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She set out to find a husband in a year. Then she matched with a guy on a dating app on the other side of the world

Samantha Hannah was living in New Zealand when she matched on a dating app with Toby Hunter, who was in London. Here's the couple in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. (Samantha Hannah via CNN Newsource) Samantha Hannah was living in New Zealand when she matched on a dating app with Toby Hunter, who was in London. Here's the couple in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. (Samantha Hannah via CNN Newsource)

Samantha Hannah was travelling through Australia and New Zealand, soaking up new places and experiences, while simultaneously reflecting on her past and considering her life so far.

It was late 2017. Samantha, from Perth, Scotland, was 31. Her brother had passed away unexpectedly a couple of years previously.

“I wanted to go out and live my life as much as possible now he couldn’t,” Samantha tells CNN Travel.

Samantha’s brother had left her a little money.

“So I quit my job, and I spent that money on a ticket to go to Australia,” says Samantha. “And then I moved to New Zealand for a bit and was just trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.”

Samantha had always loved comedy and she’d worked the U.K. comedy circuit for a little bit in her mid-20s. Now –as she checked into hostels and spent evenings with fellow backpackers in Aussie pubs, or hiking beautiful New Zealand scenery – Samantha kept considering, in the back of her mind, the idea of potentially returning to the stage.

But if Samantha was going to go back to comedy, she wanted to do it differently this time round. She wanted to come back with a one-hour show, one with a strong concept she believed in wholeheartedly.

In the meantime, whenever Samantha checked social media to see what was happening back home, yet another friend seemed to be announcing an engagement on Facebook. Or posting an ultrasound photo on Instagram. Or sending an excited WhatsApp message with a photo of dangling keys, in front of a newly purchased home.

Samantha was happy for all her friends, but she also marvelled at how everyone had suddenly grown up, while she was single, unemployed and travelling, with no fixed address.

Maybe I should find a husband, Samantha thought absentmindedly as she scrolled through the series of engagement photos. And suddenly, an idea for a comedy show was born.

“I thought I’d write a show called ‘How to find a husband in a year,’” says Samantha. “What does it look like if you actually set that as a target? It was very tongue in cheek, I wasn’t actually expecting to meet anyone.”

While based in New Zealand capital Wellington, Samantha downloaded dating app Tinder “and started saying yes to everyone.” She announced her intentions on her dating profile, explaining she was writing a show and warning potential matches that “any Tinder interaction may be used for material.”

Samantha figured the more dates she went on, with as many men as possible, the more fodder she’d have for her comedy show – and, theoretically, the higher the likelihood she might find a potential husband in the fold.

Not long into her quest, Samantha swiped right on a guy called Toby. She liked that he had a picture with a dog and “looked like he travelled a lot.”

He also “seemed like he had a personality.” His bio – the little summary dating app users write about themselves – was “funny and original.”

The only fly in the ointment – while this guy Toby was seemingly from New Zealand, when he matched with Samantha, he wasn’t living there.

“Congrats on your match 12000m away,” Toby wrote to Samantha. “How’s that hubby hunting going for you?”

An unexpected match

Like Samantha, in late 2017 Toby Hunter was going through a transitional period. Originally from Gisborne, New Zealand, he’d grown up in Napier, gone to college in Wellington and then, in his mid-20s, moved across the world to London.

Now he was 30, recently out of a long-term relationship and unsure whether to stay in the U.K. or return home.

“I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do at that point, whether I wanted to stay in London, move back to New Zealand,” Toby tells CNN Travel. “I spent six months in Bali, learning to surf, just trying to work it out.”

As he considered the future, Toby adjusted his Tinder settings to expand out of west London and include Wellington, New Zealand – partly because he worked in analytics, and was intrigued by how the Tinder algorithm worked. And partly because Toby was wondering what it might be like to be single in his old college town.

He quickly found the Wellington dating pool to be full of people he vaguely knew – friends of friends or old college acquaintances. Samantha, with her “fun, different bio” announcing her comedy show plans and husband-hunting intentions, stood out.

