L.A. Affairs is our weekly column about the current dating scene in and around Los Angeles -- and finding romance in a wired world. If you've got a story to tell, we want to hear it. We pay $300 per published column. Past columns and submission guidelines are at latimes.com/laaffairs
I remember like it was yesterday, walking back to my desk with a morning cup of coffee, lamenting yet another day of work as an insurance claims adjuster. Suddenly, something — actually, someone — stopped me dead in my tracks. I simply had to meet her. You don't come across crystal blue eyes like that every day.
I'd heard the maxim: Don't date a girl you work with. But I was an immature 26-year-old, and she was Aphrodite in the flesh. So I approached her.
"Hi," I said, extending my hand. "I'm Sean. What's your name?"
As it turns out, Maria was interviewing for a job on my team. In an effort to make sure she got it, I gave her some tips on how to ace her interview. She got the job. Less than a week later, she approached me in the break room and offered her thanks for my assistance. By this time, many friends had warned me about the perils of dating a co-worker. But they all had girlfriends or wives, and I was tired of being a third wheel.
I just went with my gut and asked Maria out for a celebratory drink. When she accepted, I knew there was a God.
That Friday, we met at Tantalum in Long Beach's Marina Pacific marketplace, an upscale hot spot populated by middle-aged, silicone-enhanced Stepford ex-wives and their equally Botoxed suitors. While perched at a bar overlooking the harbor, we exchanged trite first-date nonsense: who's your favorite band, what's your favorite food, etc.
It was all quite mundane until, after our third glass of wine, Maria blurted out, "You know, I'm usually only attracted to Armenians."
I was floored. Here was the girl of my dreams and she was rejecting me because of my ethnic background? Wasn't this the 21st century? Then she added, "But I think I'll make an exception for you." I silently thanked the gods of romance. At least I had a shot.
Over the next few months, our relationship progressed and I forgot all about Maria's comment. I trained her to be a claims adjuster, she taught me how to cook with spices, and we intertwined our lives. A slight hiccup occurred when I met her parents and couldn't converse with them because they spoke only Spanish, yet Maria and I soon progressed to telling each other "I love you" upon ending our many daily phone calls.
Before Maria, I hated talking on my cell, but now I relished it. Who cared about all the chatter about cellphones and brain cancer?
Then Maria's sister got sick, and I decided to throw myself into our relationship like I'd never done with any other girl before. Maria and I spent countless hours huddled around her sister's hospital bed. It was hard for Maria to watch her sibling decline, but I did my best to keep her positive. Eventually, her sister's health started to trend in the right direction — but that's about the time the secrecy started.
It began with the love of my life making phone calls the second she got to my house for our nights out. She would go into the bathroom and, because I had paper-thin walls, I could hear her speaking to someone. After a few instances of this, I'd had enough. But, when confronted, Maria would say, "Oh, that was my brother." Or her mother. I thought it was weird that she continued making her not-so-secret calls, but I stopped arguing. I loved and trusted her.
Then one night after she told me I couldn't come over because she'd just had her wisdom teeth pulled and her mother was massaging her head, she accidentally butt-dialed me, and I heard a raging party in the background. I demanded an explanation the next day.
After some prodding, Maria admitted that she'd lied to me about her wisdom teeth but only because she wanted a little time to herself. I exploded, and vile Shakespearean insults flew off my tongue, but it hardly mattered. The trust I had in her instantly evaporated. We broke up a few weeks later.
Afterward I was a wreck. Not only did I lose the girl of my dreams, I now had to see her sitting two seats away from me every day. Thankfully my boss didn't object when I started listening to my iPod in between work calls. At least that way I didn't have to hear Maria's sweet voice. I suppose it might have been difficult for her as well because a couple months later she requested a transfer and moved to another office.
I'm dating other people now, but I sometimes wonder: Had I been too nice? Too attentive? Too understanding? Was she the kind of woman who didn't respect a high level of caring because she felt she didn't deserve it? I'll always wonder if I should have held back in some way.
Sean Redmond is an insurance client advocate who has still not broken his vow to never date anyone from the office again.
L.A. Affairs chronicles dating in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments or a true story to tell, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.