With this owl, with this heart

I had my first appointment with the fertility clinic on Monday while I was in Menlo Park to discuss the process for freezing my eggs in the hope that this will give me more time and more options to have a baby in the future. It was an intense experience and that has left me mired in a tidal wave of grief, anger, and loneliness over the past few days. It’s also rekindled the fraught feelings I had about leaving Jay and our relationship because it’s so very much the place I was trying so hard not to end up: alone in a cool, white medical waiting room with a failed relationship in one arm and the other empty where I expected our baby would one day be.

And yet, that’s exactly where I was for half of Monday, filling out paperwork, watching as the doctor pointed out how the dots precipitously dropping down the right-hand side of the graph were indicative of my fertility at this age, trying to process the reality that only one of every ten eggs they harvest will likely result in a live birth, and that every month I wait to do this, the likelihood of getting enough eggs out of a preservation procedure to make a baby even possible will continue to decline. Once they’d taken me down that sobering statistical  journey I was introduced to the financial manager, whose job it is to tell women like me what it costs to freeze your hopes and dreams into a cryogenic test tube for later use. For the record, that is anywhere from $12,000 to $18,000, excluding the cost per visit to the clinic, or the mammogram, the genetic testing, acupuncture, supplements, and other appointments that I must have completed before the preservation process can even begin. By the time I left the office hours later, I was carrying a to-do list as long as my arm that also felt like a bag of stones on my heart.

I managed to get to the gym (where I have a lifetime membership c/o my ex’s massive financial donations to the local cultural community center) and get a swim in before the bullshit wave hit again. As I drove down the road on my way to a friend’s house, I started to cry so hard I had to pullover because I thought I might pass out. The fact that I had to stop the car over and cry on the side of the road – because the home I once had there is no longer my home – made those sobs feel even more suffocating and sad than they already were.

At the risk of sounding repetitive to the approximately 4 people who currently read and know about this blog…this is not the scene I envisioned for my life. I was not meant to feel like an alien in this town I thought once was going to be the place I finally got to nurture into a long-term home. I was not meant to go through this bullshit medical procedure to save my eggs at all, or at the very least, I wasn’t supposed to be doing it by myself. Perhaps the worst part is the self-loathing I allow myself to feel about going to this dark place of pain where the pity party takes over and shades everything in this pale shade of failure and despair. Like, look at what a mess you’ve managed to make of your life with nothing to show for it now besides a sad manila envelope of paperwork detailing that stark reality that you have pushed this to a brink from which you may not be able to come back from. It is hard not to feel angry at the world and at myself and at Jay. It didn’t seem so complicated when we started – there was love there, real love. Why was that not enough to make it work? Why wasn’t it enough to keep us from getting to this place.

When I am in the dark place I do dark things as if to reinforce the magnitude of my own personal failures and flagellate myself for every bad decision I’ve ever made, by making more bad decisions. I stopped in Santa Rosa on the way home on Tuesday night and got obliteratingly drunk with an old friend which is the first time I’ve gone hard on the alcohol in almost four months. I threw up several times on the 2 hour trip (which took me almost 4) back to Mendocino the next day and spent the last 30 miles of the drive huddled over the steering wheel shaking uncontrollably as my muscles spasmed from hangover dehydration and plummeting electrolytes. I knew what I was doing when I took that first sip of wine on Tuesday evening – I wasn’t there to have a good time, I was there to forget this shitty situation I’ve gotten myself into by physically punishing myself for ever getting into this shitty situation in the first place. It was a method of dysfunctional distraction therapy and a reminder of how easily I could let my mental health drift southward if I allowed myself to go to that place. I think too that hearing a doctor tell you that your fertility may be in the toilet oh and ALSO you need to stop the now limited number of bad habits you still enjoy – the [very] occasional drink, marijuana toke, COFFEE FOR CHRISTSSAKE, is enough to push anyone into a space of “fuck you watch me” right quick. Sobriety is a process of nonlinear healing and this week I think I needed to slip up to put me back on the straight and narrow.

My therapist – bless her and her seemingly limitless well of empathy and therapeutic forgiveness – gently suggested to me on Tuesday afternoon as I sobbed in her office about my anger and loneliness, while also chastising myself for feeling angry and lonely, that perhaps for now and the rest of the week, it was in fact ok to throw myself a pity party so long as I recognized that it was temporal and not the permanent state of things to be. I know she’s right, but there’s this fear in me that I am going to allow my fear to overwhelm my good sense, that I will permit myself to slide into a self-loathing state of depression by using this whole egg preservation thing as proof of my inability to create the kind of life I want for myself. Or that somehow I will open myself back up to a reconciliation with Jay despite knowing that he will not have changed or will not have changed enough to meet me halfway and actually make our life together a functional happy one. I’m scared of getting sucked back into the spokes of the wheel before I’ve had an opportunity to understand and see what it’s like to live a life that isn’t shadowed by emotional insecurity and pain.

I keep saying to myself and others that ‘what is just is’ right now. These are the circumstances of my life and whether they are good or bad are determined solely by how I choose to perceive them. The lines from Cesar Vallejo’s poem Down to the Dregs keep popping up into my head as I do this back and forth struggle to maintain feelings of levity and gratitude in spite of everything. He wrote about loss and I think about what the texture of apathy feels like as you walk the streets of your every day life after love breaks down – it is what I imagine grief would sound like if it had a voice.

‘Therefore, this afternoon, as never before, I walk
with this owl, with this heart.’

Keep calm and carry on

I’ve been struggling with how to write about this for over a week. I jot down notes or in some cases I’ve written what looks like a near complete blog post before sending it all to the virtual recycling bin. Something just hasn’t felt right about any of it and I think it’s in part because I’ve been trying to put a pair of rose colored glasses on past memories which isn’t particularly helpful when trying to be straight shooting and honest about an experience.

I found out two weeks ago that a man I dated in the summer of 2014 committed suicide a few years later. He wasn’t even 40 years old. The means by which I found out about this are bizarre to say the very least and perhaps I will write about how this information came to me at another point down the line. For now, I will say that the news about Tom reached me by way of Europe, which was inexplicable since our only connection to one another was from that summer we dated here in the US.

One of the things that I’ve been struggling to talk about is, in part, about who Tom was as a person. Keep in mind, I knew him 4 years ago and only for 11 or so weeks. But he has been one of those dating stories that has stuck with me as what I thought until now was a light hearted lesson on being more choosy in the online dating merry-go-round. As I remember more about him though, there’s been this real sense of unease that’s been manifesting itself as avoidance in my day-to-day life:  avoiding writing in my journal, smoking too much weed, thinking about day drinking (and in the end not doing it so cheers to me for that), and binge watching episodes of British period dramas on Amazon Prime, all in what I think has been an effort not to confront scary memories about the severity of his mental illness and how it made me feel at the time we were together. Also, this unsettling realization keeps forcing its way into my thoughts which is that Tom was an extreme example of a certain kind of man I’ve dated over the years who have all been on various points of a continuum of emotional need.

