The COVID pandemic has been very challenging for everyone in many ways. As doctoral students whose work keeps us relatively isolated in libraries and labs anyway, we have faced extra isolation and problems of access to research materials. But, as the UK moves out of lockdown restrictions, in a series of blog posts, Giles Penman looks reflects on his time as a PhD student during the pandemic. In the final part, he describes how he found love amid the UK lockdowns.
It was such a relief when the first lockdown ended, and the UK Government introduced support bubbles. I returned home to my parents’ house in Kent for a much-needed break. I think it was a sign of how bad the lockdown got that going home was a marvellous holiday!! I wrote a draft of one of my thesis chapters over Summer 2020 in the back garden of my parents’ rural house. In the evenings, I enjoyed cooking and eating meals with others for the first time in months.
And so, when the academic year began in September, I slipped into a routine of work and study. I worked one week on-shift in Birmingham and then return home to Kent the next week, studying all the while. And my lockdown experiences would have ended there, had I not received a card from an old friend.
I first met Paige when studying my Master’s degree at Warwick about 5 years ago. She was part of the wheelchair racing club I joined, and we became friends. We enjoyed each other’s company and met up for coffee and lunch at Warwick, in Nuneaton, or Paige’s hometown of Leicester. We both have Cerebral Palsy and so share significant childhood experiences of disability. Our friendship was so strong that despite long periods apart, our companionship continued unabated for years. Lockdown didn’t diminish our friendship and we talked happily over Skype.
Some months later, however, Paige sent me a card asking to explore beyond our friendship. Paige had gently turned me down some years previously, but my feelings towards her had never changed. Therefore, I leapt at the chance to explore my relationship with Paige. We chatted on social media, asking detailed questions about each other. Very quickly we realised that we shared many interests. We both enjoy cooking, listening to country music, going on long walks, and having adventures. We had our first date on Skype and talked for hours. There and then we decided that we wanted to take our relationship further. We continued dating over Skype, attending museums and galleries virtually.
When restrictions allowed, we met up in person and realised that we loved each other. We continued to date online. But despite sending letters to each other frequently, we missed each other dearly. And so, I began to live with Paige part-time in Leicester when I wasn’t in Birmingham, transferring my support bubble to her. Since we couldn’t date outside, we adapted our environment to suit. In the apartment, we’ve had dates to the beach, museums, music concerts and cinema. Paige and I have even had black tie dinner dates at home. And, as restrictions have lifted, we have been on staycations and met each other’s family and friends. After many inventive dates and trips as partners, our love became crystal clear. Therefore, I proposed to Paige, and she said ‘Yes!’. I am now engaged to the love of my life. And I have never been so happy.
COVID has been a challenging period in my life. I have been isolated and trapped. But I kept going, and most surprisingly and unexpectedly, I found lifelong love with an old friend, now my fiancée.
Whatever your experiences of lockdown and the pandemic, good and bad, you are here at the other side of it. You have come through and you have survived. And you are a stronger person for your experiences. Remember that however lonely you were in lockdown, love may be just around the corner.
What have your experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic been? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
Giles Penman is a PhD researcher supervised by the Classics and History Departments at the University of Warwick. His research concerns the roles and audiences of ancient imagery on British civic cultural artefacts of the Great War. He has a background in Classics, Archaeology and Numismatics