Toby recalls Samantha’s profile also mentioning “travelling, and that she really liked melon.”

And she listed her college, which was in the U.K.

“So I guessed she was maybe English,” recalls Toby. “Also, I thought she was cute.”

Samantha and Toby hit it off when they matched on Tinder -- despite being on opposite sides of the world. Here they are later on, walking the Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand. (Samantha Hannah via CNN Newsource)

As they started exchanging messages, Samantha and Toby realized that although they were on opposite sides of the world, they were each living in cities the other was very familiar with – Samantha had spent years living in London, while Toby knew Wellington well.

“We enjoyed the irony,” says Samantha.

“We could also relate to what each other was up to pretty easily, which made for a good conversation,” adds Toby. “Sammy was missing parts of London, I was missing parts of N.Z.”

That first day, they exchanged hundreds of messages back and forth. The connection – and the ease – was obvious right away.

Samantha mentioned some of her friends were coming over to join her soon, and that the group were going to travel around New Zealand. Toby instantly sent over a list of recommendations of places they should go.

Then Samantha shared funny stories of the “horrific dates” she’d endured on her husband-hunting quest. Toby sympathized – he’d been on plenty of bad dates himself.

Then, a couple of days after they’d first connected, Samantha was messaging Toby while out at a bar.

Several glasses of wine in, she decided to spontaneously call him.

“It was the first time we’d ever spoken,” Samantha recalls.

She was standing outside a pub, amid crowds of drinkers, when Toby answered. His face, surprised then happy, popped up on Samantha’s phone screen. But then, almost instantaneously, a fight broke out next to Samantha and she decided to intervene and try to break it up.

“So I quite literally picked up the phone to a Scottish accent shouting, ‘Leave it, he’s not worth it,’” recalls Toby.

“It wasn’t a serious fight,” explains Samantha. “Just a silly scuffle. But yes, I helped break it up.”

Civilian duty done, Samantha turned her attention back to the video call. It wasn’t a long chat, but it was “fun” to see Toby’s face, and it didn’t feel like chatting to a stranger.

As for Toby, when answered the call he’d felt “nervous excitement.” But almost immediately, chatting with Samantha became “just easy.”

Toby figured that when New Zealand morning rolled around, Samantha might be a bit hungover, so he organized a breakfast bagel to be sent to her hostel, a move she thought was “real smooth.”

And so their back and forth continued. Samantha’s friends arrived and the group started exploring New Zealand, finding themselves in Napier, the city where Toby had spent much of his childhood, and where his parents still lived.

“My parents own a fish and chip shop there,” Toby told Samantha. “You should pop in and say hi to them.”

That would be a bit rogue, Samantha thought, but it might also be a fun anecdote for the comedy show. She told him they’d plan to swing by.

Meanwhile, Toby mentioned to his parents that Samantha might call into the cafe, struggling to describe who she was to him.

“Because what were Sammy and I? It was two, three weeks deep,” says Toby. “We weren’t exactly dating. We were just chatting. Chatting a lot.”

In the end, he just described Samantha as a “friend from out of town.”

And she was easy for Toby’s parents to spot. Samantha and her friends “stuck out like a sore thumb”, as Samantha puts it.

“I’m from the U.K. There’s a very different standard of dress there than in New Zealand. New Zealand’s very casual – like, you go to the fish and chip shop most people don’t have shoes on,” she says.

Samantha and her friends arrived in full hair and makeup, wearing heels.

“We got very, very dressed up,” she says.

Toby’s mother instantly guessed Samantha must be the friend Toby had mentioned. Toby’s father took a photo of Samantha and her friends looking quizzically at the menu. The whole thing was quite surreal, made only more so by the fact that Samantha had now met Toby’s parents before she’d actually met Toby in person.

After the stop-off in Napier, Samantha’s friends were continuing their travels, but Samantha was at a crossroads. She wanted to meet Toby in “real life” and started considering how she could make that happen.

She didn’t necessarily think she’d achieved her husband-hunting goal, but Samantha had an inkling her connection with Toby might be something special.

