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The very first date I went on after my husband died

The very first date I went on after my husband died
I kept postponing because I was terrified. Terrified that this could work. Terrified that this could end. (John Garrison / For The Times)

It was a little more than four years since my husband passed away and I had yet to dive into the world of dating. Up to that point, the whole idea of 21st century dating terrified me. I mean, I hadn't gone out with a man who wasn't my husband since 1994. With the prompting of my therapist, I decided that it was time.

I thought online would be the quickest way to get started. I had been told by my divorced friends that Bumble had the cuter men, but that site requires the woman to initiate contact. I decided that I was going to be a dating traditionalist though, which meant the guy was going to have to make the first move. So I went with Match.com.

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I got a wide array of emails ranging from the super-generic "hi," to the more formal, "If you could invite four people over for dinner living or not, fictional or nonfictional, who would they be and why?" I think I fell asleep reading that one. Actually, if that man had been relatively attractive I might have responded, but he wasn't so I didn't. There was a man whom I was emailing back and forth who led with, "what is your love language?" I only emailed with him because I was sure he was drunk emailing — his messages got progressively crazier and I was amused. The emails were good for a few laughs, but nothing more.

I was starting to get discouraged about my dating prospects, when I woke up one morning around 1 a.m. Once awake, I figured I might as well look through some more photos of prospective dates.

That is when I saw him.

He was handsome and the same age as me. At 44, a lot of the men who had been reaching out to me were pushing 60. I was working on keeping an open mind, but 60 seemed like a bit of a stretch. This guy also had all of his hair still. (In the online dating world, hair after 40 is kind of a big deal.) Even crazier, he was from the Netherlands like my parents and had kids that were the same age as mine. In print I seemed to have so much in common with a stranger.

Going against the "traditionalist" rule I set for myself (it was clearly not working out for me thus far anyhow), I sent him a message that led with, "I don't usually reach out to strange guys in the middle of the night ..."

He responded immediately. Turns out, "J." was up late packing for a trip. He came across as smart, warm and funny. We spent the week he was traveling exchanging daily emails; at first generic but fun, and then getting a little deeper and a bit more meaningful. This was all an experiment for me so I was going into the whole experience blindly, and not really knowing what I should or shouldn't do or how much I should or shouldn't share.

At one point, J. asked me why I was on Match.com. An innocent enough question, right? Not so much for me. I was a widow and up to that point, I had never written my story down. I responded with what looked like a novel. I told him all about my late husband, our life together, how he passed away, and the emotional journey I had been on up to that point. Writing it all down made me feel sick to my stomach, but it didn't stop me from hitting send.

My premature oversharing did not send him running for the woods as one might think. Quite the opposite actually. It opened the door for him to do his own version. Turns out he too had been married for 20 years and that I was also his first attempt at fortysomething dating.

After that major oversharing episode, we decided to exchange phone numbers. We would spend our days texting each other and our nights talking on the phone often until 2 a.m. My brain was telling me to slow down, but I couldn't because I was having too much fun and with each passing day I was loosening up a little more. I started to think, "Maybe this could really work" and "Did I just meet the perfect guy for me on Match.com?"

The fact that we had not yet met in person was starting to get ridiculous with all of the texting, talking and sharing. He kept saying "it's all your fault that we haven't met yet." And he was right. I kept postponing because I was terrified. Terrified that this could work. Terrified that this could end.

I finally committed to a time and date, even though I was still feeling nervous about the whole thing. I was having some irrational fears. Like, what if he was a serial killer?

When we finally met for the first time at Bestia in downtown Los Angeles, we both had big smiles and shared a long hug. It felt like I was meeting my long-lost friend. There was an instant comfort. But as the night proceeded and we talked and laughed together, I wasn't feeling any chemistry or electricity.

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"How could this be happening?" I wondered. J. was super smiley and touchy throughout the night so I don't think he was experiencing the same letdown that I was. He would stare at me for long periods of time and say, "You are so beautiful, just so so beautiful." When a man gives you a compliment, it would usually make your heart flutter a bit or at least feel good. I didn't feel that way. I was feeling like it was too much.

After a long dinner, the night was winding down and our first and only date was coming to an end. When we arrived at my car, we made some nervous small talk knowing what had to come next. Did I want him to kiss me? I had felt no pull toward him throughout the night, but maybe that was just my nerves. And we had shared so much over the past two months, there had to be some sort of chemistry between us, right?

Then, it was happening. He reached down to kiss me. Slow at first, and then with a little more urgency. I waited for that connection, that spark. It didn't happen. Nothing. I felt nothing.

It had been the first kiss for both of us outside of our 20-year marriages. For him I think it was a release from the unhappiness of a bad marriage. For me there was a twinge of sadness that I was kissing a man that wasn't my husband. We didn't talk about any of that though. Instead, after our kiss ended, we shared a long hug in the parking lot, said our final goodbyes and agreed to talk in the morning.

As I drove home, I knew that we wouldn't talk again. J. texted that night to say what a great time he'd had, he texted in the morning again and then texted for a few days after that. I just couldn't bring myself to respond. I finally did send J. an email apologizing and told him how wonderful I thought he was, but that I just didn't think he was the one for me. He thanked me for not "ghosting" him. I had to look up what "ghosting" even meant.

In the month since my Match.com dating adventure ended I've thought a lot about why it didn't work for me and why I was so quick to cut J. off. I don't have all of the answers and am still in the midst of some soul searching. But I know this:

J. was like a little gift from the universe. The experience taught me that I can open my heart up again. And I realized that companionship and a nice person isn't enough. For the man I spend the second half of my life with, I want it all. I want the best friend, the confidant and the person I have crazy chemistry with.

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I do think that my dating encounter with J. was exactly what it needed to be for me, and I was exactly how I needed to be. I think that maybe J. was exactly how he needed to be too, for his first time out. And I hope he feels the same.

The author lives in Laguna Niguel and is working on a new career as a writer.

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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