After a bad break-up or a series of yucky dates, many of my friends have decided to take hiatuses from dating. And I guess stepping away from the dating scene can have its benefits. It can be a way for a woman to gain agency in her love life and an opportunity to achieve clarity about her romantic needs.
Not for this woman, though.
A self-imposed dating drought just doesn’t seem like a way to improve my love life. After all, practice makes perfect, right? And to be frank, I go through enough involuntary droughts that asking for one would be like a farmer stepping out into his bone dry, shriveled crops, and yelling, “I didn’t want rain anyway!”
I’d never announced an embargo on dating and never thought I would. That is, until I did earlier this year when I went on my quarter-life crisis adventure, a three-and-a-half month backpacking and volunteer trip through Africa.
I was loading my pack with granola bars and sweat wicking t-shirts, when a friend called to say goodbye. “So, do you think you’ll meet anyone over there?” she asked with a wink-wink tone that meant she wasn’t asking about friends; she was asking about manfriends.
“NO!” I yelled into the receiver as I smooshed down my clothes to fit a pair of hiking sandals into my bag. “I’m going to places where the HIV rate is comparable to the obesity rate here,” I said referencing statistics I’d completely fabricated. “Plus, I’m not flying across the globe to be boycrazy. I can do that here. I’m going to get out of my comfort zone, not shower regularly, and find myself.”
“Really? No boys for three months?”
“No,” I responded. “No boys for three and a half months.” As the words came out of my mouth, I realized that for the first time in my life, I was declaring a dating drought. One hundred days of no dating, no flirting, no boys. Could I do it? Of course, I’d been through droughts before. The mullet haircut of 2006 didn’t do my sex life any favors and there was that disordered eating semester sophomore year where I was so focused on the calorie count of Fat Free Cool Whip that I didn’t have time for boys. But were either of those one hundred days long?
When I first got to Africa, the dating drought wasn’t an issue. I was so taken with the culture, land, and hustle of the place that eye-batting and French kissing were totally out of my mind. Plus, it wasn’t like I had much temptation working at an orphanage with an all female staff. I dressed in absurdly unattractive clothing, rarely looked at a mirror, and frequently asked myself, “Is that baby poop or just baby puke on my shirt?” I didn’t exactly feel like a sexpot.
When my time at the orphanage came to an end, I traveled Tanzania by myself. Away from dirty diapers and on a well-traveled path encountering other tourists daily, my drought went from almost imperceptible to hugely palpable with the speed of an attacking rhinoceros, which I learned on my safari was incredibly fast. I was dehydrated and desperate and needed a tall drink of water. Or even a short, balding one who still lived with his parents. Any kind of water would do.
Just as I was reaching the point of cottonmouth, I met a German fellow in a quiet town in northern Tanzania. He was a teacher volunteering at a nearby school. We chatted for a while and he suggested that we have lunch together.
As we made our way down the mud path toward the restaurant, we may have appeared to the outside world to be two travelers talking about homesickness, recently contracted tropical diseases, and our travel blogs. But inside my badly parched brain, we were more. We weren’t just strangers, not new friends, or even lovers. In the desertscape that stood where my once lush sense of reasoning resided, we were soul mates. I found myself envisioning a Tanzanian wedding to this German teacher. A quiet ceremony during dry season with lots of tropical fruit. Small and classy. Would my grandmother be able fly for eighteen-hours to attend? Probably not. We’d have a second reception in Boca.
At the restaurant, we both ordered the same thing. We have so much in common! Even my inner monologue voice was scratchy with dehydration. Our shared interest in the roasted chicken platter was obviously an indication of matching philosophies on rearing our future children. Lots of positive reinforcement and an emphasis on learning, not grades. We’d make sure the kids tasted everything at least once, but never force them to clean their plates and, of course, no spanking. I smiled at him gnawing on some wing meat, wondering if our first would have his eyes or mine.
When the bill came, he insisted on paying. In total, the cost of the meal converted to about four dollars. Splitting it would have been silly. Still, I gave myself some congratulatory pats on the back, dry skin flaking with each tap, for landing such a gentleman. I knew this was the kind of man who would never let an opportunity for chivalry pass him by. He’d be opening doors for me when we were both in walkers.
At the end of the day, we hugged goodbye and he said something along the lines of “Hope to see you again,” which I interpreted as, “Please cut your trip to Zanzibar short and come back here to spend the last days of your trip with me.” I nodded, to show him I understood his underlying message and set off with a heavy heart and none of his contact information.
As soon as I found Internet, I wrote to a friend informing her that I’d met the German Matthew McConaughey. (Looking back at the one picture I have of him though, he was more of a German the-guy-who-played-Mark on Step by Step). We obviously had a connection, I tapped out as quickly as I could before the Internet cut out, but might not see each other again since I was already on my way to Zanzibar. What should I do? I asked. Should I make my way back to his town for a surprise visit before flying back home? What would the African equivalent of holding a boom box above my head be?
During the same Internet session, I Googled his blog and left a comment, hoping from that he’d get my e-mail address and formally ask me to spend the rest of my life with him or at least to meet up before I headed to the airport.
I checked my gmail daily after the blog comment, but no e-vite engagement proposal or even another lunch invitation pinged into my inbox. I left Africa without seeing the German teacher again, making my drought a full one hundred days of total and complete aridness.
Since coming home, watering the crops a bit, and tightening my grasp on reality, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two types of women in this world: Those for whom a dating drought leads to personal development, valuable insight, and other things that aren’t desperate mirages of lifelong commitments to German teachers they’ve known for an hour and those for whom it does the opposite.
I guess I’m just one of those women who have to take the rain as it comes.