Toby felt the same way. He was an analyst, someone who worked in statistics – and the statistics seemed to suggest this was a no ordinary dating app match.

“We’d been chatting a heck of a lot,” he says.

Samantha and Toby moved to New Zealand in 2021. Here they are by Mount Ngauruhoe while hiking the Tongariro Crossing. (Samantha Hannah via CNN Newsource)

Meeting in ‘real life’

Samantha and Toby agreed that Samantha would book a December flight to London, and they’d finally meet in person.

Toby promised to meet Samantha at the airport. Up until that point, Samantha had the idea that Toby was a very organized person – what with the myriad of New Zealand tips, and the breakfast bagel delivered to her hostel – but then she arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport and Toby was nowhere to be seen.

“I was just waiting there, like I’d been stood up, like I’d been catfished, just waiting for the MTV film crew to appear or something,” she says. “Also, I’d been on a 30-hour journey, so it was not the best.”

It turned out Toby hadn’t considered that the London Underground wouldn’t be running in the early morning, when Samantha landed. He frantically texted apologies and eventually got a train to the airport.

In the meantime, Samantha hit the airport bathroom “trying to freshen up my hair and make-up and become presentable.”

When Toby eventually arrived at Heathrow, he was holding a two-litre bottle of Copella apple juice. When Samantha saw him, she burst out laughing.

In the lead-up to her visit, Toby had asked Samantha about the things she most missed about the U.K. Top of her list was Copella juice, an unassuming U.K. juice brand that isn’t stocked in New Zealand. When Toby was considering what to bring to the airport, the answer was a no-brainer.

“I’m practical, not a flowers guy,” Toby says today. “I figured juice was a good choice.”

“Also, at least I knew who he was,” jokes Samantha, “I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, he’s the guy with a massive juice in his hand.’”

Over the next few days, Samantha – who was staying in Toby’s apartment – and Toby got to know each other in person. Toby recalls feeling “excited and also maybe a little confused about what was next.”

The first day, Toby showed Samantha his London – his favourite West London pubs and brunch spots. The second day, Samantha showed Toby her version of the city.

“I used to work for Madame Tussauds, so I got free tickets to things like the London Dungeons and so I just took him to all the attractions,” says Samantha. “So we’re doing all those sites, and lots of brunches, lots of meals.”

Toby and Samanta’s non-stop messaging conversation translated well into real-life conversations. They enjoyed each other’s company, talking about everything and anything.

And all in all, the two were pretty much how they expected one another to be – except Toby was “a tiny bit taller” than Samantha expected, and less organized. And Samantha was more spontaneous than Toby first realized. She was always “free with her thinking and planning” – happy to see how things went, and not account for every eventuality.

Samantha stayed with Toby for a week or so, then went to visit family in Scotland. In the meantime, Toby went skiing, had an accident and broke his leg. When Samantha returned to London, Toby was in a bad way. Without any spoken agreement between them, Samantha committed to “nurse him back to health” and also keep up Toby’s spirits and help him still enjoy London life while he was in a cast.

“So we’d go around the Design Museum, and Toby would be in a wheelchair and I’d be pushing him around,” recalls Samantha.

Time moved on, and Samantha didn’t return to New Zealand. Somewhere along the line, she and Toby committed to giving their relationship a proper go.

“I don’t even think we had a conversation about it,” says Toby. “But we were spending 24/7 together.”

Samantha says the decision was obvious “pretty much as soon as we met in real life.”

Toby and Samantha are looking forward to a future together. (Samantha Hannah via CNN Newsource)

In time, Toby met Samantha’s family. Toby and Samantha introduced each other to their friends.

“Our friends were all for it and supportive,” says Samantha.

“They thought it was a pretty wild story, excited to follow along,” says Toby.

Meanwhile, Toby called his parents and told them that the girl who’d arrived, over-dressed, in their fish and chip shop was now his girlfriend. They were delighted for him, their delight only slightly tempered by their horror at having charged Samantha for the fish and chips.

“To this day, Toby’s mum says that’s her biggest regret,” says Samantha.

