I met him at a Persian New Year celebration in Irvine four years ago. His goatee lay perfectly around his lips, as if it had been painted by an artist. His eyes were kind. There was a story behind them I wanted to know.
But I could glance at him only when he wasn't looking. I felt shy — unusual for me, but the feeling persisted even as time went by.
He's Persian. I'm Egyptian. Persian men don't usually go for Arab girls. I didn't really think he would be that shallow, but I was aware of the possibility, and I wasn't about to risk finding out. I admired him from afar.
But that didn't mean we couldn't be friends. We became close — Facebook close.
Then he sent me his phone number and asked me to let him know when I was going to be in L.A. so we could hang out.
We met at the Grove on Feb. 24, 2010.
For the next two hours, we talked about all kinds of things: my work, his work, the good and bad in life, politics and religion. And even better, what we wanted from life: health, happiness, a good family, to do what we love, to make a positive difference in the world.
Our dreams matched.
I sensed he might be attracted to me, just a tiny bit, especially when he complimented me. It was like a date, except it wasn't.
When it was time to leave, he opened his car door to let me in and drove me to my vehicle. Then he got out to open my door again. That alone made me admire him even more.
We hugged goodbye — until the next time.
As I drove home, I reminisced about every second we spent together. I was impressed with his respectful demeanor, his humbleness and the kindness I felt he possessed.
I saw him a couple of times over that summer and fall, once for a Ramadan dinner gathering at my home. We were good friends. He always told me he knew I was a great person. It humbled me.
The next time we got together again was Feb. 24, 2011, in Long Beach — a year to the day since the first time we'd hung out.
We didn't plan it. It just happened that way.
We talked, laughed and gossiped a little at George's Greek Cafe.
Red wine for me; Scotch for him.
Then we each broke a plate, an ancient Greek tradition that usually symbolizes a new beginning or a celebration.
At the end of the night, as we stood at my car, I thought for a second he was going to kiss me — finally! But instead, he quickly hugged me and abruptly walked away.
Until next time, I thought.
After several attempts to get together again, we finally met up in June in Redondo Beach and then drove to a sushi restaurant in Hermosa Beach. That night, he stressed, more than usual, how great a friend I had been to him and thanked me for it. That night he kissed me, and it was better than I'd imagined. We spent the night together.
For the first time in 5 1/2 years, I felt liberated.
I was violated when I was 23, and it changed everything.
Before then, I had planned on waiting until after my wedding. I'm Muslim, and Muslim girls aren't supposed to have sex before getting married.
Before then, I knew where I stood and liked knowing that, in many circles, I was the only girl who chose to abstain. Since I lost that choice when I was raped, I had been hoping to rewrite what had happened as best as I could.
I thought I did that, with my friend. Until the next morning.
He was cold. The last kiss didn't seem the same. And for the first time, he didn't walk me to my car. I walked alone. And, aside from curt text-message responses, he never contacted me after our night together.
For several months afterward, I attempted to normalize things between us. He was my friend, after all. At one point, he told me he was getting back with his ex. It shocked me, but I wanted happiness for him.
I also needed this story to end well for me. That didn't mean he had to date me or love me. I just wanted a conversation and a chance to look back months from now, years from now or even ages from now and smile when I remembered him.
I did everything in my power and more to get him to understand how much I needed this. But he would not understand. He just disappeared. And now, I'm left to agonize, constantly wondering why it all had to end this way.
Mona Shadia is a reporter for Times Community News in Orange County. She also writes a weekly column, "Unveiled: A Muslim Girl in O.C."
L.A. Affairs is a column that chronicles dating, romance and relationships in the Los Angeles area. If you have a story to tell, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.