The memories I have of Tom are strong but they are not necessarily what I would recollect as happy. To be honest, I didn’t even clock that until I heard about his suicide and my mind started to spin back to 2014. As I mentioned, I had sort of constructed this funny, sardonic narrative around this brief relationship as a coping mechanism to talk about a period in my life that was actually a bit grim, unsettling and at times, scary. I do that a lot, particularly when I’m writing for an audience which I was on this blog back then. I brushed by the fling with Tom as a bullet I had dodged, making light of my experience with him as a means to calm myself down and shake off the feeling of disquiet that had draped over our summer together like a damp wool blanket.

Tom was a man living openly with a mental illness which he was honest with me about from nearly our first date. Having struggled with depression my entire life too I saw this as brave and courageous, him being so up front about his own grappling with severe depression and bipolar disorder. Tom was polite, sharply intelligent with beautiful blue eyes. And most important for me he was funny: self deprecating and deadpan, though his humor often had a subtle but hard edge that in hindsight confused me though I couldn’t put my finger why. As I got to know him more he opened up and shared in what felt like huge tidal waves of personal information in very short periods of time – namely, that he had been abused, badly and unimaginably as a child by members of an institution he should have been able to trust. I listened to these things wanting to be supportive but this was all new territory for me; I had never dated anyone in his position, nor have I experienced these things myself. Even as a former clinical social worker, it was hard to for me to understand what his barometer for normalcy was and where my own boundaries around empathy and care-taking (which I struggle to keep in check in even the best of circumstances) were supposed to land. I think I just accepted that severe depression and mental illness were a consequence that he now had to manage and as someone he was dating, I should be supportive and help him negotiate too. Jointly maintaining his mental health quickly eclipsed everything else in our relationship…and we had only been dating for a few weeks.

I keep having these flashbacks to that summer that come through almost as blurry after-images of conversations we had, or things we did together, and feel more like raw emotional memories instead of tangible, concrete visions. I remember at various times during that brief relationship having feelings of anxiety, trepidation, uncertainty, fear, guilt, and above all, a growing compulsion to run away from the situation because I felt like I wasn’t able to have my own challenges and problems since they were seemingly insignificant compared to his. Tom carried around this palpable mist of sadness, anger, detachment, and overall fragility like Pig Pen from Peanuts carries around that soft cloud of dust everywhere he goes. Everything vibrated on this very sad and anxious level that just wasn’t sustainable and in the end, I realized that there wasn’t enough emotional space for both of us to occupy in this relationship.

You have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help others. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

There are other things I keep ruminating on. The first being that I felt no sense of surprise or shock hearing the news that he had taken his own life, just incredible sadness for his family and a sinking feeling in my chest to realize that he felt as if he had no other way out. I feel guilty about that, even though I know that there is no one-script-fits-all response for this kind of situation. But even though there’s no protocol for mourning or processing the death of someone that you used to know, there are still feelings there, right? So where in your heart do you catalogue that peculiar and very particular kind of grief?

The other bundle of thoughts that has been weaving anxiously in and out of my mind for the past week are the memories of how I felt or the things that were going on in my life that summer way back in 2014. That was the summer I went to something like six weddings and was in four of them. My best friend from elementary school got married. My cousin got married. I stood for a friend as she walked down the aisle for the second time in her life. There was another wedding for my oldest friend, and yet another for a friend from my Malawi days.

I would not characterize it in this way now but at the time I thought this was the worst fucking summer of my life. I was a train wreck. I was in a job I despised and working for a woman who was mean-spirited and controlling; I was partying a lot, doing way too many drugs and drinking every weekend; I was angry about not making enough money, angry about being single, angry that I lived alone in a decrepit studio apartment in Oakland. I was, if you haven’t picked up on this by now, depressed. And not surprisingly, my dating life was reflective of this:  disappointing, unsatisfying, and lined with this think film of anger and hopelessness that I really believed was something that was happening to me versus the result of the kind of life I was permitting myself to believe was ok.

Tom came into my life during this time, after a string of other men who were not so great for me but who I had allowed to take up occupancy in my emotional and psychic warehouse. I felt needy and unwanted and like emotional black magic that is exactly the kind of person I attracted to myself during those dark days. Thinking about it now, years later, it feels disconnected and surreal, like I’m looking at myself through the glass walls of a giant aquarium. What I see is a 34 year old me who feels like she is in control of nothing in her life, who believes that the unhappiness she is experiencing is just the way things are and will have to be, that the hand she’s been dealt is pretty shitty but there’s nothing to be done but to suffer through it. It’s like I recognize her but I can’t see her face. I hear her but I can’t understand the words. I watch her and want to tell her that it’s still possible to change her life, but also that it will not happen until she is willing to sink all the way down to the bottom of the dark blue sea in order to find the footing in the sand she needs to kick back hard up to the surface where there is light, fresh air, and relief.

The last time I had any contact with Tom was when I received a FedEx box at my apartment several weeks after we broke up. It was filled with some things I had left at this place – a pair of sunglasses, a bathing suit, sunscreen – as well as a sun hat and some other items that clearly belonged to another woman. On the label, my first name had been misspelled, and my last name was someone else’s surname entirely. My initial reaction was self-pity and anger, like ‘wow, I spent almost three months with a man who didn’t even know my name’. Over time though and certainly now with the news of his suicide, it just makes me sad and reiterates the sense I had while we were together that there was not enough space for both of us in that relationship. He was doing the best with what he had.

It is unsettling and sad to me that some of the personal perspectives I’ve drawn over the past couple of weeks came at the cost of learning someone took their own life. I am sad for his family and his friends. I am sad for him. And I also have this complicated sense of relief and gratitude for the fact that I am not where I was in 2014. Life can be hard and demoralizing and scary and sometimes it is fleeting, but it is brilliant and it is precious. Make it count.

There is only ever after

I want this grief to go away. I want to stop feeling as though the packaging holding my skin and my body and my life together is punctured every time I get news that a friend is pregnant, or has had a baby. Or when baking-themed gender-reveals for people I hardly even know pop up on my Facebook feed. (Also, please just stop bringing cake into this). Every time, it feels like I allow a little piece of fear to wedge its way into my heart.

There is a couple I see at Big River almost every day, walking their dog and holding hands, while the woman cradles a baby in a pink sling over her chest. Their happiness is obvious and infectious and like a total psychopath, I cry almost every time I walk past them on the beach with my dog. Oh I hear you, it sounds bananas but this feeling isn’t mental – it’s a cellular level, base instinct response, like when the doctor taps your knees with one of those tiny little rubber hammers only it feels more like a baseball bat whacking my ovaries and sending shock waves involuntarily throughout my whole body. And yes, it is intellectually absurd to feel sad or jealous of total strangers or likewise, Facebook “friends” I actually haven’t spoken to or seen in years or ANYONE for that matter. But that’s the rub. I know rationally that it is an irrational reaction and that in no universe is someone else’s existence a referendum on the state of mine. And yet, those involuntary feelings are there and some days I am better at seeing them for what they really are: gremlins born of my own fears and insecurities, and a little bit of biological voodoo too.