Telling the story on stage

In July 2018, Samantha performed her first preview of her show: “How to find a husband in a year” in London. Toby was in the audience. For him, the experience was a surreal and proud moment.

“While I knew Sammy was a funny person, I hadn’t seen her on stage,” says Toby. “She killed it, was a great laugh and funny retelling of our story.”

Samantha says she had no qualms about sharing details of her romance with Toby on stage.

“It just made it more fun to have a fun story attached to it,” she says.

That summer, Samantha took the show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the prestigious Scottish comedy showcase. The eye-catching title – and great backstory – sparked a few headlines in the U.K. press, and Samantha left Edinburgh feeling proud and excited. She didn’t actually have “a husband” – but she had a committed partner, a promising comedy career and the future looked bright.

The following January 2019, Samantha and Toby formally moved in together in London.

“We settled down,” says Samantha. “Started being more like a regular couple.”

And then, after several years together in London, in 2021 Samantha and Toby took another leap together and relocated to New Zealand.

“For me, fundamentally, I always wanted to be back in New Zealand at some point,” says Toby. “And Sammy was kind of brought into the New Zealand lifestyle.”

The couple rented a flat in Wellington with views of the ocean, and immediately felt like they’d make the right decision. Then they bought their first home.

“It’s just gorgeous,” says Samantha of New Zealand. “We’re really settled here.”

Last year, Samantha’s parents came out to Wellington to visit and met Toby’s parents for the first time.

“They all get on so well, it was really cute,” says Samantha. “Now they all send each other messages, they’re Facebook friends.”

Building a life together

Today, Samantha’s still writing comedy. She posts updates on her work on her Instagram account and she’s currently focused on preparing for the New Zealand International Comedy Festival in May.

It’s been a while since Samantha performed the show about meeting Toby – after all, it’s almost seven years since they first started messaging one another from opposite sides of the globe. How they met doesn’t seem as significant as it once did.

“It was a really fun experience for both of us,” says Samantha of their unusual courtship. “And then it just became normal. We’ve been together for six, seven years, and we’ve had so many different stages that we sometimes forget that’s how we met.”

Still, Samantha continues to credit the show for spurring on the relationship.

Although all this said, technically Samantha still hasn’t “found a husband.” She and Toby aren’t married.

“I’ll let Toby answer that one,” says Samantha, laughing, when asked about the couple’s perspective on marriage.

“I’m sure it’ll happen at some point,” says Toby, also laughing.

Toby and Samantha both wanted to meet in person and finally did in December 2018. Here they are the following year, on vacation in Budapest, Hungary. (Samantha Hannah via CNN Newsource)

It’s actually become a recent gag in Samantha’s comedy that Toby hasn’t proposed, but while she enjoys joking about it and “watching Toby have to squirm for a little bit,” Samantha says her material is actually about “societal pressure and how you shouldn’t have to do anything in a traditional way.”

“That includes marriage,” Samantha says. “And for us, it’s just a grown-up conversation that we’ll have and we’ll decide how we want to do it, if that fits into our plans.”

Toby says even when Samantha teases him on stage, he’s always very “proud of her when she performs.”

“Seeing how she’s grown from smaller rooms in London to playing to audiences of more than a thousand people, it’s really cool,” he says.

For Toby, watching Samantha on stage is also a moment when he reflects on how lucky he is that she came into his life.

“We’re both really lucky,” adds Samantha. “We’ve got such an awesome life that we’ve built so much over the last six years, together.”

One time, Samantha asked Toby if he could use his analytic skills to work out the statistical odds of the two of them meeting in the first place – she thought the stat might be fun to include in the show.

Toby wasn’t able to figure it out, but the question made them both ponder on the likelihood of their meeting and falling in love – how grateful they are that it happened.

“Life can change at any moment, but especially when you put yourself in new situations or outside of your comfort zone,” says Toby.

“Leaving my job and London to travel changed the whole course of my life,” agrees Samantha. “I now live in New Zealand with a partner I love, in a beautiful house and get to perform comedy regularly. Neither of us were super happy just before we met, but I think it’s safe to say we’re both really happy now.”

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