Meet up where they’ve always been

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When Denise Parnell and Whitney Hardy first met in 2009, it was on a blind date – one Ms Parnell had with a man she had been introduced to by friends.

To ease the pressure on Ms Parnell, her friends had arranged for the installation to be part of a larger gathering of 10 people at a Mexican restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee. The larger group included Ms. Hardy. But she and Mrs. Parnell, both from the Memphis area and then in their early twenties, didn’t pay much attention to each other.

Ms Parnell was focused on her blind date (which turned out to be ‘a complete disaster’, she said). Mrs. Hardy was focused on her then-girlfriend, who was with her that night. Afterwards, five years passed without the two giving each other another thought.

During these years Mrs. Parnell remained in Memphis. A graduate of the University of Memphis, she was busy working as a ghost writer for a corporate blog, in addition to volunteering at a local farmer’s market and participating in the local Junior League chapter.

Ms. Hardy, a graduate of the University of Tennessee, moved to Atlanta for tax audit work, before returning to Memphis in 2014 to start Henderson Transloading Services, an agricultural storage and transportation business, with her family. At the same time, she launched LGBTQ social networks LesBiFriends, which still exists as a Facebook community, and Out901.com, which closed in 2017.

“I wanted to be more visible to kids like me,” Ms. Hardy said. “I always tell people, ‘Be the mentor you needed when you were younger.'”

Although they were born and raised in the same city, their upbringing was somewhat different.

Ms. Hardy grew up in a two-parent family in Germantown, Tennessee, an affluent suburb of Memphis. Ms. Parnell was raised by her mother and maternal grandmother and lived in different neighborhoods in Memphis throughout her childhood.

Ms Hardy came out during her freshman year at Houston High School in Germantown – “the first gay student to go public there”, she said, which “terrified” her. Mrs. Parnell has only dated men.

In late 2014, the two crossed paths again when they found themselves on the same group chat with another group of mutual friends. They didn’t agree on anything. “We were arguing about the best coffee in Memphis or who was the best up-and-coming artist. Everyone on the chat was silent,” Ms Hardy, 34, said. “But it brought me closer to Denise. We’re both, uh, very opinionated.

Ms Parnell, also 34, said she liked Ms Hardy to ‘challenge’ her. “When I’m passionate about something, I’m strong,” Ms Parnell said.

Eventually, their playful squabbles over text on the group chat led to in-person conversations when the two started carpooling to local events. Ms. Parnell and Ms. Hardy realized that they shared a passion for art exhibitions, museums and live music.

“We discovered that we literally lived across the street from each other,” said Ms Parnell, whose home near the University of Memphis was a few blocks from Ms Hardy’s home in the neighborhood. of Pidgeon Estates.

Over the next year, casual friends became confidants. Aligned with a passion for fresh vegetables – Mrs. Parnell is a vegetarian; Mrs. Hardy is pescatarian — they shared many dinners cooked at home by Mrs. Hardy, during which they advised each other.

Ms Hardy was still with his girlfriend, but had concerns about their relationship. She knew she wanted to get married one day, but she wasn’t convinced she had met her perfect partner.

Ms Parnell also questioned her life trajectory. She was then working as a freelance content creator and social media manager at Memphis College of Art, and felt uncertain about her career.

“It seemed like I had done all the right things and expected to be further in my professional career, but things weren’t lining up for me,” she said. “I continued to hit walls with my creative endeavors as a writer.”

One evening, after supper at Mrs. Hardy’s, Mrs. Parnell returned home and had a romantic epiphany: she love Mrs Hardy.

“I texted Whitney, but she tried to talk me out of it,” said Ms Parnell, who recalled Ms Hardy telling her, “You’ve probably had too much to drink.”

To this, Ms Parnell said she replied: ‘I had a glass of wine!’

Ms Hardy didn’t give too much thought to the fact that Ms Parnell had never dated a woman. “I actually dated mostly bisexual women,” she said. And for Ms Parnell, exploring her sexuality felt natural, she said. “It wasn’t a big deal for me because I grew up going to performing arts schools. Almost everyone around me was gay.

But both feared that a romantic relationship could jeopardize their friendship. This concern led them to keep their relationship strictly platonic for most of 2015. During this time, Ms. Hardy broke up with his girlfriend and started 3rdSpace, an organization in Memphis that supports the local arts community.