I carry this sickening sense of anger with myself for not wanting to feel this way, as well as a heap of guilt for allowing my grief to morph into this monster that seems to capitalize on the abject joy of other people. I do not want to be this person. I do not want my own feelings of loss to make undeserving scapegoats of friends or even people I just sort of know, and certainly not random postcard perfect couples from a Mendocino beach.

Because, what if this is my reality for the rest of my life? What if the next 30+ years of my world take a path that does not involve becoming a biological parent? That’s a long fucking time to harbor misplaced feelings of resentment towards others and bitterness towards myself, and for a circumstance I have to take responsibility for putting myself in the first place.

When Jay and I got back together in 2017 we had already broken up twice. The first time, he broke it off with me it was early 2016 and it happened after four months of dating, ostensibly because I wanted our relationship to be exclusive and he was panicked about making that commitment. It devastated me. I sank into an immediate and intense period of depression. I started to drink heavily alone, something I had never done before and have not done since. I spent crazy long days at work. And at very unhappy happy hours after I would finally leave the office. I joined a Crossfit gym down the street from my apartment which I told everyone was because I was working on my Michelle Obama arms but really I needed somewhere to get angry and punish my body with burpees and wall balls for being so foolish as to fall in love with someone who obviously didn’t want me. Why do we do that to ourselves, when the object of our affection responds with apathy or in the extreme, with rejection? Why is it so easy to feel like it’s not them but YOU with the problem in that situation?

And, wait for it. And then…and THEN. I took him back five months later, which sounds completely bonkers now but hindsight at the time was not a thing. I missed him. I wanted to believe that we could be the fairytale that worked out when he realized his terrible mistake. But I couldn’t get past the feeling that he wasn’t 100% there, and I don’t think I had forgiven him for breaking my heart the last time. So I was the one who decided to leave after 4 months.

The reasons behind our third and final reconciliation are many. What I recall the most is the feeling of familiarity and comfort I felt with him early in that third go-round, like hey, maybe this can work after all. Maybe all that insecurity I had felt on and off over the past year had finally run its course and we had gotten it all out of the way. Maybe it was because it was the spring of 2017 and I needed something to tend to and grow. He told me he loved me. He told me he wanted to make it work and more importantly, that he was ready, really ready this time to make this happen. I wanted it to work. I wanted to stop looking and going on shitty dates with tech bros and cynical strangers in San Francisco. I wanted all that pain we had put each other through to be the magic that made us stronger in the long run. I was willing to ignore the feelings of fear and uneasiness I had for the possibility that I could be part of a real-life love story, complete with plot twists and turns that ends with an alter of peonies and roses, a white dress, a commitment and a baby. Suffering through the bad to get to the reward at the end.

But the problems that led to our final break-up were already there when we made that last go of things. I believe that he believed what he was telling me was true: Yes, he wanted kids. Yes, he eventually wanted to be a husband. And yes, he wanted that all to be with me. I heard the words but I ignored the niggling sense that they also carried with them the invisible weight of hesitancy, inertia and fear. I sidelined rationality and sent intuition back to the locker room because I wanted this win so badly I was willing to take the risk for a chance at a real-life happily ever after.

Sometimes I feel like maybe the reasons our life together didn’t work out are irrelevant only because it won’t change the circumstances of right now. It won’t make this hole I feel at the moment feel any less vast. If we had become parents together as my fantasy dictated there would undoubtedly be a heaviness of grief around our failure to be a family unit for our kid.

The real reason I feel compelled to unpack all of this is to better understand the long game I’ve been playing with love relationships my whole life. Jay was not the first man with whom I tried to force fit a life but I want him to be the last. I made a hundred little decisions every day to convince myself that I should stay, over and over again for months. Or if we’re counting every time we broke up and got back together, for years. I made a choice and took a risk when we made a go of it that third time. I did that to me, regardless of who he is or the problems he has or who he turned out to be because there was love there and it was real. It was just everything else, namely the stories we wove independently and with each other about who we could be, rather than facing the harder truth of our own limitations, that became our final undoing. A partnership built on hope and love alone is a beautiful dream but makes for a house created out of bricks of mist.

Those stories enabled me to emotionally betray myself in the end, by blurring the line between a leap of faith and a fall of a bridge until it simply disappeared. It left me with a leeriness about myself that cuts so much deeper than the duplicity of a partner’s promise. And when that happens you’re the one left holding the bag. You can’t push the blame off to another person or even point to an outside influence to take responsibility for something you were capable of clocking in the first place, or the second, and certainly the third. It leaves you scared of your own shadow, looking over your shoulder and wondering, will I be able to catch myself before I do that again? Or is there another bagel shop breakdown somewhere in my future?

In a terrific irony, I am comforted by the knowledge that I could have forced the baby issue and I did not. I could have set aside the emotional evacuation orders my heart was sending me in the months leading up to our break up and demanded that we try and get pregnant, knowing deep down that our relationship would probably default in the end. It’s a tangible piece of evidence that suggests I am trying to look out for myself, even when I’m drunk on fantasy and wandering through an emotional black out.

Here there be dragons

You will be in a bagel shop when your heart breaks in this relationship for the last time. Egg, avocado, and scallion cream cheese on an everything bagel to go. The woman across the counter passes this to you as a sense of urgency rises in your chest and you realize you have to get out of there, immediately. You can feel your face flush hot and pink as you try to hold back the searing tears that are now rising up your neck and catching just short in your throat. You are conscious of what is happening as if time has slowed down just enough for you to suddenly understand with perfect clarity what you have been resistant to believe or accept for months.

As this realization silently untangles beneath your ribs, you look up at your boyfriend’s face as he chats and pays the cashier. I love you, you think to yourself, and I don’t understand how we got to this place, here, and now. He looks up and smiles, waiting by the door so you can walk back to the car together, his sneakers squeaking on the worn linoleum as he turns to go outside. It is in this moment – the moment that is now seared like an iron brand into your memory – that you realize sharply and suddenly and with an irreversible sadness that this thing we are trying to do, this relationship, is utterly and permanently broken. You will never, ever get what you need from this man or this life. 

Later in the aftermath, after you have moved out of the big house on the cul-de-sac in silicon valley, about as far away as you can go without disappearing entirely to a town 250 miles north with nothing more than your dog and a pile of boxes, when you have finally have had the time and the emotional willingness to sit with and start to examine the disoriented pieces of your life, you cannot shake the feeling that in that moment of revelation, holding a bagel in your hand on that Sunday morning in December, you felt something physical – something solid, something real – break apart in your soul. 

***

It was not the announcement of the pregnancy that got me, or even the news – shared as though it were a bonus gift in the same sentence – that our other friend couple were also having a baby, due the same week in the spring. We had run into Jenna and Will in the parking lot on our way to the bagel shop in old Palo Alto. It was a Sunday and Jay and I had just picked up an old desk from someone on NextDoor to put in our guesthouse. We planned to grab some food and walk the farmers market before heading home. Of all the couples from Stanford we knew, Jenna and Will are by far some of my favorite people and I had known for awhile that they had been trying for a baby. Only a few weeks ago, Jenna and I had commiserated in my kitchen about the number of baby shower invites we continued to get and had bonded over the realization that we had both stopped attending these events because they can be triggering to participate in when you are childless, even temporarily, and not by choice. 

