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…”

All things big and small

I’m in Dakar, Senegal sitting on a flight back to the U.S. that originated (originally) in Johannesburg via Lilongwe, as they transfer passengers and staff, restock food, fold up blankets, and get ready for yet another 8 hour trip to yet another destination. If this plane is anything, it is a metaphor for my life: Another country/city/place, everything I own packed neatly into three suitcases in the cargo hold and 2 carry-on bags in the overhead. A life lived abroad all suddenly coming to a strange and seemingly abrupt end.

The process of change and transition, no matter where one is geographically or psychically, is never easy. Moving my life from Lilongwe to California has been a series of mini battles – some good, some bad, some more complex than others, and almost all of which have been in my own head and my own heart. For almost two years, Lilongwe has been my home. And although I knew it was time to leave, even though I could feel my body and my heart telling me it was time to go, it just never felt like quite the right time. Now that I’m here, on this plane, it all seems too soon and too fast. It feels a bit like I’m about to walk into a party to which I was not necessarily invited…and one that I’m poorly prepared for (and certainly not dressed for) to boot.

My last week in Lilongwe was spent in tears: tears with my housemates, tears with my coworkers, and tears with my clients. I pulled out of camp last Thursday sobbing in the front of the Land Cruiser as a dozen of my women clients showed me off waving and crying themselves. It was heartbreaking in a way that I cannot even describe…quite honestly, I don’t really want to. Although it was a very public good-bye, on the inside it felt a lot like someone squeezing my heart until it bled.  Given the hiccupping sobs I was rocking while leaving camp that day, I’m sure this wasn’t exactly a secret to anyone within about a 1 kilometer radius.

There was simply no way to prepare for it – no matter the time or the place, that final day in camp was going to be heartbreakingly beautiful and desperately tragic, not just for me but for everyone whose lives I have become inextricably intertwined with over the past 20 months. I’m on a plane leaving Dakar in the middle of the night one week later and I’m on the brink of tears just discussing it. I get the feeling that maybe the overwhelming feeling of loss is never quite going to go away – I am, in many ways, willing it not to, like my emotional baggage is the last remaining link I have to my life in Africa which is quite literally getting farther and father away as I write.

I left Lilongwe on Tuesday, after a weekend of going-away dinners, going-away BBQs, going-aways in general. At one point I think I just stopped processing the whole thing and sort of flat-lined emotionally because the very thought that I wasn’t coming back this time was too goddamned unbearable to contemplate. Leaving Malawi was more than leaving a job that I loved:  It was leaving my people, a group of people who over the last 20 months have become my family and my support network, silly, loyal, and occasionally dysfunctional as we all are. I feel as thought I am leaving my home– and again, as I say these things typing in the middle of nowhere transatlantic-dome I am crying like a bit of a maniac and hoping that $2 Malawian valium is somewhere within arms reach for the next 8 hour leg of this trip. (Malawi lesson #252: It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to. If you have a problem with that, mentally stated to the American man sitting next to me looking HORRIFICALLY uncomfortable as the woman next to him types and drips tears onto her keyboard, too bad. Pass the tissues, kids. I’ve got 14 more hours to go and I’m just getting started).

Malawi was not a “trip.” It was not “part of my travels.” I didn’t go there to party or go on adventures to the lake every weekend (although I will admit that these were all immense bonuses to the last nearly 2 years of my life). I went there to work and accidentally stumbled upon a life, one that I miss with an intensity I don’t yet know how to explain.  In many ways, Malawi made me whole again at a time when I didn’t even know how broken I really was. I found “people” in Malawi that I didn’t realize I needed until it all sort of tumbled together in this unexpected balance of f**ked up expats and life-hardened refugees. It just might be the most ridiculous faux group counseling scenario on the planet – and yet somehow, in sliding into all this, I rediscovered myself. I went to Malawi to help people put their emotional lives back together and in the process, it seems, I too ended up getting patched up along the way.

I always joke about how Malawi is like Never Never land, how even Peter Pan has to leave the island and grow up eventually. It recently occurred to me in a discussion with a friend that maybe this metaphor isn’t so accurate after all. Life in Malawi is very real, real on in-your-face levels few people in the West have to deal with on a regular basis. The last 20 months of my life has been a crash course in all things poignant: Death, dying, loss, hope, joy, love, and all sorts of in-between crazy shit I cannot even begin to explain. (Goat induced panic attacks? Three-quarter length suits? Inexplicable shortages of water, fuel, electricity, internet, and telephones occasionally all at the same time? $20 butter and the world’s most expensive processed cheese?). All of these ridiculous and amazing things, bundled into this crazy time and spread out over a refugee camp and an expat community I didn’t know I needed until I stumbled my way into all of it. And now? Now it’s over. And Peter Pan or not, it’s time for me to leave.

I know that going back to the U.S. is the right thing to do right now even if I feel like I am breaking my own heart and tearing myself away from the people I love…even if I feel like I don’t know what I’m going “home” to when home feels more like Africa than anywhere else. What scares me the most is not returning to the states, because I am looking forward to it on some level. I’m nervous about living in California for the first time in 8 years but this too is a new adventure and there is an anticipation about living in the place of my birth for the first time in what seems like eons.

What scares me the most right now, as I look west in the middle of the night over the Atlantic is facing the reality that a chapter in my life has closed for good. Malawi is over. My job is over. I have become another hole in the lives of my friends in Lilongwe and the people at Dzaleka…in time, I will just be another chapter in a story, but one that cannot be re-visited or re-opened. There will, quite simply, never be a time in any of our lives like this again.  It is so very Malawi by virtue of its beautiful tragedy – immensely joyful and sad, intriguing and terrifying, friendly and yet lonely all at the same time. And now? Now it exists in memory, like a scene in a snow globe: perfect and untouchable all at once.

I am, for once in my life, not whinging. I am not lamenting. I am not complaining. As sad as I feel right now, somewhere over the Atlantic between Africa and America, the emotions I feel are not out of angst, depression or despondency. Rather, they are out of love and immense gratitude to my friends, to my once-upon-a-time home in Africa, to my clients, and to the universe, I suppose, for taking me in, for dropping me on African soil, for making me part of a community I didn’t know I was supposed to be in until I got there.

I am not ready to say good-bye and so I won’t. I will simply say, “thank you”. To whom? Well, that is a list too long to start. You all know who you are. You know I miss you with an intensity that will probably always make me smile, and very well may always make me cry. Thank you for the blessings of the past 20 months. Thank you for teaching me to love. Thank you for gifting me back me. A million times thank you for all things big and small.

So, as they say in Malawi? Tionana. See you later, my loves. This is Meagan Demitz, a once-upon-a time Malawi expat, signing off the island for the last time.

Over and out.