrassing. Luckily, it broke the ice.”

Over the next few weeks, they began meeting up regularly at bellringing sessions, or going for drinks with the rest of the group. “We got on well, but I’d seen a lot of people come and go, so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to invest in the friendship,” says Aine.

One Sunday morning, in early 2020, Imogen offered to walk Aine home after bellringing. “Imogen should have been going in the opposite direction, but it was clear we wanted to spend more time talking.” They soon became good friends and went for coffee together every weekend.

When Covid hit, Imogen moved out of the shared warehouse where she was living in north London and went to stay with her parents in Suffolk. During lockdown, the friendship continued to blossom. “We spoke every day. I showed her around the countryside, where I grew up, via video calls,” says Imogen. “We’d watch movies together on Zoom and had this amazing, long-distance friendship.”

In June, Imogen returned to London and they arranged to meet up. “By this time, I think I knew I had stronger feelings, but it hadn’t really crystallised in my mind,” says Aine. “I’d been out as gay for a long time, but I thought Imogen was straight and it was just a friendship.”

They met up and shared a pizza before taking a walk by the canal. “For me, it felt like there was this shift and we were taking this very natural, organic step from friends to something more,” says Imogen. “I was falling for a woman and it made me fully realise my sexuality, something I’d known deep down for a while.” Although she had begun to feel a spark, she wasn’t certain Aine felt the same way. “I was so nervous,” she says. Eventually, she confessed her feelings. “After that, we started dating and spending more time together,” says Aine. “Because of the Covid restrictions, we’d go for outdoor picnics. She was always bringing me plastic containers full of dal she’d made.”

They both had a few health problems that summer and made several trips to A&E together. “We got through it, and stayed happy, even though it was early in our relationship,” says Aine. “On one occasion, I’d had an accident and hurt my head – but I remember laughing so much with Imogen, even when I was getting my head glued together.”

That autumn, Imogen came out to her family, who were very supportive. Navigating their relationship over the next few months of lockdowns was another challenge, but they were determined to make things work. “We formed bubbles and saw each other when we could,” says Aine. “Imogen was able to be with my family at Christmas, too.”

In October 2021, the couple moved in together in west London. Aine is a PhD student, while Imogen studies law and works part-time in sales. “Someone from the bellringing community actually helped to find us our flat,” says Imogen. “It’s been a really important part of our lives and it was what brought us together.”

Aine says her partner’s empathy makes her stand out. “Imogen is so emotionally in tune. She’s also this incredibly vibrant soul who is creative and really fun.” Imogen loves Aine’s resilience. “She’s super-focused at work and she’s able to handle everything life throws at her. She’s so joyful – and she brings out the joy in me.”

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