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L.A. Affairs

Why I have a fear of falling... in love

Number of days since last fall: 15. 16. 17. 18.

I would casually glance at the dry-erase board hanging in the hall of the inpatient rehabilitation hospital on the way to my dad’s room. I did not think about it much. My dad was in such bad shape that we were far more concerned with him breathing than falling.

It had been a freak accident. He was 50. I was 20. He suffered a traumatic brain injury in a freak accident on a go-karts course. Even though he was wearing a helmet, he was ultimately paralyzed on the left side of his body. It was remarkable that he survived, according to the neurosurgeon.

This happened in March 2010, one week before spring break in my second year of college. I spent my summer with my mom and sister in and out of hospital rooms. He came home, a grueling six months later, but it was never “home” again, not really — just like it was never him again, not really.

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I rearranged my schedule, stacked my classes, and graduated a semester early. My mom was heroic in her advocacy and efforts with him, but living at home full time was exhausting and depressing. My sister was already there, having moved back after finishing her degree and helping as much as she could. My brother flew back and forth between L.A. and San Francisco. I was applying for jobs and trying to make sense of my new family structure, one that didn’t feel like a family, let alone my family, at all.

Now, I am a shy person, always have been. So I knew online dating would be the way for me. I made an online profile and the dates, or rather the online “conversations” that I would try to convince myself would turn into dates, began. I messaged guys. And they responded. And then I responded. And then… nothing. Or we went back and forth for days, weeks, a month and then … nothing. We exchanged numbers and I learned not to bother putting their real names in my phone.

But every once in a while lightning would strike. I love history, books, art, museums and theater. I had to get out of the house and these were the activities I gravitated toward. I will be honest: a lot of the things I go to skew older (I am often tempted to ask the gentleman sitting next to me if he might have an eligible grandson, but even that is generally impossible as said gentleman is sound asleep 80% of the time), but I do see some couples, and I think: One day, that’s going to be me. Here. Exactly where I am. With someone who wants to be here with me. Holding my hand.

And I got what I wanted, more than once, with more than one guy: Screenings at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Enjoying a picnic under the stars while taking in a free outdoor Shakespeare play in Griffith Park. Closing down the Cheesecake Factory in Old Town Pasadena. Taking in concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. Exploring the Norton Simon at ArtNight Pasadena. Viewing the space shuttle at the California Science Center. Lectures from luminaries at Caltech.

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Alas, most of the guys I dated turned out to be less than ideal. But it was heartening nonetheless. A number of articles talk about how this generation does not know how to date, only cares about the easy hookup. Well, judging from the number of guys who confirmed plans, brought blankets, lit candles, secured tickets and braved traffic, I disagree. Maybe it didn’t work with me, but we’re all growing and I felt hopeful.

But willing to take a real risk? To actually fall?

One guy was an exceptional catch. He was outrageously smart and remains one of the best talkers I have yet encountered. Our connection was instant. But I was terrified of how much I liked him.

I see my mom care for my dad every single day. He is unable to work, drive a car, dress himself or wash himself. He spends his days watching TV, and talking about his dire, urgent, overwhelming need to go to the bathroom, every 30 minutes. I watch my mom — my vibrant, generous, capable, resilient mom — loving him, cleaning him, answering him, often while on the phone with the insurance company, and the lawyer, and the rehab doctor, and the neurologist, and the eye doctor, and the physical and occupational therapists, and the pharmacists....

I witness this love between my parents and, in the midst of such profound tragedy, I am amazed that such a fragile, hopeful thing can continue to be.

I am not sure I could promise anything remotely close to that level of devotion. How can love possibly encompass so much? How can anyone bear it?

And how to explain this to the guy in front of me? I couldn’t find the words. So I pulled back. It ended badly. We were together for six months, my longest relationship to date. Which is barely anything, I know, but not nothing. It took longer to get over than it lasted. I avoided dating altogether, took a break. I felt scraped out. I felt like I had nothing to offer because my dad takes so much energy, so much of my emotional allotment that I can’t be there, be fully present, for a romantic relationship in a way that it deserves.

But, at the same time, I have watched love endure. I still believe in it.

So a little hesitant, a little more cautious, I decided to try again. And I met someone. We followed the acceptable pattern of some light back-and-forth and then came the initial meet-up offer, I said yes and picked Old Town Pasadena, my tried and true. I got there early and literally met him in a semidark alley … and it was the start of a great evening. We walked the blocks over and over, stopping for dinner, for dessert, for a photo, for arcade games.

We revealed to each other only later, on our second date, that we’d both developed blisters, but neither of us had wanted the night to end. We laughed, and invested in footwear. For the adventures yet to come.

It’s early yet, probably too early to write this, but all I know is: Last night, at the play, he was holding my hand.

He is someone I wouldn’t mind falling for.

The author lives in Pasadena and works as a library assistant. Her Instagram is @mollybunderwood.

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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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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