Now the four of us were standing in a parking lot as Will gushed with excitement over their pregnancy news, and Jenna announced that Ricardo and Fatima – another couple in Jay’s PhD program – were also having a baby, due at the same time. My initial reaction was real joy; I was so genuinely happy for them – how could you not be? The look of pure love on Will’s face when he looked at his wife, the way Jenna’s eyes teared up with what I imagine was a combination of sheer happiness and also relief as they told us…it was impossible not to want to share in that kind of palpable excitement. A new baby. They were going to have chubby, beautiful new baby and that was their everything right now.

But as we said our goodbyes and started to cross the parking lot towards the bagel shop, something inside me started to churn. In hindsight it almost felt like a deep burning, as if there was a kettle in the middle of my chest whose top was starting to tremble and groan under the growing pressure of the water inside. I knew where this was going though I had no idea how hot or how fiercely it was about to explode. When the emotions hit, they came in as a tidal wave of sadness, anger, disbelief, guilt, and grief that stunned me into a suffocating silence – I knew if I tried to say anything that the damn would break and I wouldn’t be able to stop it. By the time we got to the bagel shop I felt like I was going to be sick. And by the time we left, I knew that my four-year relationship was over. 

Weeks later, while in the process of packing up closets of clothing and shoes in this bewildered state of resignation and confusion, I came across the long dress that Jay had bought me last spring before our trip to Hawaii. It is a beautiful dress, with a high neck that parachutes down to the floor in long, flowing folds of gold, green, and crimson colored fabric. I remember looking at that dress in the Anthropologie catalog as Jay peered over my shoulder and coyly placed an order that he surprised me with the night before we left for the big island. I remember thinking how perfect it would be for a Hawaiian holiday…and to hide the signs of an early pregnancy at a friend’s wedding later that year. I also remember how much this had pleased me when I wore it for the first time, thinking that the next time I put it on we would be halfway to having a baby. I thought about this all with a sense of detached sadness and numbness as I gently folded that dress into a box and sealed the top with shiny clear tape.

It is amazing the kind of mental gymnastics your mind will do to maintain the illusion of what you want to believe. We were no closer to having a baby last April than we were when we broke up 8 months later. I was just more willing at the time to ignore the emotional sirens going off everywhere in my life than to admit that we were broken beyond what love and therapy could ever possibly hope to repair.

In my experience, the willingness to get real honest with yourself about why a relationship ultimately falters doesn’t stop at the moment of death; it continues well past the expiration date. It would be easy for me now and really forever, to craft a narrative that basically paints him as bad and me as blameless, and I know this because this is essentially every story you’ve ever heard me tell about every boyfriend I’ve ever had. They were shitty, and I was shiny, and that is more or less the order of things. It is easy to make this your truth because everyone – your friends, your family, sometimes even HIS friends – are conditioned to accept this version of reality. It provides a scripted role to for everyone play in the aftermath of relationship catastrophe, which includes your own. A call to arms to comfort you in your despair, assure you that everything will be all right, and insist that the next time – the next man – will be so much better than what you’ve left behind.

But be warned that here, there be dragons. This relationship end story you have bought into, this tale you have not even had to convince yourself or anyone else is true because it felt so easy to accept and carry on, is a warning and it is a lie. And it is how you end up in a bagel shop on a Sunday morning in December feeling the weight of your heart as it shatters into a million little pieces.

Whatever you do, make westing

I drove down to Menlo Park yesterday, as I do now every week, once a week, to take care of my regular physical therapy, and therapy appointments. Therapists of any kind – much like hair stylists – are not people you can just swap out of your life willy nilly so is driving 250 miles round trip once a week fucking bonkers? Yes, but also demonstrably no and I just have to live my life.

Also, 3 hours one way in the car driving down a coastal highway through redwoods and dairy farms and vineyards leaves a lot of time to think about all the reasons why you’re now living in a remote part of the coast of California that is hours away from nowhere and any town larger than about 7,000 people.

So on this long drive I was thinking about the name of this blog, and why something I pulled out of my brain as a 28 year old grad student now feels almost more important and applicable to the life I’m living right now, 10 years later, in a tiny town on the edge of the pacific. When I started SideStreet, is was really just going to be a medium to communicate back to people in the states what my life in Malawi looked like – I thought of it as a travel blog (which now feels naive and embarrassing and as a former aid worker, let this be the last time we ever describe or discuss it in that way again). 

What I wanted to convey was that feeling you get when you stumble upon something new, in a different place, as a stranger or a foreigner or whoever you might be. When I started traveling – I mean really traveling alone as an adult – it was 2003 and the internet and cell phones were barely a thing. The iPod did not exist, let alone a handheld computer with a camera that we now call a phone. My cell phone at the time was a Nokia (the fancy one with a flashlight, I’m not a savage) that by contemporary standards was about the size of a vaping device and was useful only for texting, finding things in the dark, and playing snake. When I left for Bolivia in January of that year I got on the plane with a backpacking pack, a Panasonic  “shock proof” CD Walkman, 12 carefully curated CDs, a film camera (real film!) and two Lonely Planet guides: Bolivia and South America. Those last two are important because as anyone older than 35 might recall at the time, there wasn’t a lot of reliable information on the internet about places to see, stay, eat, or how to get there and particularly for a country like Bolivia, having a consistent internet connection was barely a thing. You relied on what was in that lonely planet book and the notes you took from the advice of other travelers you met along the way. 

And you know what that advice nearly always had in common? Stay off the main drag. Hit the alleyways. Wander your way up the hill. Explore the side streets because that’s where the real treasures – the discoveries that make it feel like your heart might explode from the the mere magic of stumbling upon the beautiful ordinary of a city’s every day life – are hiding in plain sight. The ceviche place in La Paz that I cannot show you on a map but can only get to by memory on foot in that city. The morning I got lost near the cathedral and turned a corner into the weekend flower market where baskets overflowing with white and yellow flowers, and vendors selling coca leaves by the pound filled up almost a entire cobblestoned hill. The hostel that looked like a cross between Tatooine and Casablanca on the edge of the lake run by a crazy German guy that served the best trout filet I’ve ever had in my life. The memory of laying on a boulder at 15,000 ft in the Dali desert holding my friend Alyson’s hand and knowing that taking a photo would never capture the joy of feeling so small in such a vast, never ending space – that is a physical memory that can only exist in your body and in your heart. 

The main streets will try to capitalize on all of that. They will try desperately to communicate through flashy ads and loud music that THIS IS THE PLACE! The Hard Rock Cafe is the true character of this town. United Colors of Benetton have captured the nature and culture of this city scene. They will try, but no matter where you are in the world, it is always a frenetic farse, a poor imitation of something original and grand. Broadway in Nashville. Market Street in San Francisco. The red light district in Amsterdam. The Prado in La Paz. At its best it’s all just an amalgamation of mediocrity, a sea of buzzing neon reds and pinks and greens trying desperately to convince you that it has something new and different to offer, to trick you into feeling as though you have found something special and to draw you away from the rest of the city that is extraordinary in its ordinary-ness. What you see is bright and loud and screaming in neon, but the only thing you feel inside is an endless sea of beige.

