After my marriage ended I felt too raw to consider jumping into online dating. At first I said no when friends offered to set me up, but when I found myself feeling lost on my child-free evenings, I started saying yes.
By accepting a blind date I had outsourced the hunting — but was essentially admitting to having zero hunting game of my own. I hated feeling so vulnerable, but with one divorce under my belt I wasn't sure I was the best judge of anything. Why not turn it over to someone else?
A new client insisted she had the "perfect" man for me. I no longer believed in "perfect" or fairy tales about princes, but hiding out wasn't the answer, either. She was vague about what made him ideal, but I agreed to give it a chance. "Did you tell him I have a kid?" I asked, since that fact can immediately separate the men from the boys. "Um, no, I think you should tell him that once you meet him," she replied. She put us in touch and we met for brunch on Robertson.
He had dark hair and a great laugh. We talked about his career and the entertainment company he ran. He told me his mother was a single mother and had struggled to bring up her two children. I told him I was a single mother too. He seemed fascinated by the fact that I was divorced. It was as if I had visited another planet and had lived to tell.
By the time our salads arrived, he had a confession to make.
"This is really awkward, but I need to tell you that I just got back with my girlfriend and we are engaged."
He noted the look on my face and started talking faster.
"I almost called you to cancel, but I didn't think for a minute that I'd actually be attracted to you. And now here we are and I do find you attractive — and you're a single mother — and I feel that I have to confess where I'm at. I don't want to jerk you around, but suddenly I'm a bit confused."
I skipped my workout for this?
For the next hour he poured his heart out to me about the problems in his relationship and what caused them to break up in the first place. Needless to say, we were not a match.
There was also the character actor, introduced by a mutual friend, who was in the throes of a bad divorce. We bonded over battle stories at dinner in the Valley, and although there wasn't a romantic spark, I was grateful for the company. He was a homebody and would call and invite me to come over and watch a movie. I recognized the loneliness in his voice. Sometimes watching a movie at home was as close to feeling married as a divorced person can get. Once, when I felt ill and had to cancel plans, he was furious. "What am I supposed to do with my Sunday night now?" he barked. I wasn't upset. I understood why he was angry; Sundays are the hardest for the newly divorced. It was too soon to feel responsible for someone else's needs, so that friendship puttered out.
Then there was the date with a dentist, courtesy of a co-worker. He pulled up at my apartment and parked against the curb, facing the wrong direction. He leaped out of his car and bounded over to greet me. He swept me into his arms in the biggest bear hug ever afforded a stranger and swung me around like a tiny rag doll.
Tall, with ruffled silver hair, he had a casual elegance about him in sharp contrast to his gum chewing. He gave me a mischievous wink as he closed my car door. I wondered what I'd gotten myself in for.
Great lurches and sudden stops peppered the drive to the Little Door, which luckily was just a few blocks away.
We were immediately ushered to a secluded table. I was wondering what would become of the gum, which was still enjoying high rotation in his mouth as he sipped on Chardonnay. Moments later a busboy presented us with a bread basket. "Don't learn by me," he said, and laughed as he deposited the gum smack in the middle of a piece of olive bread, folded it over like a sandwich and abandoned it on the table.
Whatever points I had accrued at the beginning of the date that warranted the bear hug I quickly lost during dinner. He was disappointed in how little I drank and teased me about it. He entertained me with stories of his wild youth, but his tales of exploits with models and actresses left me bored.
"For me, it's always about a woman's silhouette," he said.
It was clear he had a keen appreciation for women, but it was for a certain type of woman — a much younger one.
I fixed him up with a girlfriend whose tastes (and silhouette) aligned perfectly and they became an item for a while.
After that I took a long break and focused on the parts of being single that didn't include looking for a mate.
But a girl's not a camel, as they say, and after an extended drought I agreed to another fix-up, this time by a woman who wanted to set me up with her husband's best friend — a divorced guy with kids. "You should be dating someone with kids who gets your life," she said. "He's the real deal. You couldn't ask for a nicer guy."
I scanned the bistro for signs of my date. He had been looking at his phone when he glanced up. Our eyes locked, and he smiled. He was easy to talk to. Not once was there a mention of a fiancée or a tendency to date models or actresses. By the end of the evening he was asking when he could see me again.
This year we celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary.
Those blind dates were a valuable training ground, a sort of university for dating, and I was grateful for them. I learned what clues to listen for — did he want to talk about his ex all night?
Has he never had a long relationship?
Another red flag.
It also required being braver than I had been before in my (younger) dating life.
I asked questions I shied from previously, such as: Are you looking for a girlfriend or are you just looking for fun? I didn't cross my fingers and keep quiet because I was afraid of seeming needy. I paid attention to the responses. When I looked at the date as an opportunity to learn something it made the experience much richer, even when it was clear we weren't a match.
But most of all, those rehearsals helped me recognize a great match when I finally saw one.
The author is an L.A.-based freelance writer and has published a novel, "Synchronized Breathing." Her work has appeared in the Washington Post and HarpersBazaar.com.
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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