In the summer of 2017, Cheryl Hurst arrived at her lavish hotel in Greece for a conference she was attending. After checking in, she headed to the elevator. It was about to close when Hurst slid in, apologizing to the group of people inside. What she didn’t realize was that this elevator ride was about to change not only her trip, but also the trajectory of her life.
Donning a heavy backpack and wearing a crop top and shorts, Hurst recalls feeling out of place from the others on board. She noticed, in particular, a man wearing a yellow watch and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Her reaction: “Just, I don't know, instantly hot on any guy.” Hurst remembers being immediately attracted to him.
The man, Preet Banerjee, was also in town for a conference. He was on the elevator with two friends who happened to be in Athens on vacation, so he hadn’t paid much attention to Hurst. “My first impression when she came into the elevator was ‘Oh, a girl with a backpack,'” he recalls.
Both Banerjee’s group and Hurst were heading to the seventh floor, which they quickly realized when they noticed their elevator only went up to the sixth floor. The group got off the elevator then, and waited for another elevator that went higher in the building. At that point, they started talking and recognized each other’s accents, as they were all Canadian. “Where are you from?” Banerjee asked Hurst.
Hurst, who at the time was a PhD student living in the UK, was used to naming a larger city close to home as her hometown: Toronto. When Torontonian Banerjee heard this, he asked what part of the city she lived in. She blushed and quickly backtracked with, “Oh no, I'm not actually from Toronto, I'm from Niagara Falls,” to which he teased, “What a weird thing to lie about.”
As the group was riding the second elevator, Banerjee and Hurst quickly realized they were both in town for the same conference and both working on doctoral theses. Banerjee asked Hurst if she’d like to join him and his friends for dinner before the pre-conference cocktail reception happening that evening, but Hurst declined. “I thought it was a bit weird to go to dinner with a man I didn't know,” she confesses. They parted ways on the seventh floor, but planned to meet up again at the reception that night.
“Cheryl stands out from a crowd for sure—very talkative, very outgoing,” says Preet. “When we went to the pre-conference cocktail reception, I immediately sought her out because I didn't know anyone else there.” The two chatted, and even paired themselves up for a bonding exercise the conference organizers set up where they had to pick a partner and present three facts about them. “So I turned to Cheryl, because I had met her in the elevator a few hours prior, and I just rattled off three things,” explained Banerjee. Of his three facts were interesting achievements like he hosted a show on the Oprah Network and he trained to be a racecar driver. Hurst swears that the other fact was that Barack Obama follows him on Twitter, which Banerjee vehemently denies.
“Mine was literally like, ‘I have a dog, I tried to cut a bunch of jeans into shorts for this trip and ruined, like, seven pairs of jeans,'” says Hurst. “I had literally no interesting facts, and Preet was just spilling off these really interesting things.” And while Hurst was impressed by Banerjee’s accomplishments, she was less than impressed by him leaving quickly after. “I said, ‘You tell me three things.' And then I left—and I don't think that went over well,” he admits. Hurst remembers thinking, “What an arrogant guy.”
Even after their awkward encounter, they ended up finding each other the next day during a seminar. Like kids in school, they ended up writing notes back and forth to each other after Banerjee caught Hurst was mindlessly doodling. “We just kind of gravitated towards each other during breaks and whatnot,” he says. “It was just natural, because we had sort of similar perspectives and things to talk about.” They became comfortable with each other so quickly and so obviously that conference-goers even asked how long they had been a couple for.
Throughout the conference, they found more and more opportunities to see each other and talk. One night after drinks with colleagues, the two went out to dinner. “We talked for seven or eight hours, ages,” says Hurst. On the last day of the conference, Banerjee had invited colleagues to a bus tour of Athens, but only Hurst showed up. The two spent the whole day together, exploring Greece, and learning more about each other. Neither expected a romantic connection to form, though. Hurst was in her 20s, living in the UK, and Banerjee was in his 30s, living in Canada. “There were no stakes, because again, our thinking—at least my thinking—was I'll never see this person ever again,” recalls Banerjee. “So I can open up and get an honest third-party opinion on a whole bunch of different things, which I think led to deeper conversations.”
Hurst, knowing that Banerjee was more secure in his career, wanted to make sure he knew that she had a smaller budget for eating out when on the tour. The two were able to frankly and safely discuss finances. Hurst says, “It was just a very easy conversation about money and where we were in life, and he was just really respectful. He wasn't creepy or weird about it in any way.” She laughs and adds, “There's your headline, ‘Not creepy or weird.”
After a full day of travel, the pair went back to the hotel bar. In comfortable silence, they enjoyed the rest of the night by sipping red wine together and watching the Sun set over the gorgeous city. The next morning, Hurst walked Banerjee to his taxi. “Goodbye forever,” Hurst joked, trying to conceal her sadness. Neither had exchanged contact information, with the intent on leaving their friendship in Athens. But, as Hurst recalls, “I remember seeing his taxi drive off, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, man, there's no way that's the last time I'm going to see that guy. I just knew that I was going to see him again.’”