One of the questions I keep getting from friends and some family members is, why Fort Bragg? The insinuation in that question runs the gamut from “why the fuck would you want to live THERE” to “are you having a nervous breakdown?”. The simple answer is that I needed to get away, far enough away and out of my comfort zone to get some perspective not only on the deterioration of this relationship that I thought at one point I would be in forever, but to take stock about what my life looks like naked, as it were. Without a relationship, without a job, without the baby I thought I would have right now, to define me.

That, and trying to find affordable housing in the Bay Area in 2019 is like being an unwitting actor in a terrible dark comedy that went straight to DVD and no one has the energy for that kind of d-listed garbage. And so if I had to move, and it wasn’t going to be San Francisco-adjacent, well then fuck everything I am going to live in a forest near the sea.

Fort Bragg is not a place where people from the Bay Area go. It is so far away and so removed from the day-to-day hustle of SF and Oakland and Silicon Valley that it almost doesn’t exist at all. It is, for all intents and purposes, not a destination along the main drag. No bright lights, no neon signs urging you to buy trinkets or to even stop for that matter. It is a side street. It is the place you end up because someone told you once that Glass Beach is beautiful. Or that taco Tuesday’s at North Coast Brewing are worth checking out. Or that the city in all of its transition and identity crisis between a once-upon-a-time logging boomtown to just a regular place dealing with pot and poverty and daily life, is still beautiful and vibrant and teeming with a tender realness that big city dwellers simply can no longer connect with because it makes so little sense in contrast to their own intensely urban lives. 

But it made sense to me. I walked a metaphorical Main Street for a long while – for years – waiting for the moment where I would finally feel settled, like I had found where I was meant to be. But somewhere in the act of looking for that place I derailed my own nature and needs. I managed to – in all of those tiny daily incremental decisions – to deny who I was. I cannot grow or thrive under Budweiser signs and tubes of artificial light because few things ever can. And maybe that’s why the idea of being a stranger in a strange land in a town I didn’t know felt like relief instead of fear.

In the midst of this massive, unexpected life pivot in which I now find myself, trying to figure out what I do next, or who I am now, without all these labels or ideas that I tried so hard to make work but was not able to make stick, I needed to get off the main road. It is the only place, really, where it felt right to just be, away from the neon beige of everything 130 miles south. In a cabin in the woods. With a tiny dog. Walking the beach. And staring out to the bright blue sea. 

Cry baby cry

Let’s back up for context here and set the stage a little bit around who I am and where I’m at in my life.

I wasn’t one of those kids who had a lot of intentional direction about what my place in the world should or did look like. I don’t remember having dreams about being the president or a doctor or a wife with 2.5 kids, a husband, and a dog. Like a lot of people – men and women – who grew up in privilege in the generational gap between Gen-X and Millennials, I bought into the idea that the only thing I needed to focus on was doing ‘whatever makes me happy’ and everything in time would work out just fine. This was before getting into and paying for college was a nightmare and majoring in English or Dance or Humanities was post-recession career suicide.

So that’s what I did. I made massive life decisions one after another – as you do in your twenties and thirties – without a lot of thought about why or what direction that was going to send me hurling towards. And honestly, I don’t regret any of them. Because of those choices I ended up living in Bolivia, San Francisco, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Malawi (Africa), Sonoma County, Oakland, Menlo Park, and now Mendocino over the course of the last 15 years. I got a master’s degree. I traveled to more than a dozen other countries. I made the best decision of my life and got a tiny rescue dog. I spent countless weekends with my grandmother in the years before she passed away. I crawled my way up the career ladder to the best-paying job of my life. I bought a condo. I had a million crazy adventures with friends who I am closer to than most of my family. I had boyfriends and relationships and a lot of fun because that’s what it felt like I was supposed to do.

But in between all of those bigger life choices it’s been the smaller day-to-day decisions…maybe more like intentions, which I didn’t realize were slowly accumulating into these snowdrifts that were starting to quietly shape the road of my life. I’m trying to figure out how to explain this in a way that doesn’t sound like I’m beating up on myself because really that’s not what I’m out to do. What I mean to say, and I’ll probably come back and edit this later, is that while I was good at making big life choices, I wasn’t that great at being good to or doing good things for myself. I partied a lot. I drank too much. I dated people who weren’t right for me. I allowed people – dates, friends, supervisors – to treat me badly and convinced myself I was strong enough to tolerate it. I poured my psychic and emotional energy into helping other people and actively avoided helping myself. I stayed in jobs that were toxic and draining because I was making good money and I had a big fancy title. I thought the formula for happiness meant that I was supposed to accept these tiny realities as the price I had to pay in order to get to the part where the rainbow comes over the ridge and everything finally turns rosy and pink.

And you know what happened? Nothing. There was no rainbow. There was no rosy ending. I had big turning point mile marker birthdays into my thirties, then late thirties and still the world wasn’t returning to me what I thought I was owed: happiness. In my case, happiness looked like a soulmate relationship, leading to marriage and a family. I remember carrying these feelings of anger and incredulousness that I had put in all this time and suffering into my life and for what?

Until recently, and still sometimes in moments of deep scary fear, I felt like I had nothing to show for it. It felt like my life – this incredible, wild life that I have had the privilege to live – was worthless. Because I was waiting for all of these external factors and expectations to validate my experiences; I was waiting for the editorial “we” to hand me a medal and tell me I’d done a good job and now here was the happiness reward I’d been waiting for. I was waiting for the big pay off – which in my case was marriage and a baby – that never showed up.

Spoiler alert: This is not how life works. It took me walking away from a job, booze, and a relationship I thought was the one to realize that this is an unwinnable calculation that I had used to judge the “success” of my life for years. I am reminded of one of my former coworkers, a fierce-willed, red-headed database manager named Paula who takes shit from no one and used to remind me that “garbage in, means garbage out”: If your data was bad going in, you’d never be able to generate the reports you needed to make bigger decisions down the line. Those are words for life.

So, here I am at age 38. Recently split from my boyfriend of nearly four years. Unemployed for the past 8 months because I thought I was going to be pregnant by now, or at the very least engaged to be married. Living in a tiny cabin in the woods in Mendocino, drinking coffee and hanging out with Cleo the dog, and documenting my life to no one in particular.

I’m not on the other side of this and some days are filled with more gratitude and self-forgiveness than others. But I’m understanding more every day how and why I ended up in this place both proverbially and geographically speaking. And I’m learning to be kind to myself and to realize that life can be scary and sad but it doesn’t mean that I’ve failed.

In practical terms, the thing that I having the hardest time with is the grief around not having a baby and the realization that biologically, I may have missed my opportunity. That longing is something so deep and personal, and so primal…unless you’ve felt that unfulfilled pull there is really no way other way to understand it. My personal experience has also been that there isn’t a lot of space to talk about what this feels like in our culture. Even among friends, the kneejerk reaction when I get emotional or the grief starts pricking at the corner of my eyes is to offer misplaced, unintentionally patronizing advice when really I think what most of us just want to hear is “I’m so sorry you’re going through this.”

