Okay, so here’s the deal.
You’ve returned from a life abroad for two years, find a job, get a car, adjust.
Or, you at least attempt the whole adjusting thing. As most Peace Corps Volunteers would agree – adjustment doesn’t really just happen. It takes a while. Maybe it never really happens. I don’t know, I’m still figuring it out.
But regardless, life happens and you find yourself settling back in, awaiting your next big life move. Your life could go a hundred different ways in just a couple of months. You might go abroad again, you might study in the fall, you could take a job in another state, or you could pursue something you never thought you would. Crazy enough, your path could even take you to Rwanda again at some point. You really have no idea. I suppose that’s the beauty of being your mid-twenties with open doors all around you. It’s stressful, uncertain, but it’s kind of fun. When you’re in a good mood, anyway.
You spend most days at work. But you also read. You actually have a strange obsession with checking out a ridiculous amount of library books. You should probably talk to someone about that. You run a hell of a lot. Many days, several miles, at least.
That’s right, a social life would be nice.
You join match.com.
I joined match.com about two weeks ago. I joined to meet new people, if nothing else. Turns out, when you are gone for two years, life goes on, and when you come home the friends you have had at home have gotten married, work full-time, and are even starting families.
And the other friends you have live all around the country. And so, I figured why not? I am interested in joining the dating world. I don’t really have a strong interest in getting married anytime soon (there’s quite a bit I want to do first) but it might be nice to see what is out there and find someone who shares similar interests in the world.
So you join. You creepily peruse the pictures of all sorts of men online. You feel strange. You laugh at the absurdity. You are messaged by complete creeps: “hi my sweetie you look so nice” and one guy is relentless in his messages. But for the most part, people look, well, normal. You find some prospects who like being outside, who like to travel, and are at the same point of life that you are.
You exchange some long-winded messages. You feel awkward.
Eventually, they ask for your number and you arrange a date.
Hold the phone. You haven’t been on one of these in quite a while. Moreover, you haven’t been on one of these in America in a really long time.
Peace Corps gives you a lot of skills, that’s not debatable. But when you spend the last years of your life trying to integrate into a rural African village and spend your nights alone writing letters, cooking, listening to the radio, and watching episodes of Friends, you lose a dash of social competency. This is for those volunteers.
I always joked with my friends in Rwanda that I would come home, start dating, and write a blog about all the mishaps, awkward moments, and glimpses of hilarity, courtesy of the incredible social skills that Peace Corps equipped me with. Well folks, here it is.
I went on a couple of dates last week.
The first one was at a small, homey Sushi restaurant. We shared a delicious meal.
I gawked at all of the choices and explained how overwhelming it was to see. I explained the various noises that Rwandans communicate with. Yes, noises. I proceeded to do a live demonstration of the “mmmmhms” and “eh-baba-wes” and “yesu weeeeeee” that makes up a large portion of Kinyarwanda communication. I asked way too many questions – just like a classic Rwandan mama. I thought a piece of the sushi was wrapped with bacon, not raw salmon like we had so obviously ordered. A main point of conversation was my fascination with American highways and how so many people drive alone and not together in cars. My eyes almost popped when he commented “to be honest, I’m not sure that I could ever travel to Africa.” Oh boy.
That was just date #1.
Date number two took place at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in Denver.
Avoiding my tendency to run on Rwandan time, I showed up 20 minutes early. I grabbed a table and waited. And waited. I drank a margarita and read The Poisonwood Bible. Finally he calls and he’s gone to the wrong restaurant. In Lakewood. Say what? He comes, but an hour and a half after I had arrived at the restaurant. But here’s what he didn’t understand: I literally didn’t care. Doesn’t he get it? I am totally used to things starting late. In Rwanda, if you speak a time, you always tack on 2 hours. No big deal.
He’s tall and cute and I definitely stuttered a bit. Ummm…? I’m used to conversations about the coming of the crops, explaining life in America, and why the cows are the way they are. Now, a guy’s sitting in front of me talking about water purification (his job as a chemist) and mortgages and paying off his credit and all of these “grown up things”. I sit across from him thinking about how we are the same age and yet two very, very different people. Or at least we are in two very different walks in life. He’s well-traveled but tells me about five-star restaurants that his company caters him to. I tell him about pooping in a latrine 20 feet from my house. He smiles, but I think he’s completely freaked out. He asks me the tired, old question of “what was Rwanda like?” and I have a hard time answering. He also asks about what I like to do on the weekends. And the answer is so easy, and yet I feel insecure answering. Doesn’t he understand? Yeah, I love traveling, and reading, and writing, and being with my friends, and eating burritos, and running….but I’m still getting my bearings on living here. And so I don’t feel settled quite yet and I’m still trying to adjust from what I was doing on my weekends in Rwanda to what I do on my weekends here. But you can’t necessarily go into these details on a first-date and so I simply say, “oh you know, relaxing, and spending time with my family, and just exploring.” Which is true, but feels quite inadequate.
Still, we have a great time. And both of these boys, ahem, men, ask me out again. Apparently they liked me enough.
So we’ll see what happens.
But I want Peace Corps Volunteers to know this about re-entry: IT IS AWKWARD AND TOUGH AND WEIRD AND STRANGE AND DIFFICULT AND YOU OFTEN WANT TO RUN TO THE BATHROOM AND JUST CRY. But.
Persevere. Own your experience. It does add up to something.
That’s the thing – in dating and in just building other relationships since I have been back—I sometimes feel a bit weird explaining the last couple years of my life because I know people might not understand. It’s not flashy and it isn’t anything like what some of these guys have been doing – closing million dollar deals and building a career in sales and finance. I lose the words to say what it was like and how can you explain the kinds of things you learn from living in some of the most rural and isolated parts of the world?
So instead, I recommend just telling your stories. Because the people that care, will listen. And when it comes to dating, I’m seeing that guys that really want to understand will try. And even if they don’t, they’ll ask questions and be honest about what they think about what you did. And I think in the end, they respect you. Because you apparently did something that a lot of other people might not have any interest in doing.
And the guy you should want to date – or at least the guy I WANT to date – will be a guy that wants a kind of life that values what other parts of the world have to teach us. He will want to help and live a life of service. He will be a man of God and will at least understand that driving force behind what I would like to do with my life. So, I’m not sure I found him on these last couple of dates, but you never know. And there’s a lot more out there and so I won’t be deterred.
I’ll continue to be myself, be proud of what I have done, and you know, own it. And as far as being awkward goes, well, I just like to think that’s part of the package.