He started chanting her name when she walked into the kitchen at a party in the fall of 2021. And then comedian Esteban Gast and producer Misha Euceph actually met.
It was early October in West Los Angeles, and his friend had said he wanted to introduce them, Esteban recalled recently. “Then five seconds later she walked in, and it’s like, ‘This is her,’ and I’m like, ‘Misha!’ I just started cheering her name: ‘Misha!’”
She took the unexpected fanfare in stride. “My first question was, ‘Who are you? And why are you cheering my name?’” she says. “I mean I love it — but who are you?”
He was a comedian with a cause: getting more people to care about climate change. She was a podcast producer tackling issues like identity and access to nature. He got in trouble for talking too much as a child in Puerto Rico. She was the golden child, the daughter of the owner of a popular restaurant chain in Pakistan, the girl everyone said was going places.
Both of them had stumbled when their lives were uprooted as kids. Esteban’s family moved to suburban Chicago when he was six — and for the first time, he felt like an outsider. Until he mastered his new language, it was hard for him to figure out how to entertain the other kids.
Left: A young Esteban sits on his dad’s lap with his brother next to him playing guitar in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. “It looks like it’s a novena, a Colombian Christmas tradition,” he wrote. Right: Young Misha in Islamabad holding one of her troll dolls, which she used to collect.
Misha’s family moved to the Los Angeles area from Pakistan when she was 10. She went from feeling totally cool to totally unsure of how to fit in. Accent, buck teeth, wrong jeans: For the first time in her life, she felt like no one understood her.
“That experience of being plucked from somewhere and your world changing,” Esteban says, “I just saw a lot of that in her, and I think she saw it in me.”
Finding love when neither was looking for it
Neither went to that birthday party looking for love.
She’d been deliberately single, unwilling to compromise on what she wanted from a future partner: someone with a backbone of steel who could inspire joy even in dark times.
Esteban, too, had been reevaluating what he wanted. He’d once dated a woman who got so stressed looking for parking that she just gave up and went home. Witnessing how a challenge as mundane as parking in Los Angeles could unnerve someone helped him realize he wanted a partner who could help him navigate life’s bigger challenges, like the climate crisis, without losing her cool.
At the party, the two talked for six hours, so taken with each other they couldn’t bear to pause even to get food.
He liked her strong sense of self, the fact that she seemed to know who she was. “I was like, ‘Oh, she’s cool,’” Esteban says. “Not like high school cool, but like, comfortable in her skin, confident, and like, if she makes a mistake, she approaches it with grace and humor.”
Misha appreciated Esteban’s sharp wit and the fact that he tackled serious issues like climate change in his work.
Shortly after that, they decided to meet for dinner at an Australian restaurant in the Venice neighborhood.
“I remember looking at the food in the middle of the table and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve barely touched it,’” he says. “But I just wanted to keep asking her questions.”
From dinner, they went to a comedy show, where they laughed — or didn’t laugh, depending on the joke — at the same moments, which Esteban took as a good early sign of compatibility.
They went on two more back-to-back dates in the following days because they “felt compelled to hang out” (her words) — but she was about to leave for a multiweek trip to Turkey. “So as I was leaving, he suggested we write emails to each other while I was gone,” she says.
Misha was in. “I write professionally, and I feel like the most expressive and in tune with the universe and myself when I’m writing, and I was like, ‘Oh, you are going to fall in love with me,’” she says, laughing.
An email interlude sealed the deal
Things got serious fast in that email thread.
On the plane, Misha opened up Esteban’s first message, a short note that included a few links to work he was excited about. With a long flight ahead of her and a glass of airplane Champagne in her hand, Misha decided to take the relationship a notch deeper.
She wrote a long, earnest email back. It was a risk, but it was also an invitation to share more. Esteban replied in kind. They wrote to each other every day during her trip.
They emailed about growing up in immigrant families and their hopes for the future.
“The emails gave us space to process and think and be explicit in a way you can’t in person,” he says.
At one point, she asked what he was looking for in a partner.
“He wrote this beautiful response back about wanting a partner you can rely on and face crisis with,” she recalls, “a steady presence and hand to hold when things are really tough. Someone who wants to celebrate culture and personal experiences but who also understands adversity, who has maybe already lived through some of it.”
That image of a steady hand through crisis resonated for her.
“It’s going to get harder to live with climate change,” Esteban says. “But I think there’s beauty in that, too. We’re going to have to get more creative to come up with incredibly ingenious solutions.”
Love in a time of climate change
Climate change isn’t just a far-off concern to Esteban and Misha. Both of their childhood homelands have been devastated by climate-related disasters in the last few years.
Twice in five years, climate-supercharged hurricanes have knocked out electricity and caused widespread damage in Puerto Rico.
And in 2022, extraordinary monsoon rains triggered the worst flooding in Pakistan’s recorded history, killing 1,100 people and leaving large areas of farmland under water.
Now more than ever, they both know what it’s like to “be from a place you might not be able to return to,” as Esteban says. And they wonder about their future in Los Angeles.
“We’re not like prepping for the zombie apocalypse,” he says. “We’re thinking about our relationship with the world, our relationship to the places we grew up. But despite the hard reality of the world, choosing love or choosing joy — that’s a defining thing that brings us together.”
Facing conflict with a partner you can laugh with
Esteban, now 31, and Misha, 30, learned resilience at a young age because they had to.
“I really think immigrants have learned some of the skills of a changing world, because your whole world changes,” Esteban says.
His parents fled from Colombia to Puerto Rico before he was born, and the story of how they found and loved each other amid a wave of violence — including a kidnapping in the family — helped shape his worldview from an early age.
“In the context of horrific things, my parents chose each other,” he says. “They decided to face the challenge as a beautiful act of hope and faith and love.”
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, Misha’s parents both experienced civil war as teenagers, sheltering in bunkers as missiles flew overhead.*
Yet life went on through civil war and the ensuing military dictatorship. Her parents not only survived — they prospered. Her father started one of the most successful restaurants in Karachi, the country’s most populous city, and their daughters spent their early years there happily.
“At the time they got married, both sets of our parents had to overcome a lot of adversity together,” she says, “and through it become a source of joy and peace for each other.”
Now living in a relatively sheltered enclave of Los Angeles, Esteban and Misha haven’t had to face the kinds of tests their parents did. But their sense of one another’s inner strength helps them feel like they can endure the harder tests of climate change.
For Esteban, who makes a living doing climate comedy, making jokes doesn’t take away from the pain or seriousness of something. It helps give you the strength to get through it.
“[Climate change] is serious, it’s real,” he says. “But perhaps learning to find the joy and even the silliness is a skill that can help us through a very real, very serious situation.”
Imagining joy in your future while facing the truth
In those early emails, Esteban confessed one of his future hopes for himself — to one day be a dad.
“I was like, ‘Hey, I’d love to have kids,’” he recalls. “And she was like, ‘I’d love to have kids,’ and ‘I was like, ‘That’s great. So as we think about that, we need to think about how the world is going to look different for them.’”
For starters, that includes knowing their children may never be able to see where they grew up. “Are our kids going to know Pakistan?” Esteban asks. “Yes, but it’s going to be a different Pakistan that they know.”
Sometimes they question their desire to start a family. “Is it logical or kind or smart to bring kids into a world that is feeling less and less in our control and less and less habitable?” Misha has asked.
“But I think it’s like falling in love,” she says. “[Choosing to have children] is an act of faith in our struggle as human beings. Whatever we choose to do, I hope we choose the path of faith.”
*Editor’s note: This sentence was updated Jan. 4, 2023, to correct the time period in which Misha’s parents were affected by civil war.
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