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
Throwing a line into the cyber-fishing pond for a date on a Friday night is as scary as it is (too) easy. I signed up on the dating site Plenty of Fish last year, and while I had my doubts, I was still optimistic about finding my soul mate — otherwise, why do it at all? Just because I'm on the slippery side of 45 doesn't mean it's all over for me.
I'd had a 16-year marriage that ended in divorce six years ago, and my 18-year-old daughter was finally off at college. I'd been through the wringer these past six years, first with an on-again, off-again long-distance relationship with an old flame I'd reconnected with through Facebook. After that, there were others I'd met in real life — a widower, a couple of recently divorced men. Each of them started out optimistically but fizzled when it became apparent that they wanted something different, i.e. younger, thinner, easier, simpler, bustier.
Then my 30-year-old niece told me about a dating site called Plenty of Fish that "everyone" was on. We joked about going on double dates with uncle-nephew pairs, and I said jokingly, "Yes, and I'll end up with the nephew and you with the uncle!" We laughed heartily, but in my gut I wanted this to be true more than I wanted to admit. A few weeks later, I signed up.
I casually checked the site for several months, replying to some, ignoring others and trying not to be devastated by unanswered messages. Then I spotted him: fresh-faced, WASP-y, "Age: 48. Lives: Carson." One profile picture was a selfie with alluring baby blue bedroom eyes that made me suddenly hit the "Send Message" button: "Hi," I wrote. "You're cute. Write me!" What came back was not what I expected.
"Hi, I'm actually 31. I have two other women I'm writing to right now and I'm not sure I can handle a third?"
OK, leave that one alone, I told myself. But something made me write back. "Hey. that's not fair, lying about your age! What's up with that?"
"I prefer older women, OK?" he replied, unapologetically. "I had to change my age to be in the right category to meet you."
We bantered back and forth for quite a bit. I played very hard to get (because I am), but he ignored it. "I'm sensing that you want me to be there," he wrote. I was in my pajamas, so I didn't reply. "I can be there in 30 minutes," he persisted. I didn't answer the question. But he wasn't done. "OK. Here's my number," he finally wrote. "Call me."
I looked up the telephone prefix: New Hampshire. Not many serial killers from New Hampshire, I reasoned. The next day, Saturday, my curiosity got the better of me and I texted him. "OK, call me on Sunday then, and make a date." "Ha!" I thought to myself, "That will surely get rid of him." But Sunday afternoon arrived, and lo and behold, a text popped up: "Where do you want to meet?"
I sat on it for three hours but I was secretly smiling.
"Meet me at Sapporo Sushi. PCH and 7th in Long Beach, at 8 pm," I finally replied. Then I started to panic. But when the time came, I made myself go. We met. He looked all of 22. We ate sushi and drank lots of sake, and he started to look more his age. He paid for dinner and I was happy — three bottles of sake happy.
So, what Cracker Jack prize did I get, you might wonder? A Gen-X, computer-whiz engineer working ridiculously long hours in the aerospace industry. I've entered "The Big Bang" territory: He's Leonard Hofstadter, with Sheldon's social graces, Bernadette's looks and Howard's moves. I feel like Penny 20 years later ... divorced and a single mom, but still with a soft spot for smart geeks. Sure, I was originally hoping to find someone to grow old with, but, if the gods hand you a lemon, make lemon meringue.
It's taken me a while, but I realize now that this living fantasy is one of the perks of being a self-confident woman "of a certain age," and one should embrace it like the feminist superhero that you are. There are no dirty socks to pick up after, but there is a downside. Could I bring him as a date to my niece's wedding? Not just yet. In the 1990 movie "White Palace," a young James Spader moves to New York in the finale to declare his love to the much older Susan Sarandon, but in real life, would James really have done that? Probably not. In Hollywood, one can dream, but in America, the jury's still out.
Young, the author of "Strum," a 2014 USA Best Book Award finalist, will be at the Women's National Book Assn. booth at the L.A. Times Festival of Books on April 18.