If you’re not a mom, or a wife, if you’re not a career woman who is driven by the desire to achieve power or to make money, what does that mean for your life? If you find yourself unintentionally in this place where the things you thought you were supposed to do didn’t work out, and the things you know you want are currently illusive, how do you create a roadmap for a future that at the moment feels pretty obscure? How do you forgive yourself for the choices you’ve made in your life that got you here? How do you embrace this intense grief you feel for something you didn’t realize you wanted so badly until you maybe couldn’t have it anymore? How do you love yourself not in spite of this, but because these life decisions have led you to a place where you can finally see yourself for who you are?

Honestly, I have no idea. But I’m finally listening.

From the ashes

If you could reset your life, what would you do? If you could change your job, your relationship, your home, where would you go? Who would you be? And what would your life look like moving forward?

Few of us ever allow ourselves to think about this kind of scenario as adults. Upending your existence and making drastic, lasting changes that alter your place in the world are made difficult by the obvious day-to-day responsibilities of life – Finances and money. Love relationships and family. And maybe just the overwhelming feeling of “I can’t possibly do that” because, well, changes – big, 180-degree type changes – are scary and really fucking hard.

While I didn’t see it in the big picture at the time, in 2018 I made a series of incendiary decisions that started to burn at the pillars of my life, slowly and quietly undoing the very things I had for years looked at as me, my very proof of existence. In June I left my job, recognizing finally that the environment I had been unnecessarily mentally and emotionally depleting myself to keep afloat for the past nearly four years was at best, not fixable, and at worst, toxic to my soul. In November, I stopped drinking thus ending one of the most consistent “relationships” of my adult life. And in December, I struck the final match that ultimately burned my world down to its foundation: I broke up with my boyfriend of almost four years. It was not a surprise, though its ending came after an abrupt, almost physically startling realization that more than anything I want to have a baby. And the then swift and simultaneous clarity that our relationship was broken and could not fundamentally give me what I want most in the world: a family.

And so, in 2018, I left. I burned everything I knew and understood to be fundamental mile-markers of who I am into ashes and dust and walked away from a life I had been trying desperately to make work for more years than I would like to admit. I closed my eyes, walked past the glowing embers, feeling blindly through the deep, dark smoke, and emerged on the other side into a clear blue great unknown.

It’s a big leap, going from the place you thought you were into this; finding yourself alone in a wilderness of your own creation, trying to shed this skin of expectation and values you’ve worn almost your entire life which are just no longer helpful or useful to who you are or would like to be. This is the in-between. It’s either the land of infinite opportunity or the existential abyss. And the most terrifying thing of all is that you’re the only one who gets to decide which one of those definitions ultimately lays the foundation the rest of your life.

I am facing in the direction of unbridled opportunity but it’s scary and new and there is a recurring voice screaming WHAT THE FUCK running though my head many, many times a day. But, as my grandma would have said, “them’s the breaks” – this is life. And there’s no qualifying that as bad or good or otherwise. It is a season and it is as necessary as it is temporary.

For now, what I can tell you is that at the moment (on a Monday afternoon in a coffee shop on the northern California coast) I am more vulnerable and emotionally unarmored than I have ever been in my entire adult life. Freedom from any sort of expectation is the source of simultaneous excitement and terror – I can do anything I want and be anything I want in a world that is infinite in possibility and acceptance. As a start, I gave myself a small gift of grace and moved far north to live near the sea for a few months, a dream I’ve had for many years. Every day, I walk on the beach with my tiny dog, past high cliffs, ancient redwoods, and wide rivers that have no expectations of the world around them other than to just be.

When a fire burns hot, it leaves only ashes behind. And though small, those tiny grey particles have to go somewhere. Into the ground. Or up into the wind. Or out upon the sea. One way or another, they are trying to find their way back into the world. They are trying to reset, to find a home, in order to make way for a new, great, glorious and most importantly, yet unknown life.

Tiny town. Big league.

I posted something on Facebook the other day, mostly an observation and reflection on love and how tiny stolen moments are a great breath at a time when it feels like the world is suffocating from bad decisions. People commented back, as they do on the interwebs: an old friend sent a kind note over messenger; I got some nice text messages. It made me want to write for the first time in a long while. And so, here we are.  

In a way, I suppose the timing feels right, it being the New Year and all. Because it’s the time of the year when lots of people are reflecting on hope and love, and the importance of not losing sight of who we are and what we all want out of life. Everything feels so fresh and possible at the start – new beginnings. Resolutions. All those visionary statements about who you’re going to be or what you’re going to do – or not – in the coming year: This year I’m giving up gluten! (Uh-huh). I’m finally going to take that basket-weaving class I’ve been meaning to! (Mmmkay). I’m getting up early every day to go to the gym! (*thumbs up* buddy).

This year, I am resolving to do almost none of that. And mostly because I’m pretty sure I learned everything I need to know about how to get through the coming year on day one of 2017.

I kicked off the new year in a tiny little town in the far north of California we’re going to call “Pinevale”(names in this story have been changed to protect the sanctity of this magical place from terrible bay area hipster dwellers like you). So, Pinevale. Population: 1,300. Or 1,303 if you count the three of us who settled in there for the last weekend of December.

As quaint quiet country towns go, Pinevale is a damned prize. It’s on the right of the Pacific and left of the middle of nowhere, tucked away into a majestic little a nook of dairy farms and pasture land at the edge of where giant redwoods meet the sea. There are 3 restaurants and one main street – during the holidays the center of town is lit up by twinkling fairy lights and dotted up and down with Christmas trees, each decorated by a different elementary school class at the local school. The town has one bar. One proper dive bar that heaven help me may be the best hideaway in which I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting shitfaced. (Pouring one out here for you Starla, you glorious bartender goddess).

We ended up there by accident. By the time I started looking for New Year’s accommodations nearly everything from Mendocino up to the Oregon border north and west into Nevada was booked. Except…for unassuming tiny Pinevale. It was the perfect misfortune.  Rather than glitzing and glamouring it up, we opted for puzzles over drunken dancing; cozy dinners instead of mad house clubs. We decided against heading down to the big city to chase taxis after midnight and instead followed the Christmas lights down Main Street into the warmth of the local pub. It was freezing and raining, and I may never want to see another Bud Light again as long as I live but damn was it the right place to be.

Pinevale – it might be love.

So the fact that I had a great New Years is a side note. The real lesson here, and what I will circle back to, is that Pinevale left me with some takeaways, which I think are worth repeating now because, well, 2016 was rough. 2017 might be worse. Pinevale itself I think proves a point about the ebb and flow of real circumstances vs expectations, something I think a lot of us could probably use a refresher course on right about now.

I was thinking about all of this when I woke up on that first day of 2017. This sliver of a town that by all laws of economics and industrial change should have disappeared off a map half a century ago still stands, preserved in time and present in modernity all the same. Pinevale has managed to stay afloat through earthquakes and tsunamis; flash floods and economic decline; the fall of the forestry industry and the unexpected phoenix of weed as a legitimate money maker. It’s like the whole world came and went and Pinevale stood there nodding and taking note before shrugging its shoulders unremarkably and heading back to the dairies, the barns, and the pubs to just get on with life. And remarkably through it all, this weird rabbit hole of a place seems to have kept its true nature and its heart, beating steadily and reassuringly as the world changed drastically all around it.

