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Refilling the uncluttered heart

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Early in the summer of 2009, I was finally done. For real, this time. He didn't know it yet, but I did. And that was enough.

Years ago, I had promised myself that I would start having children no later than age 38. I was 36 that summer. It just wasn't going to happen with Mike.

In truth, Mike and I had been simulating a relationship for months. I fooled myself into thinking we would transition into something greater. He fooled himself into thinking I had given up that notion.

So, with that, I released myself into the wilds of Los Angeles, where dating as an adult is much more challenging than, say, in New York, where you simply cannot avoid bumping into people.

A move like that requires serious backup. So my girlfriends and I convened in La Jolla for an emergency weekend of drinks, dancing and discussion. (My love life was legend among my friends, their photo albums randomly punctuated with glimpses of my heart failures — kept on life support long after they needed to be euthanized.)

Between scream-dancing to "I Will Survive" with our glasses of Grey Goose and cranberry in hand at Stingaree in San Diego, my girlfriends told me I needed to let go and fall — into a real love — instead of just tripping and stumbling into relationships destined to disappoint.

Reviewing my romantic history, I decided my judgment was impaired and that I needed a little help. After a couple of months of emotional detox in which I literally cleaned house to unclutter my life, I signed up with a dating website.

An earlier foray onto the site had been less than fruitful and, frankly, did more harm than good to my confidence and ego. It had taken me hours of soul-searching to fill out the questionnaire, post my pictures and hope. I waited for matches — in vain — for weeks.

When I contacted the company to find out why I had had better odds standing alone in the middle of the desert than on their site, I was told, "You're black, well-educated, tall and discerning. Wow, you're a tough match."

As if I didn't know that already.

But I convinced myself to try it again. I was honest with myself and prospective matches. I wouldn't make the same allowances I might in person. No one more than six years older, no children, smokers or short men. And, most definitely, no poor grammar. Being spiritual and spirited were a must, but nothing in excess.

Within days of filling out the extensive questionnaire anew, several profiles landed in my inbox. I was drawn to only one: Rod.

His eyes, his smile and his words spoke to me, particularly the list of items he'd have to have on a deserted island: books, his iPod and a peach.

When I asked, "Why a peach?" he wrote back, "Clearly, you've never had a good peach." Indeed.

We exchanged just a few emails before speaking on the phone. In that first call, he asked, "Do you know who would be your maid of honor?" He had just seen that Paul Rudd movie "I Love You, Man" and was thinking about best friends himself. Later, he told me that you can learn a lot about people by their friends.

Normally, this kind of talk would send me sprinting for the nearest exit. Not this time. On our first date, over Belgian ale and fries on the patio at Pete's Café and Bar, near my office downtown, we talked about baby names.

There was something comfortable and familiar about him. More familiar than I'd expected, actually. We discovered that we had met before, sort of.

Four years earlier we had bumped into each other on another dating site. But there had been something about the snapshot he had on his profile — one woman pulling him, another woman's disembodied hand cautioning him, his eyes and smile flashing in another direction (clearly at yet another woman in some club, I thought) — that gave me pause.

This time was different.

We meshed in so many ways, even though he craves red meat and I'm a salad eater, and despite his being Mr. City of Angels to my Miss City of Cactus (Palm Desert). After several dates, with our fingers interlaced, I couldn't tell where my hand ended and his began.

One of the biggest clues that we were well matched was at his friend's backyard party in Westchester onNew Year's Eve. We were the only two not embracing at midnight. We were too busy shooting video of the festivities with our iPhones; he worked one end of the party and I worked the other. When he saw me on his screen and I saw him on mine as our camera pans met, we looked up, giggled at our geeky selves and finally kissed.

Fast forward to September 2011. We returned to Pete's to celebrate the anniversary of that first date. This time, it was a table for three instead of two. This time, our beautiful baby boy, whom we practically named on that first date, was there with us.

Rod and I married in 2010. All because I cleared a space in my heart so that love could finally move in. For real, this time.

michelle.maltais@latimes.com

L.A. Affairs is a column that chronicles dating, romance and relationships. If you have a story to tell, send it to home@latimes.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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