Updated: Mar 27, 2020
By Nikki Zimbler
I’m currently writing this in a hotel bar in Valencia, having enjoyed four rather drunken, sunburnt, blister-inducing days with a mate of mine. Before her arrival, I was in Murcia, and before that Seville, both of which are in Spain. I’ve decided that I need to spend more time exploring this country, but not right now, as I probably should spend some time with my husband of eight weeks. That’s right, I’m not honeymooning with my betrothed, I’m taking solo trips and having mini-breaks with friends.
Oh, and two years ago, I was VERY happily single. So how did this proud spinster end up living this very unconventional married life?
My school days were conventional – working hard and playing lots of tennis, hockey and netball. Then I left school and went to work at a TV production company, before landing a woefully paid job for an independent film director. That led to jobs at Reuters on the Showbiz Desk then at a talent management company. I was living the life, or so it seemed from everyone else’s point of view.
I was unhappy – deep down to my core. I had money in the bank, a lovely apartment, theatre and cinema premieres and a great circle of friends, I was stressed, depressed, manic and miserable.
Not Just a Phase
So I took the very frightening decision to give up my London life and jump on a plane to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) to have a four-month trial with a tour company as a Tour Leader. My mother thought I was joking, my father was annoyed with me for giving up a career I was doing well in, and my brother just looked at me with a baffled expression and an eye roll, saying it was “just a phase” and that I’d be back in no time.
But I took the leap and started working in Vietnam in 2011. I was so out of my depth that the Imposter Syndrome lasted for about seven months. I was petrified most of the time. The humidity was playing havoc with my hair, my make-up was melting, sweat was accumulating but very, very slowly, I was getting happy - properly, genuinely happy. It was an incredible feeling to leave all that makes sense to you, and head into a situation that was as far from normal as I could find. But miraculously, it had been just what I needed and I was the most content I’d ever been. I was 36 years old.
One week I would be leading a tour through Cambodia, the next I would be at a Vietnamese homestay in the Mekong Delta. I spread my tour leading wings into Japan, Thailand, China, Laos and Myanmar. In between tours, I would be based in Saigon and sharing a house with 15 other Tour Leaders. They were like my brothers and sisters and the bond we had was superb.
My social life was with them most of the time, and a few mates I’d made along the way. Tinder scratched the itch when needed and those dates took place in four of the seven countries I worked in. Life was fucking fantastic!! I was eating, shagging and not praying my way around SE Asia. Take that, Julia Roberts!
Mr. Swipe Right
After five brilliant years, I hung up my tour-leading cap, and took a job in Siem Reap, Cambodia as an Operations Coordinator for another tour company. It meant that I could finally rent a place of my own, join a gym, socialise with the expat community and establish some roots.
Tinder continued to be my go-to source for fun nights out--and overnight I was living my best life-- at 41 years old.
But one swipe right changed my magnificent spinster life.
As was usually the case, I figured it would simply be a couple of dates before he moved on to another part of Asia. But this man was different – an online entrepreneur with no particular place to be. We had three dates in Siem Reap and the fourth date was a few weeks later in Bali when I had some downtime from work. A couple of months later, he moved in with me. I had never lived with anyone before, and it took a while to adjust to having to share my apartment with someone, every single night.
Miraculously, it was a lot easier than I had imagined. We fell into a routine and I managed to maintain some degree of independence with my nights out with the girls, work functions and crazy nights at the local hangout with 120 members of the Siem Reap expat community.
When You Know, You Know
One night, as the sun was setting, he got down on one knee and asked me to spend the rest of my life with him. And like those cheesy Hallmark cards say: “When You Know, You Know”, so without hesitation, I said, “YES.” Honestly, not for a microsecond, because by that point, we’d discussed all of it – the whats, ifs, whys and why nots – all of it. I’d been open with him about my need for space, for time alone, and he’d completely agreed. It was essential to who we are as individuals, and the respect we had for each other meant that it was a no-brainer when we came up with the idea of a ‘Me Week’ every three months.
A few weeks after the engagement, I left him to fly to Ecuador to join a trip to the Galapagos Islands. After my return, he left me to head to Bali for his ‘Me Week.’ We both came back recharged and refreshed, with stories to tell and experiences of our own to share. We also take ‘Me Days’ in-between when needed – days when either one of us can opt to say, “See you later,” and come back before midnight. No questions asked unless you voluntarily choose to share any info. If you don’t, you don’t. The trust is there, so there’s no need for a ‘Spanish Inquisition’ couples edition.
And eight weeks ago, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, we exchanged vows in front of a small group of friends and family in the UK. We danced twice together during the wedding, but spent most of the day and night on separate sides of the room. We didn’t need to be at each other’s side – we have the rest of our lives for that.
We left Cambodia over a year ago, choosing to be proper nomads, without a door key. I took up writing and he continued to grow his online business which is a marketplace listing coliving spaces around the world. We live in these coliving spaces, or in rental homes, or sometimes in hotels. But we have maintained the ‘Me Week’ routine, and it’s working perfectly. It gives me the chance to miss him, to get excited about reuniting with him and gives us plenty to talk about when we are snuggled up together on the sofa with a glass of wine. We’ve decided to extend the week if needed, but never to go more than three weeks apart.
So what’s the reaction been from friends and family? Surprisingly little.
I don’t envisage us doing this forever, but definitely for the foreseeable future. I love it. I haven’t changed my surname to his yet. It’s not essential. I have a marriage certificate sitting proudly in my tiny envelope of important documents, and that’s all I need for now.
I adore loving him and leaving him. I love the freedom we give each other, and the respect and trust that goes with it. I was never going to live a traditional lifestyle, and I’ve found my male equivalent.
Sure, I’ve had a few raised eyebrows from people who don’t know me, and that’s absolutely fine, because they’re not important people in my life, so their unwanted feedback doesn’t bother me. Let them be confused, let them voice their opinions – I’ve dealt with naysayers all my life and after a while, it’s like water off a duck’s back. If it doesn’t sit right with them, it’s their issue, not mine.
I could have happily lived out the rest of my days as a strong, financially independent, vibrant, sexually adventurous spinster, but I swiped right on a good’un and it’s led me to be a happily married solo traveller. Here’s to being unconventional – it rocks!
Writer Bio: Nikki is a writer, focusing on travel, environmental issues, and wellness. She’s traveled extensively throughout Europe and SE Asia. Her TripAdvisor profile is https://www.tripadvisor.com/Profile/Writefully, and she can be contacted for work-related matters via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. She can also hook you up with a $25 discount on your first Coliving.com stay; just reach out to her for a referral code.