By: Rob Howe
The first time I saw Tamara was…
Actually, wait, let’s start this way. The first time I saw Tamara’s backpack was in the late summer of 2014. I was waiting for her at the bus station in Madrid, and the first thing I saw was this giant backpack as she appeared at the top of the escalator. It seemed a pretty large backpack for such a small girl. Then again, Tam was in the middle of a round-the-world tour. She covered much of South-East Asia and was now on her way through Spain to Morocco. She’d stopped in Spain long enough to do a few stages of the Camino de Santiago, and had decided to spend a few days in Madrid before flying to Rabat.
I was pretty new to couchsurfing. I’d recently finished a long-term (and long-distance) relationship. In fact, perversely enough, after years of dating I’d moved to Spain to be with this (Spanish) girl, and we’d finished within 3 months. C’est le vie! Now, I was living in Madrid, with no friends. What better way then, to meet new people than to offer my couch to travellers? I’d recognised that I lived a desirable city, in a desirable area, and I’d been a traveller too, before the 9-5 took over. Offering a couch for the night was a way of not only socialising, but to wind back the years and feel that travelling urge again.
I should say at this point that I wasn’t looking for any kind of relationship. Ok, hands up, I’m no kind of monk, so if the opportunity presented itself for some adult time, then I certainly wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. However, I certainly wasn’t one of these creepy guys who use couchsurfing as a primary means to get laid. In fact, I had a policy – in order to stop single girls thinking that I was only looking for a leg-over, I wouldn´t offer to host anyone. If they wanted to stay, they’d have to ask me.
Good intentions, eh? I did offer to host Tam, and yes, it’s difficult to say that my intentions were entirely honourable. From her profile picture she had a cute smile and big brown eyes. I was attracted to her. So shoot me. Tam is Russian, from St. Petersburg, so when I send her the offer to host, I told her that I liked Russian literature (which I do) and that it was always a place I wanted to visit (which it was). I figured she’d have a ton of other offers, so I didn’t expect that she’d accept mine. She did, based on the strength of that message. She was impressed that I’d make an effort to write it and finds some common ground.
Anyway, she arrived. I put her up on the inflatable bed in the spare room, and then showed her around Madrid the next day. For the evening we took in a flamenco show, and the next day she was on her way to Morocco. Seemingly, end of story…
But then we maintained some contact, and she decided to come back and stay for another few days. Things got a little more (ahem) adult that week, and she returned to Morocco again. Long story short, she came back another couple of times, and then went back to St. Petersburg. I went to see her in the Spring of 2014, and that’s when started to talk about marriage…
Well, joke about marriage, more than anything else. Tam, as a Russian, can only spent 90 days in Europe on a Schengen visa. 90 days in, 90 days out. Now, I had no intention of maintaining another long-distance relationship. I’d resigned myself to a life of bachelorhood and masturbation. If I could get laid occasionally, so much the better, I’m not made of wood. But, you know, I wasn’t going to hopping between Madrid and ‘Piter’ every month. Been there, done that, learned that lesson.
The joke about getting married became more and more frequent. As a UK citizen, if I married Tam, then she could come and get a residence permit as a ‘Family Member of a EU Citizen’. Eventually, a decision had to be made. We either go our separate ways, or we get married, as that was the only realistic way we were going to be able to stay together. I realised that I didn’t want to be without her, and basically I thought ‘fuck it, I’m 42 years old. It feels right, so I’m just going to do it.’ If it didn’t work out then no harm, no foul. The institution of Marriage (with a capital M) wasn’t really that sacred to either of us, so we proceeded on the basis that we could divorce easily later if it all went pear-shaped.
So, we decided we wanted the cheapest and easiest way of getting married. We researched it and found that either Cyprus or Gibraltar was our best bet. Gibraltar, being a British Overseas Territory, was the obvious choice (as I’m English) as well as being driveable from Madrid. All we needed were our passports and birth certificates, so we drove down to the Rock in late June 2015, and tied the knot.
We had no family or friends there. We asked the couple who got married in the ceremony before us to act as our witnesses, which they gracefully agreed to do. We did the ceremony with two rings we’d picked up in St. Petersburg for about $20 each! We had breakfast in our wedding suits in a UK-style pub, then took our own wedding pictures on the island, using the self-timer and a tripod. We then jumped in the car and drove 8 hours back to Madrid that night as a newly-married couple.
I don’t want anyone to think that we married merely out of convenience. We were in love, still are, and things are great nearly 9 months down the line. It would be a lie to say that there wasn’t some degree of administrative convenience, but if that was the case at the beginning, it certainly isn’t now.
Rob is English, but hasn’t lived in England for years. Now he lives in Madrid, Spain with two rats (Fox and Badger) and Tam’s Yorkshire Terrier (Virgil). Tam is half-Armenian, half-Russian, from St. Petersburg.
Here is a cute video of Rob and Tam!!