Months later, Hurst was back in Toronto for a conference. She had a hunch that Banerjee was also attending. She decided to follow him on Twitter and send him a message, where he quickly confirmed that he was attending. The pair met up and it was like they were in Greece all over again. “That's when we started to sort of think, ‘Oh, maybe there's more here than just someone you met at a conference,'” explains Banerjee.
Once back in the UK, Hurst received a message from Banerjee. He admitted he had feelings for her, and was hoping she felt the same. And while she had liked him from the moment she laid eyes on him in that elevator, she responded that their geographical barriers were too hard to overcome. While Banerjee was disappointed, he respected her boundaries and moved on.
Three days later, Banerjee received a message from Hurst. “Never mind,” she wrote. “I want to be with you.”
And so, with the help of FaceTime and intercontinental travel, the pair began a long-distance relationship. “I think we consciously made an effort to make the most of the limited time that we had together, which I think probably helped and probably accelerated the emotional journey,” Banerjee says. Six months into their relationship, Hurst told Banerjee that she loves him. He didn’t respond back with the same words. Once their call ended, Hurst wondered what she did wrong.
If we have learned anything from their many adorably awkward moments together, there was more than meets the eye. “Then, the next day, there was a knock on my door, and he'd already booked flights to surprise me in England, because he didn't want to say ‘I love you' on FaceTime,” Hurst explains. “He wanted to tell me in person.”
Many friends and family of the two have sworn to have known about their connection immediately, from Banerjee’s friends on the elevator to Hurst’s mom, who was called shortly after their first encounter. The couple have had no issues clicking with each other’s loved ones and weaving into each other’s lives. After three years of long-distance, the two moved in together, but that’s because the 2020 pandemic had struck. “I was in the air when Canada announced lockdowns,” Hurst says.
The worldwide lockdown gave the couple a chance to discuss their relationship and their futures. Once things opened up, they had decided on moving to London, where Hurst felt at home and Banerjee welcomed newness. “I see it as an adventure, as well as, you know, being with the person that I love. So that was a pretty easy decision at the end of the day,” he admits.
Before they had moved, though, Banerjee explains, “We had officially gotten engaged sitting on the couch during the pandemic in Toronto. But it was a very unromantic and unceremonious proposal.” To make up for it, he planned for a more romantic and more ceremonious proposal to happen while they were on vacation in Monaco.
While sipping champagne on a private balcony, overlooking the romantic city, Banerjee proposed again, to which Hurst, again, said yes. And while the evening was perfect and picturesque, he admits it would have been more apt if he got down on one knee in the elevator on their way up to the balcony. “That would have been very poetic,” he concedes, laughing. “I'm just not that creative.”
As they now plan their wedding, they often find themselves reflecting back on that moment in the elevator, where Banerjee innocuously struck up a conversation and where Hurst first fell for him. “Everything just feels like this is the way it should be… so looking back on how it all unfolded feels kind of surreal,” Banerjee says. “It's all these little forks in the road that, had the situation just been a little bit different, none of this would have happened, which is crazy, because I think that we're soulmates.” Hurst adds, “For me, the takeaway that I have is you just don't know what can happen.”
Scroll below to see adorable moments the couple have shared online.
In the summer of 2017, Cheryl Hurst and Preet Banerjee happened to be on the same elevator, at the same hotel, attending the same conference in Athens. They quickly found out they had a lot in common.
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I told @preetbanerjee I wanted new photos for my website/life and he went full on photoshoot photographer. I felt like a 1990's Ralph Lauren covergirl. He even gave me the friends and family discount! pic.twitter.com/0x5J50QsfH
— Cheryl Hurst, PhD (@CherylmHurst) May 13, 2021
After some adorably awkward moments, the pair found themselves finding reasons to talk to each other during the conference. They went out for drinks, explored the city together on a bus tour, and talked for hours on end.
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And after another chance encounter at a conference in Toronto, they admitted they were more than just conference buddies. With the help of FaceTime and intercontinental travel, they started a long-distance relationship.
Happy Valentine's day to my favourite dude who also happens to share my taste in photo styles x pic.twitter.com/v4BJKBJJ3Q
— Cheryl Hurst, PhD (@CherylmHurst) February 15, 2022
In 2020, three years after they became an item, they moved in with each other in Toronto. They planned on moving to London together once the world opened back up.
The Toronto Skyline tonight is hard to believe tonight – impossible to capture in photos – rather ominous red and blue too.. pic.twitter.com/6VcZSKVsYe
— Cheryl Hurst, PhD (@CherylmHurst) November 3, 2020
And now, they’re planning a wedding, proving that you just don’t know what could happen when you board an elevator.
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