But that’s life, right? As much as you plan and research, or envision your path (if you’re into that hippie woo woo stuff) your current life circumstances are the result of 60% accident, 30% purpose, and 10% crazy weird WTF miscellaneous luck. Pinevale rode out that formula and while it hit some pot holes along the way, it’s still here to tell the tale.  Pinevale made the decision to stick it out. As far as I’m concerned, that is what we’re all facing right now: Just a heap of decisions to be ok with and celebrate the life we have individually and collectively, or a choice to wallow in absence and the darkness of past wishes.

My unsolicited advice to everyone in 2017 is this: Be like Pinevale. Embrace the innumerable accidental life circumstances we may find ourselves in in the coming year, or at the very least figure out how to adapt to the uncertainty of certain change. Be like Pinevale. Stand in the tide and let the waves roll all around and over your head – they’ll recede eventually. Be like Pinevale. Let go of things and people in your life that drag you down instead of lifting you up – they probably aren’t as important as you thought they were. Be like Pinevale. Fight for the things that matter and ignore the noise that doesn’t. Be like Pinevale. Listen more to your inner voice/gut/garden gnome – that barometer usually knows what’s best even before you do. Be like Pinevale. Rock that camouflage and Carhartts because they’re still not, and will never be, fashionable but do it because YOU DO YOU PINEVALE. And please continue to watch the evening news and whammy up that panic button because shit, kids, we may be in for a rough four years but in the long run, nothing is unfixable.

And if in the end it still feels hard, take my last piece of Pinevale advice:  Find a bar with a bartender who loves whisky but loves you more. (Starla, someday people will write songs about you).

Get ready, 2017. We’re a comin’ for you. 

The ants come marching in

In ancient Greek mythology, there’s an unsavory character named Sisyphus, king of Ephra, whose constant, wily plotting for power eventually gets him condemned for crimes against the gods. For these grave infractions he is punished to an eternity of hard labor, which involves rolling a great boulder up a hill that can never – will never – quite reach the summit. Every time Sisyphus manages to huff, puff, and push the boulder up to the top, it simply pauses, teeters, and rolls back down the hill again. 

This is the embodiment of insanity. 

This is also how I feel every time I walk into my bathroom (kitchen/living space) between the months of November and February, as I watch thousands of little boulders infiltrate my apartment through microscopic cracks I cannot see but that I loathe all the same.

Welcome to Antpocalpyse 2014, ladies and gentleman. You can run. But you can’t hide. 

I live in a building that was built in 1922. Most of the time I like to think of her as a dear old lady you want to help with her groceries or hold the door open for. Sometimes her bones creak and her white, wispy hair gets a bit disheveled, but overall she’s tender and kind, and trying her best to keep her 16 unit family safe and snug inside her aging but lovely home. 

Then again, sometimes she’s a cranky, old demon whose sole mission is to dementedly scream ungodly profanities while she throws peanuts at you from her wheelchair and cackles like a crinkly little witch. 

We’re in one of those stages right now. 

Every year during this time, my building surrenders to a seemingly immortal colony of ants that apparently resides in the ground beneath my first floor apartment. Every day, thousands (millions?) of these ubiquitous little f**kers crawl up through the floors, through cracks in the windows. Up through the drains, the faucets, and the showerhead. Onward and away through the heating ducts and out through the radiators. In some places, I honestly think the gods of the underworld have simply willed them to appear out of thin air because why/how the hell else is there a swarming army of ants just hanging out in the middle of my living area for no earthly reason? 

Alas, apparently there IS a logical reason. One that has nothing to do with cranky old ladies or malevolent Greek gods. According to the interwebs (an internationally renowned and reputable source of useless information), Alameda County sits on one of California’s premier ant “super-colonies,” which means that at any given time, there are about 10 or 20 million ants just chillin’ in the ground beneath our feet. Grossed out yet? You’re welcome. 

When the weather gets yucky and the air grows cold, thousands upon thousands of these little guys march their way up to urbanity the seeking bigger and better opportunities. Evidently even ants are striving for the American dream. 

I have ant-proofed nearly every corner of my bathroom. There are traps lining the edges of my radiators and my windows. Cinnamon has been sprinkled in historic ant-highways to deter the advancement of future fronts all around my kitchen. I am single handedly keeping the orange oil industry alive trying to deter these prolific little jerks from advancing any further. And yet?

And yet, every time I seem to overcome them, every time I think I’ve reached the top of that mountain and finally conquered those squirrely minions, they return in earnest and with reinforcements. 

My breaking point came one morning last week as I was getting into the shower before work. (As a critical digression here, it is important to note that I have optical powers akin to a mole – when I wake up in the morning everything looks like a knock-off Monet painting. If you left me in the jungle at night without my contacts or glasses – which, true story, someone once threatened to do – I would be puma meat within the hour. Most importantly, I generally do not have any of these optical support mechanisms in or on my face before 8 o’clock in the morning).

So I step into the tub and immediately notice two things: 1) the shower walls and floor look kind of dirty and 2) there is a giant hairball up near the drain. 

Only, the dirt is moving. And so is that hairball. 

I believe that was the shriek of “MOTHERF**KER” heard round the world. 
As I discovered, once I had catapulted myself out of the shower and grabbed my glasses in one utterly ungraceful movement, the “dirt” in the shower was actually ants. Ants coming out of the drain. Ants coming out of the faucets. Ants coming in through the window and swarming up and down the walls, over the shampoo and the soap, happily blanketing every inch of the tub and tiles with swirling blots of moving brown.
And that “hairball”? Oh, that was a giant wolf spider about the size of my big toe who I presume had made his way into the tub because he was hungry and ants are a tasty treat.

Oh my god. Just. No.

Insanity is a girl in a towel, cursing up a storm, throwing cinnamon and orange oil everywhere, trying to vanquish 2,000 ants and the world’s biggest spider out of her bathroom just so she can get dressed and go to work. 

CLEARLY, I was all up in arms about this by the time I got into the office that morning, whining about the whole intolerable situation. Pissed off that I was going to have to go home that evening and likely face yet another wave of impervious ant – and now spider – enemies. And then my coworker Mara walks into my office:

Mara: “So the plumber finally figured out what’s up with the water that’s been leaking through my ceiling and walls all month.” 
Me: “Oh yeah, what is it?”
Mara: “Poop. It’s poop. From the upstairs neighbor’s toilet.”

…And that’s the story of how my ants and I lived happily ever after.

Love. Actually, nevermind.

“Meagan! There you are. How wonderful. Come here, there’s someone I’d like you to meet,” are the words every single woman in her mid-30s dreads. Especially while at a wedding. And most especially at a wedding when those words are coming from the bride’s sixty-something year old dad. 

