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Break up to make up became a losing game

Break up to make up became a losing game
(Joseph Daniel Fiedler / For The Times)

Dee liked painting lone, standing birds on small canvases. They looked melancholy, all in brown tones, but soon after we met, she granted them vibrant colors, adding cute titles for each: "Charles looks askance." "Rita has a friend." She sold them by the dozens at an artists' co-op in Venice.

We met on Match.com and hit it off instantly. I liked her unfussy blond looks, her smarts and her quirky sense of humor. As we strolled by an Acapulco restaurant on our first date, she said, "I hate that chain." I replied that I rather liked it — the food was always fresh. Deftly improvising, she pointed to a short chain on the wall, and said, "No, that chain — I hate that chain!" I laughed hard and was hooked.

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We liked galleries, theater, reading, old movies and dinner out. She didn't cook, though I did occasionally, and we'd clean up together, laughing and swapping stories and squeezes.

The beginning of the end — or really of the middle, as it turned out — was two years in, when Dee announced that she felt dispirited and depressed in L.A. and wanted me to move with her to Manhattan. I like Manhattan as much as the next expat Jersey Jew, but my work, my friends and my finely carved life routine are all here, and relatively affordable. I didn't want to go. She left, and although I felt crushed, I understood.

It seemed to be over, but because, at first, of my family obligations in Jersey, and hers here, we'd still spend half our time together. I was always excited to see her again. But after 14 months, we both wanted more, and thus began a long series of break-up dinners. We broke up at no less than 10 restaurants over the next two years, including Il Cielo, Lucques, Yamashiro and at a cozy bed and breakfast on the water in Del Mar.

These breakups clearly weren't taking. A week later, we'd be together again, enjoying a play, laughing with family or, during a glorious trip to Paris, dining in the Eiffel Tower.

We had one annoyingly consistent relationship glitch, though: A: me saying the wrong thing, followed by B: her reacting badly to it. For instance, we had just seen Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love," and sat in a bar in Pasadena, sipping tall, cold glasses of Guinness. Feeling amorous, I told her that I felt very deeply for her. "I have deeper feelings for you," I added, "than for, umm, Suzanne, and I almost asked her to marry me."

Oopsy. This hit a raw nerve, and she got up and bolted. I followed and we fought. She turned at me sharply, shouting through tears, "How could you even say a thing like that?!"

"What did I say, I'm saying that I love you!"

"By bringing up another woman that you almost married? That's really great!"

I had never asked Dee to marry me, it's true, but she'd given me every indication that matrimony was never in the cards for us. I tried clarifying my feelings further, but I was only compounding the problem, and I finally gave up. "OK. OK," I said, resigned. "This obviously isn't working. Let's just call Uber and get you home." I reached for my phone.

"Come home with me," she said quietly. I did. Another breakup shot to pieces.

So did she want me to marry her? In an incident prior to her move, we were at a party in Venice, and she had been jovially promoting my return to Match since we assumed it was over between us. Soon to give up her apartment, she asked, "Can I stay with you for the last two weeks that I'm here?" I thought about it (mistake!), leading to my routine wrong response: "What if I have a date?" She bolted. When I finally met up with her at her apartment, I'd never seen her more angry and hurt. Was I just supremely insensitive, or was I also missing something?

In retrospect, I think we were confused about our feelings for each other, like teenagers stuck in the bodies of people decades older. I was a suburban boy living in a quiet, tree-lined L.A. neighborhood, and Dee was a big-city girl, but our inner lone birds grasped at straws, trying to build a nest where none could remain firmly embedded.

We've become friends of sorts now that she's living with another man in New York. In the meantime, I've had a few three-month relationships in L.A. but nothing has stuck. My brother asked if it's possible that I've never gotten over her. I have, I think. It's more that I haven't found anyone who can make me feel as happy — and as sad, and as angry — as she did. In other words, very alive, wings soaring over the tacit promise of our vast metropolis.

Dan Frischman is a writer, actor and director. His novel, "Jackson & Jenks, Master Magicians," is available at multiple outlets.

L.A. Affairs chronicles the current dating scene in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments or a true story to tell, email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com.

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