L.A. Affairs

I swiped right and got a life coach, not a life partner

Dating in Los Angeles is a daunting experience for a 20-something, socially awkward introvert.

My impulse reaction is to re-create the “monkey covering eyes” emoji at the thought of a handsome guy glancing my way. I am not the brown-haired beauty in the bodycon dress dancing her Saturday night away at West Hollywood’s 1Oak or Bootsy Bellows. Instead, you’ll find this brunette with her attempt to be semi-cool ombre highlights beneath a blanket binge-watching TV shows, such as “Orange Is the New Black,” while devouring freshly baked gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. (It was how I spent my free time ever since my double jaw surgery to correct an overbite that six years of braces didn’t fix.)

About a year into my recuperation, I was finally ready to dabble into the realm of dating apps. Hiding behind a screen while texting away to potential suitors was exciting. It was a chance to introduce myself — in a safe forum. I settled on downloading Tinder. A couple of my college friends formed serious relationships from the app. I figured it was worth trying.

Swipe left. Swipe left again. Pause. A 27-year-old guy, wearing a steel blue v-neck T-shirt and a razor-sharp smile popped up on my iPhone screen. His large hazel eyes reflected through black, thick-rimmed rectangular glasses. I sensed a nerdy, yet cool swagger about him.

It didn’t hurt that he had a nice head of a hair — high-volumized brown hair to be exact, and a well-groomed beard. Both were physical attributes reminding me of my Persian Jewish ancestors.

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Without hesitation, I decided to swipe right. Seconds later, "It’s a match” flashed on the screen. My very first Tinder pairing.

He sent a message asking how my experience on Tinder had been so far. I responded I was a “newbie.”

He replied, “Be careful, there’s a lot of creeps on here. I’m going to delete this soon, but if you want to text shoot me your number."

I was perplexed. I was grateful for his warning, but wasn’t ready to give my number to a stranger after a five-sentence conversation. I thanked him for his advice but avoided giving my number.

As I proceeded to swipe away, he sent another message: “Feel free to text me anytime. Just please remember to be careful on here,” and with that he provided his digits.

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I was in a fragile state, jumping into the dating-app world fresh off recovering from my surgery. But in a strange way, I felt a protective vibe from him. So, after some thought, I decided to text him the next day.

We ended up texting for hours. He told me about his job as an engineer, while I discussed my life as a freelancer. We talked about our mutual love of large dog breeds and the Los Angeles Lakers. He chatted about his favorite movies, including “Batman” and “Gladiator,” while I admitted my shameless obsession with “The Bachelor/Bachelorette” franchise. He discussed his accomplishments as a UC Irvine graduate. I gloated about my duck pride as a University of Oregon alum. I talked about being raised by conservative Persian Jewish parents. He opened up about his Syrian roots, while describing himself as a non-practicing Christian, semi-Buddhist, spiritual being.

Our texts became a daily ritual, kicked off by discussing our plans for the day. We continued with light-hearted texts like exchanging recipes, exercise routines and fashion advice.

“When are we going to meet?” I randomly questioned one day. It had been a few months, and we were still texting daily.

“You live too far," he said. (I live near Westwood. He said he lived in Costa Mesa.) For some reason, it didn’t bother me that he was reluctant to meet. I thought about possibly suggesting to meet half-way, but instead I just changed subjects. Besides, I realized that while we had skipped the relationship zone, we were in something better than the “just friends” zone.

He had become my pocket-sized life coach and therapist, accessible 24 hours a day via text and phone calls.

During our texting sessions, our conversations went from playful banter to philosophical discussions about self-improvement. Deep discussions I didn’t seem to have with my group of open-minded, similarly introverted Beverly Hills High School friends. Our conversations mostly encompassed our thoughts on recent pop culture news, complaining about our dating lives, or dramatic work stories. Now, however, I had my own virtual, non-judgmental Tony Robbins-type of friend. He had grown into this wise and respectable figure in my life, motivating me to improve upon myself daily.

He introduced me to powerful relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness exercises, power breathing and guided meditation. (Several were methods that my mother, a businesswoman by day, and studious holistic wellness maven by night, had attempted to usher into my life without luck.) But it was my newly minted life coach’s daily guidance that deeply resonated. I now had an accountability partner I didn’t want to let down. When I often complained about being overly anxious about freelance writing gigs, a simple “Breathe” text from him became a therapeutic reminder.

On days I felt helpless over my fellowship program courses at Los Angeles Valley College, he’d send me the endlessly popular “No More Zero Days” Reddit post. It’s a post he bases his life around, which entails doing at least one thing each day that leads toward achieving a life goal, being grateful for the past, present, and future you, forgiving yourself, exercising and reading.

Within a year, I started to find myself growing into a more Zen version of myself. Receiving texts from him like, “We stand together like the top of a mountain, untouched, unmoved, unaffected from all the storms just simply there” touched my heart. Knowing I had someone who was there for me, continually offering words of encouragement, created a sense of peace within me.

Now, if I am ever suffering from feelings of doubt or fear, such as when I’m nervous about an upcoming Los Angeles networking mixer, I would “invite Mara to tea,” which he taught me was a Buddhist teaching to offer compassion and love to my troubling emotions as opposed to fighting them away.

It’s been over two years now. We still have not met in person. There was one failed attempt to meet at Venice Beach. But I canceled when I got the stomach flu, perhaps a twisted sign that our friendship was meant to stay virtual. Regardless, we remain texting buddies, Snapchat companions, and occasional Facetimers. Currently, Tinder has helped me find a nice Jewish boy to date. We’ll see where it leads. But I know this much: The future is so much brighter with my Tinder life coach whose presence can be felt beyond the parameters of my sacred mobile device.

The author is a freelance writer who lives in West Los Angeles. Her website is berenicefamili.com and twitter handle is @berenicefamili

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.

To read the article in Spanish, click here

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