I take a deep breath, put on my best parent-pleasing smile, and turn around to face the small group of people hovering near the cheese table. While I’m not entirely sure what is about to go down, I am certain it lies somewhere on the spectrum between probably not very good, and the absolute worst case scenario. As I prepare myself for the inevitable, I glance over at the person I imagine is the someone I’ve been beckoned over to meet: 

Oh look. A human. Who is a man. What a surprise. 

My friend’s father carries on, singularly focused on this matchmaking mission which is now making my stomach flip, and not in a good way: 

“Meagan, I’m so glad you’re here…because I’ve been meaning to ask you…AND my [at least 47 year old] brother Bob here…why…neither one of you…is married?” 

Yeah. So just to be clear? My friend’s dad has just tried to set me up with his brother. Aka, her uncle. I mean, I guess I’ve always wanted to be an auntie? 

In total, I attended 5 weddings this year. Five. Five receptions. Five bizarre conversations with mostly total or near strangers needing to understand how…you’re here alone…? But you are dating someone, right? No? You’re single? Oh, well, let me give you some advice. Or ask you more questions. Are you SURE you’re not married? How old are you? Haven’t you thought about kids? What about online dating? Or maybe just that guy over there by the punch? 

At a wedding in August, I was asked by drunk cousin Bertha “whhhhhhhyyyyyyYYYYYyyyyy” I wasn’t dating the groom’s 27 year-old brother, who at the time of this cross-eyed inquiry, was standing next to me with a look of ‘please let this be the end of this conversation’ plastered in terror across his face. The month before in July, an old lady I’ve never seen in my life told me I had ‘too beautiful a neck not to have a man’. Ummm, thanks, I guess? In October, it was the slurry short guy at the family wedding who noted that I was “real tall”…before launching into a diatribe about how ‘time is running out’ and I really should think about getting married. A week later, it was the friend-to-friend pep talk on how I should figure my shit out before my ovaries permanently go on strike. And finally we have Uncle Bob and what I like to think of as the formative basis for Father of the Bride Part III: The Most Awkward Family Affair EVER – Reasons Why Meagan Will Definitely Be Drunk At Your Wedding. (Touchstone Pictures, we can discuss royalties later). 

And yet, in the grand scheme of things, all of these utterly absurd wedding encounters were merely tame, laughable microcosms of my actual romantic life circa 2014.

This year has been a real doozey in the relationship/finding love/chivalry is definitely dead department. At some point along the line of my general existence, I apparently managed to deeply (and I mean DEEPLY) anger the gods of romance. In response, it seems they have chosen this past year – 2014 – to enact their sweet revenge and wreck continuous and utter havoc on my so-called love life. As we speak, somewhere out there in the universe, there is an army of vindictive little cupids flame-throwing arrows at my head and watching with delight as every romantic encounter I’ve had over the last 12 months spontaneously combusts upon impact. Over. And over. And over again.

First, it was the Match.com phase around January of this year, which included the weird surgeon who smelled creepily of antiseptic and parted his hair down the middle a la 1902. Then there was the super tall wine marketer who was so promising! Until he proceeded to talk for 25 minutes on our second date about why he exclusively drinks bottled water from Whole Foods. Because “other water tastes weird” out of the tap, through a Brita filter, and even when delivered in large water coolers. I can’t believe he wasn’t “the one.” 

February and March gave way to the “I’m going to have an open mind about men” period, whereby I agreed to go out with a bartender who works at my favorite bar in Oakland. The bartender who was also – wait for it – a musician in a band who was also – wait for it – a tax accountant during tax season. I thought things were going pretty well until he vanished two weeks before taxes were due, resurfacing just long enough to let me know by text that, and I quote: 

“It’s not you. It’s Uncle Sam.” 

Can I get a slow clap for the best worst break-up text in the history of texting? Thanks a lot, Uncle Sam. Not only are you an asshole, you’re an asshole who just ruined my access to the best vodka martinis in town on Friday, Saturday and Monday nights. 

There were the 4 or 5 droning dates I went on through OKCupid in the late spring. A Canadian pharmacist. A painfully awkward software engineer. The Republican with the Lego helmet hair. Also the guy from the gym who while nice, was so socially and politically oblivious that talking to him filled me with debilitating levels of irrational rage. Also, he was a grown man living alone with a pet chinchilla. The end. 

But why stop there! In April I met a lovely man from the UK who I thought was the most normal human I had encountered in months, right? WRONG. After nearly 12 weeks of dating, it became clear that this dude had major, borderline very scary life issues that I quite frankly, had no desire to handle. Aside from the creepy drive-by he later did past my apartment on a motorcycle late one night (yes that happened), my favorite part of our break-up was the time he sent all the stuff I left at his house back via UPS. I’m still not entirely sure who “Megan Demilde” in apartment 102 is, but shit! We’re like the same size AND have the same set of beach towels? What a coincidence! Oh, and thank you for the extra women’s sun hat – that was definitely NOT mine but it should come in super handy during my trip to Mexico in December. 

Then wedding season started. Flirtations with an adorable best man at a wedding in July. Congratulations: He lives in England. The nice, but overly eager dude at the wedding in August who asked the bride what his odds were with me that weekend: “I mean, I don’t want to say zero but yeah. Somewhere close to zero.” The funny, handsome (god, so handsome) friend of a friend who – because the universe hates me – of course has a girlfriend. And then there’s Uncle Bob, the father of the bride, and their merry band of complicit crazies. 

The final straw came last week, when one of my coworkers tried to set me up with her friend’s son…who in a small world twist of fate, turned out to be my ex-boyfriend’s best friend. The discovery of this of course prompted a somewhat angsty email from my ex, which he sent me this past Sunday, aka on my 34th birthday. The best part? No mention of my birthday AT ALL. Why? Because he clearly didn’t remember. Thanks for that lovely metaphoric reminder of why we are no longer together. 

So, when people ask me that awful question, “why are you single?” that’s my explanation. Everything you just read. Because most humans are terrible. Because the Internet is full of creeptards. Because meeting people in real life who aren’t the worst is nearly impossible. Because life – like your grandma always said – isn’t always fair. Because sometimes you have to get set-up with your friend’s uncle or your ex’s BFF to realize that as hard as it feels (a lot of the time) to be alone, there is a silver lining of unbeatable comedy to all of this. Which makes you realize that your life might actually be ok right now. Sometimes it’s borderline great, even if you don’t have a person. Or you simply get to the point where you can accept that for this moment at least, the most important person in your life is actually you. And you’re some kind of wonderful. (Suck it, Uncle Sam).

Or, maybe the reason I’m single really is because there’s some punk-ass winged cherub motherf**ker up there, looking down on my would-be relationships all up in flames, and doing a happy dance every time he scores a fiery hole-in-one through the ridiculous, disastrous rom-com that is my love life. 

So, if you’re listening, you little jerk, I CONCEDE. You WIN. I fold, give up, throw in the towel. I know when to take a hint. I officially give up on dating in the year of our Lord 2014. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have important single girl life things to take care of. Like washing my hair. Maybe (probably not) shaving my legs. Netflix binging on every episode of Gilmore Girls ever created. Right after I finish googling “cat adoption near you…”