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I remember L.A. dating before the internet came along: It was all left to fate ...

I remember L.A. dating before the internet came along: It was all left to fate ...
I subscribed to the Jewish Journal weekly newspaper for its personal ads. (Matt Rota / For The Times)

In this era of OKCupid, Match.com and Tinder, it is hard to remember what dating was like in Los Angeles before the internet came along, but I remember — like it was yesterday …

I went on coffee dates, dinner dates, drinks after work dates, and even a lunch date where, when I returned from the restroom, my date had disappeared. I also went on a seemingly nonstop series of fix-up dates arranged by friends, relatives and work colleagues. On one of those many blind dates, I took my fix-up to an opening at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, where I happened to run into two colleagues from work.

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And when I attempted to introduce my date to them, I could not remember her name. I thought, “There must be a better way.”

I decided to look for alternatives to fix-up dates. I had my priorities — I knew I wanted to meet a Jewish woman, so I subscribed to the Jewish Journal weekly newspaper for its personal ads. I read them for six months before mustering the courage to write a letter. (Yes, a letter. This was 1989.) When I finally took the plunge, I answered four ads, figuring that would increase my odds. To make myself stand out, I added a ghostwritten letter of recommendation (typed, double spaced) from my grandmother. She vouched for me being a nice Jewish boy seeking a nice Jewish wife. I then mailed the four handwritten replies, and I waited.

But in dating, as everyone knows, it takes two to tango. So to fully understand my story, you need to know someone else’s story too …

::

After putting in a full day at work in the marketing department of a medical device company, Marian had been moonlighting — selling cars nights and weekends at the now long-gone Barish Chrysler on La Brea (if you’re over 35 your family probably bought a car there) to save money for grad school. And she was willing to try alternative ways of initiating a relationship.

When her family pressed her and her brother, who was also single at the time, to sign up with a fledgling local dating service she thought, “Why not give it a try?” After completing a questionnaire on her hobbies and interests, plus likes and dislikes, she went to the matchmaker’s office for the results.

“I have good news,” said the matchmaker. "We've found you a match in the system. The bad news: The match is your brother."

A few months later, a distant relative invited her family to a dinner party. Once there, she met an older gentleman and they chatted amiably. In the course of conversation, she mentioned that she sold cars. He asked for her business card, and she thought, “Cool, I might sell him a car — glad I came to the party after all.” The gentleman took her card but never followed up. And she forgot all about it.

Meanwhile, friends who met, and married, via a personal ad in a local paper inspired her to follow their lead. That couple and many of her girlfriends encouraged her — her family was skeptical — but she thought, “What have I got to lose?”

After reviewing the ad copy she’d seen from so many other hopefuls, she was certain of one thing based on her skills in marketing: Her ad would not include the common phrase in so many of those listings — "romantic walks on the beach.”

Her strategy worked. The replies began pouring into Box No. 3942. Each week, she received a manila envelope filled with them. Some were typed, others handwritten, and some crudely photocopied as if they had been sent to dozens of women — over 40 letters in total. With her girlfriends’ help, she made three piles: yes, no and maybe. Fortunately, grandmother’s letter of recommendation made the difference. I made it into the “yes” pile.

When she finally called me, we chatted awkwardly for a few minutes. She said she liked the letter from grandma. Then she asked me for my last name (which I had purposely omitted in a bid to create some mystery). I told her it wasn't a common Jewish name, but when I said it out loud her response was immediate — and she sounded surprised.

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"Do you have any relatives in Omaha, Nebraska?" she asked. I said, “Yes, quite distant ones, but my male relative was involved in a messy divorce and we stayed friendly with the wronged wife.”

"That's the correct answer,” she shouted. “The wife is my aunt!"

I then asked for her last name. And when she told me, it rang a bell in my memory. I walked over to my desk and picked up the business card I'd set aside long ago.

"Do you sell cars?" I asked her.

“Yes, but how did you know about that?” she said. (That information hadn't been in the text of her ad.)

"I have your business card," I said. My father had given it to me the Sunday after he attended a distant relative's dinner party.

I remembered that when I took the card from my father’s outstretched hand I had declared, confidently, "Thanks, Dad, but I can get my own dates." (Just to be on the safe side, though, I’d kept the card in my own "maybe" pile. It had her picture on it, and I thought, “She's cute, no harm in keeping it,” but not really intending to call her.)

At the end of our phone conversation, we agreed to go out.

On our first date, I took Marian to the country and western bar the Palomino Club in North Hollywood for KCSN-Kissin' Country Night. No cover and $1.50 beers. Although it was hard to carry on a conversation while the band played, we had a great time sharing the long table with some biker and country fan couples.

Within a year, we were engaged. We’ve been married 26 years.

In the Jewish tradition, we say something is b'sheret or "meant to be." Although, for years, my father claimed all the credit.

The author and his wife live in Los Angeles. He is a former television producer and currently a senior vice president at a financial firm.

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for love 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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