I had just come out of a nine-year marriage and was reentering the dating world. I did not know where to begin, so I did as everyone else was doing and signed up for online dating. After all, this is how people were meeting people.
I dated a few good guys, but we went our separate ways. Then an 80-year-old family friend, Marty, mentioned that he had a great guy to set me up with. Turns out we were each in our 40s, and Marty said he could see us together.
On one hand I asked myself, "What would an 80-year-old know about whom I should like/marry?" But on the other hand, I knew how wise Marty was and that he had 80 years' worth of experience in the world with life, love, family and everything important that matters.
I asked Marty to tell me more about this guy, his friend Ken. Marty and Ken had known each other for years. They shared many of the same perspectives on life and politics and had great respect for each other. Marty gave me Ken's phone number and explained to me that Ken was open to meeting and that it would be best for me to contact him since he was a very busy man.
I was to call him?
Boy, have times changed, I thought.
I had an enjoyable conversation with Ken over the phone and we decided to meet at a Spanish restaurant in Los Angeles called La Paella on San Vicente Boulevard. The restaurant was a perfect pick because Ken lived in Barcelona for two years and I lived in Madrid for a semester abroad while attending college. We immediately hit it off with our love for Spain and our love for paella and tapas.
It didn't hurt that Ken also looked like a twin to Laird Hamilton, the famous surfer.
Over the next year and a half, Ken and I had many adventuresome dates, including taking in a lucha libre wrestling match in downtown Los Angeles. I remember thinking, when a dwarf wrestler was being tossed in the air by his tag-team partner, "You don't see that every day!"
We shared our love for art at museums both well-known and obscure. We went to lively pool parties at the Standard downtown populated by crowds younger than us, not standing apart as we took in the sun, ate bar snacks and shared Champagne. We tried new wines and sampled cheeses at novel places. One of our favorites spots was the SLS Hotel. We checked out the new speak-easies that were popping up in odd places. And we started introducing each other to our closest friends and family, all of whom meshed quickly.
We enjoyed classic rock concerts like the Who, Tom Petty, Rickie Lee Jones and John Fogerty; we explored up-and-coming acts like Vampire Weekend and Galactic; and we saw jazz legends like Al Di Meola and Chick Corea. We spent time at the parks and canyons walking our elderly dogs. We spent time consoling each other when they eventually passed.
We even did the unthinkable, the unimaginable — Bruin Ken attended USC football games with me and my friends, and I-the-Trojan attended UCLA football games with him and his friends.
We intensified our time together with weekend adventures to either the beach or the snow.
Throughout this dating period I did not know whether our relationship would be long-term or not. I knew that we clicked and enjoyed each other's company.
But it wasn't until I saw how fabulous Ken was with my son, Jack, who was 9 at the time, that I knew we could go to the next level.
They immediately bonded and looked forward to seeing each other whenever we got together.
On our first family "date," we all went to Islands restaurant to stuff our faces, and Ken said casually to Jack, "I only have one request — please don't spill anything on my new white jacket."
Without fail, Jack managed to accidentally spill his entire milkshake on the jacket.
Ken just burst out laughing.
Over time, Ken and Jack started having their "favorite TV shows" to watch together and sometimes played father/son basketball at Roxbury Park in Beverly Hills against other father/son teams.
Ken and I decided it was time to take a "family vacation" together. We went for a week to Maui and had a blast, even though the boat ride Ken promised would include lots of dolphins turned out to be dolphinless. We made up for it with zip-lining, paragliding and snorkeling, with visiting friends on the island, and of course relaxing with beach and pool time.
With Jack's permission, Ken took me to Yamashiro in Hollywood and asked me to marry him so we could all become a family. I said "yes."
Marty was beyond thrilled.
Online dating has its place. But meeting people through mutual friends is still a great way to find that special someone.
It's how my parents met each other as well.
We are forever in Marty's debt.
Tracey Wagner-Ralidis is an advertising sales manager and her husband, Ken, is an attorney. They live in Los Angeles.
L.A. Affairs chronicles the current dating scene in and around Los Angeles. We pay $300 a column. If you have comments or a true story to tell, email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com.
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