I am a proud member of the 100ish-person strong expat community in Duhok, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which puts me just about 50 miles away from the ISIS frontlines. Here we’re mostly humanitarian aid workers, researchers, journalists, and any other save-the-world type job you can think of. Though, I must say, none of us look like the glamorous Angelina Jolie.
Calls home to my America-dwelling friends usually go from ISIS freak outs, my safety, to some work, and then the question always comes… what is your dating life like? Well, it depends heavily on your country posting. For example, South Sudan is apparently a raging party post, and Iraq (not surprisingly) is lonesome central.
But there is a semblances of love lives here (sorta). And we even (shockingly) sometimes use Tinder. So here is the not at all exhaustive field guide to the 13 expat dating stereotypes you’ll encounter in Iraq.
1. The Welcome Committee of One
(S)he’s always there to welcome the lost new expats. Where do I buy minutes for my phone calls? You may wonder. Well, well, the Welcome Committee of One is there to take you.
(S)he invites you to all the parties and introduces you to the main expat community. You think it’s a little odd how many smirks you’re getting when introduced. Maybe your clothing? You think until… whiskey hits hard and suddenly the Welcome Committee is all over you. (S)he goes after the newbies who know nothing of his/her reputation.
It’s like initiation. We’ve all either hooked up with or have pushed off this one (wo)man….Congrats, you’re officially a Iraqi expat now!
2. The Invisible (Wo)man
“Do you have a girl/boyfriend/husband/wife? Wait…but then it’s an open relationship, right?” All valid questions for these expats. You’re never quite sure of their relationship status. This expat may admit to a significant other, but his/her actions are quite the contrary. Cheating abounds in expatland. Count your lucky stars if you even get a for sure single or taken on the relationship status question.
3. Locals Only
Men tend to fall into this category much more than women. Minimal women’s rights in most countries tend to cut local men out of a female expats’ dating pool. Men, however, love it—a potbellied expat can get a supermodel local girlfriend simply based on his expat status. Plus, he can often express his patriarchal attitude without being punched in the face.
4. Seasonal Dater
The sun is shining, the faces are less jaded—it must be intern season! That’s when this (wo)man comes out to play. Their taste is strictly interns, who are usually young, idealistic, naive, and, most importantly, gone tomorrow.
In the words of Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused, “That’s what I love about these [interns], man. I get older, they stay the same age.”
5. The Expired
Some early thirties expats become keenly aware of their singleness, mid-thirties they get jumpy, and late thirties onward they are nearly suicidal. A revelation dawns upon them: if I keep doing this job, the only job I know, I will never find THE ONE! And I will die ALONE without a family! I’m expiring out here in the field without even a stable friend group! A life crisis descends upon them…
Many in this group frantically run up to the twentysomething expats yelling, “Go home! Find a significant other! Start a family! I’m lonely and running out of chances… I wish I would have known…I wish…”
6. The Celibate
Whether they are terrified of mixing of work and romance due to the community’s size, have nomad lifestyle-induced attachment issues, or are pure workaholics, these are the nuns/priests of the expats. Grad school perhaps saw their last romantic encounter. No one has seen or heard rumors of their romantic escapades.
Questions for them: can you even feel anymore? How are frustrations and stress not eating you alive?
7. The Expats & the Restless
They say, “I mean, what else is there to do out here in Iraq besides drink and hook up?” And there’s really no disputing their logic (seriously, the entertainment options here are limited).
8. Divorcee Six Times Over
They just can’t keep a spouse, or maybe they don’t want to. Again, usually men who have resumes boasting of all the hardship posts: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and those places always flashing up on the news. Hardship posts have higher salaries, but you can’t bring your family.
Settled down once, twice, or maybe six times, with several kids spread around, but it’s just never worked out. They never move home, and consistently choose hardship posts. Is it for the money, or is it for the (young) mistress?
9. Perpetual Purgatory
Like when you graduate high school and leave for college, you think you’ll stay in touch, maybe you’ll even try long distance, but it never works out. The significant other is usually left over from graduate school or from the previous post. You “break up,” but call/message/Skype every day. Are we dating? What do I call you? Where are we? I think I just saw Dante walk by…
That is until someone gets so frustrated they move on or demand to try long distance…
Their final last words: “Someday, if we’re in the same city, we’ll date again.”
10. Expat Widow
(S)he sits all alone looking sorrowful or glued to his/her phone. (S)he’s married, but the expat lifestyle has killed his/her spouse. Different postings, different jobs, so they maybe see each other on major holidays. They stay together just because (still not sure why).
But of course, if you’re fairly meh about your spouse but don’t want to divorce, this is a pretty good gig to keep going as long as possible. I’ve seen it done.
Aw, how romantic! They met in Timbuktu—he helping starving African babies and she researching female genital mutilation–and they’ve have been “in love” ever since. No one is really sure if this couple actually likes each other or they are afraid of being alone/perpetual purgatory/all the other types, but where one goes the other follows. The woman’s new post is in Monrovia, Liberia, and immediately the man is on the phone with his NGO’s headquarters asking for a transfer (or quitting to then find another job in the new country).
12. A (Wo)man in Every City
They have their home country girl/boyfriend, their New Delhi boy/girlfriend, and their Duhok girl/boyfriend. When they are in X city, that’s who they date.
They aren’t cheaters, not at all. All parties are keenly aware of the situation, and often it’s what they prefer. No perpetual purgatories or aid widows for these guys. My personal opinion is that city specific significant others are the most honest of the expat daters.
13. The Revolving Door
Contractors, researchers, consultants, emergency aid workers, and all those short termers tend to stay as little as a week to as much as a few months. They make the dating pool forever fresh, and flings rule the day.
The short termers can hook up around a bit, or find a long termer to dive into a “relationship” with for a week or two complete with dates, movie nights, and attending parties together.
But then come the questions on the final day: are we in perpetual purgatory now? Am I your Amman, Jordan significant other? Or is this a one-contract stand?