L.A. Affairs

L.A. Affairs (Renee Nault, For the Los Angeles Times)

It was a stormy fall day a year ago when I met my friend Dave for coffee. He in turn had invited another of his friends to join us. The two men had just returned from a European trek, London to Croatia.

I was surprised by Dave's friend. He was about 33, an incredibly handsome photographer with charm and confidence that made it clear he came from money. We matched wits with one another, an exchange that ended with seductive eye glances.

After we left, I told Dave I was interested.

"He is very cool," Dave said. "But he is also very picky."

Later in the week, I spotted him with another guy at our sleepy beach town's Manhattan-style wine bar. I grabbed my girlfriend and approached him. He seemed pleased to see me, and the two men politely gave us their seats at the bar. Since we are both avid surfers, I suggested to him that we should surf El Porto in Manhattan Beach, in the hopes that I would get more time with him. We exchanged numbers.

All the women in the bar had their devil eyes on him. The men looked envious. I then realized who he was. He was Mr. Popular. I suddenly felt unsure whether my free-spirited persona would mesh with the star quarterback.

But I persuaded Dave to set up a double date for dinner anyway.

It went well. After dinner, he kissed me with his full, soft lips. He made me laugh. He listened. I felt beautiful around him.

Euphoria.

We talked all night. He spoke about a marriage and subsequent divorce. He had become a stepfather at age 25. I have a 6-year-old son myself, born when I was 22, so, curious, I asked whether he missed his stepson. He said the boy had turned to mayhem as a teenager, a state of chaos that eventually led to the demise of the marriage. I presumed that was a "no." His lingering pain was visible.

Mr. Popular was extremely affectionate throughout our time together, but there were long intervals between our dates. We surfed, had coffee and did dinner and movies a few more times, and then he completely vanished. Two months went by without any word.

One night I returned to that wine bar to meet my girlfriend, later joining some neighbors from my apartment building for Chimays. I looked up and spotted Mr. Popular there with a date. I was crushed. She was tall, slender and trendy — just his type. He stared at me as I conveniently flirted with some of the locals. I left shortly after, feeling hollow.

A few days later, I checked out his Facebook status. "In a relationship." Life went on, but I longed for him daily. I met more men, some interesting, but the dates were unfulfilling.

I resolved just to have fun with my son and surf over the summer. We rode our bikes to the beach every day with our surfboards and wetsuits. We tanned on the shoreline, engaged in mud ball fights and went digging for sand crabs.

In the middle of the summer, I went with some girlfriends to our usual spot. There, standing out in front, was Mr. Popular. His eyes were fixed on me. We crossed paths and sneaked away to a corner cocktail table and began kissing. He walked away, and I grabbed him and took him outside to talk.

"How can you treat people like this?" I asked. "No, wait, how can you treat me like this? You think you're hot, and this is probably how you treat everyone in your life."

He stared deeply at me for a long time. His fingertips slowly grazed my face. He kissed me and pulled back. His brown eyes were big and soft. "I can't," he said. "I just can't. I can't do the son thing again."

I never thought it would hurt so much. He had never even met my son, yet was so quick to write us off.

I saw him a few times after that, just in passing. He always hugged me. I never knew whether Mr. Popular had to be pleasant for fear of being hated or because of regrets.

I subsequently bought a ticket to Costa Rica, packing two boards and a backpack. I planned to be gone for three weeks, my son safely with my mother and his father.

I surfed and surfed until my arms ached. I visited old friends, met new friends, indulged in the finest butter-doused fish and fell in love with my own Latin culture. I ended up taking the bus to Nicaragua, where I discovered the best waves of my life. I explored various temples in jungles along the coastline and felt myself teetering the line between mere happiness and nirvana.

And I felt liberated, knowing that I would never let past heartbreaks inhibit future love.

Andrea Pavia is a freelance writer and jewelry designer.

L.A. Affairs chronicles romance and relationships. Past columns are archived at latimes.com/laaffairs. If you have comments to share or a story to tell, write us at home@latimes.com.