Ms. Parnell has freelanced about the Memphis food scene for Blavity, a news and lifestyle website created by and for black millennials. His desire to take things in a romantic direction with Ms. Hardy has not waned. In November 2015, Ms Parnell recalled: “I finally said, ‘Hey, we have to go on a proper date. We have to get dressed. »

They went out to dinner and then saw the movie “The Martian”. On the way home, they stopped at Muddy’s Bake Shop, a bakery in Memphis, for cupcakes. The evening, Ms Parnell said, was a turning point in their relationship. “It marked the slow progression from getting to know each other to becoming more interested in each other,” she said.

In December, Ms. Parnell and Ms. Hardy went to a party hosted by New Memphis, a local organization focused on community development. It was then that Ms Hardy said her romantic feelings for Ms Parnell crystallized: “I felt this sense of comfort, security, adoration and pride as we mingled with my friends. I wanted everyone to meet Denise and they loved her.

In January 2016, they officially called each other a couple, and in October the two moved in together, along with Ms Hardy’s chihuahua, Duck.

Around this time, Ms Parnell started a lifestyle blog called The Elle Aesthetic and quit her job at the Memphis College of Art. Ms. Hardy continued to juggle her time between her start-up ventures, which required her to travel and be on-call for clients, colleagues and young artists.

“I grew up in an entrepreneurial family so I knew I had to have a certain type of personality. Denise carried boxes with me. She respected my background and was there with me for my growth,” said Mrs Hardy.

Over the next few years, the couple continued to invest time in their careers and relationship; in 2019, they adopted a rescue Labrador together, which they named Panda. Then came the pandemic, which put life as they knew it on hold.

“I can’t understate how stressful it was. I was preoccupied with work and our health and just went grocery shopping,” Ms Parnell said. “But we got to know each other in a new way during this time. I learned from Whitney that you can go through tough times and still have a soft heart.

But when the world stopped, Ms Hardy said, it made her see how essential Ms Parnell had become in her life. “I was like, ‘If you don’t catch this woman now, you’re crazy,'” she said. The pandemic hasn’t crushed her entrepreneurial spirit either: In January 2021, Ms. Hardy launched an improved water company called Hardy Beverages in Memphis.

Ms Hardy proposed to Ms Parnell on January 23, 2021, the couple’s fifth anniversary, outside the Levitt Shell, an amphitheater in Memphis.

She sought out a black designer to create a bespoke engagement ring and landed on Maggi Simpkins, who personalized the ring with a ruby, Ms Hardy’s birthstone, beneath the diamond setting. (Ms Parnell considered herself more of a simple gold band person, but said Ms Hardy wanted to have “a moment”.)

On December 31, 2021, Ms. Hardy and Ms. Parnell were married at the Cordelle, a Victorian home in downtown Nashville. Reverend Shameka Cathey, minister of the New Covenant Christian Church in Nashville, officiated at the ceremony before 50 vaccinated guests.

For their black-tie wedding, Ms Parnell wore a simple white crepe dress with a cathedral veil. Ms. Hardy donned a custom black velvet suit from The Tailory New York, personalized with freshwater pearls to honor the couple’s water signs (Ms. Hardy is a Cancer; Ms. Parnell is a Pisces). “I’ve been to New York three times for fittings, so I guess that makes me the bride,” she said.

After the ceremony, the couple fled from their guests to a private room to share an intimate moment, which was both the highlight of their New Year’s wedding.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God! We really did!’” Ms. Hardy said. “I was an accounting major at the University of Tennessee. I’m a nerd. go have the cheerleader.

Ms Parnell, who said she was once known as the ‘first-date queen’, reflected on their romantic history: ‘Whitney was always like, ‘Why do you love me?’ I always said, ‘One day you’ll wake up and relax.’ »

When December 31, 2021

Or La Cordelle in Nashville, Tenn.

Support women The couple made it a priority to work with black vendors, including photographer Elle Danielle and planner Tanza Perry-Cooper of LeeHenry Events in Nashville, who helped on the day of the event.

Signature cocktails Ms. Parnell’s drink was a spicy mezcal margarita named after the TikTok sound, “Is it me? Am I the drama? Ms. Hardy’s drink was the ‘Southern Girl,’ a mix of vodka, bitters with orange, maple-infused simple syrup, cinnamon and strong cider.

Snafu song Instead of their first chosen song, Leisure’s ‘Nobody’ featuring GoldLink, Ms Hardy said the DJ ‘played the wrong song at first so we just left it there.’ But when the right track started, “we smiled and walked out,” she said.

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