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L.A. Affairs: After a horrible breakup, I looked for red flags everywhere

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When I started dating again, I vowed to look out for those ominous signs of trouble — and to address my own red flags as well.
(Hanna Barczyk / For The Times)

“When one door closes, another one opens,” my great aunt had said to me. Really? What a cliche. How could she understand the pain of my broken heart?

I had just broken up with my fiancée. The only door I saw was slammed shut. I was in a dark cave, my only entrance sealed off.

During the engagement, weekends had been spent at her place in Rancho Palos Verdes, fighting. Fighting about the wedding invitations, the band, the location, the number of guests — she wanted a big wedding and wanted me to pay for it — and life in general.

Our other friends who were also in their mid-30s and were also getting married around the same time didn’t fight like this, though. Why was our relationship so troubled?

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During a heated argument at the Promenade on the Peninsula mall, I suggested we try pre-wedding counseling. We attended several sessions, but it didn’t help. (At one point, my ex went into a rage and stormed out of a session, feeling like the therapist was siding with me.) We broke up that summer.

I continued counseling.

I learned about the dangers of “red flags” and how they can doom relationships. As I looked back on that engagement in therapy, it was like one big red flag. In fact, I could see that both of us were waving red flags proudly.

When I started dating again, I vowed to look out for those ominous signs of trouble — and to address my own red flags as well.

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I joined several local volunteer service organizations to become more community-minded (and to slowly work my way back into the dating arena). I socialized, talked to a variety of women at these group events, and finally went out with a few:

There was one dinner date in Santa Monica that was a one-way conversation where she did all the talking. It was like an interview, I was the moderator, and I was running out of questions.

On another night, a blind date made it clear that she didn’t care about the environment and animals, but I did. (I know that opposites attract, but we were on opposing sides of the Grand Canyon.)

Yet another date was a La Ballona Creek bicycle ride where I thought we could ride together, and talk, and get to know each other better. We started together for the first 20 feet, but then she raced ahead like she was in the Tour de France.

One organization, the Jewish Federation, hosted a weekend retreat for singles near Ojai. We were separated into small groups for activities including art classes, discussions, lectures and mixers.

That Friday evening, in the middle of a sketch comedy skit, I glanced up and froze. Across the noisy, crowded room of 20- and 30-somethings stood this radiant woman who made me stop in my tracks and stare. Everyone else in the room was a blur. I could focus on only her. There was something about her that drew me to her like a magnet.

I know it sounds crazy to say, but I was spellbound and somehow just knew she was the one.

There was only one catch, of course. Or actually, a few. I had no idea if she had a boyfriend, or was engaged, or had a closet full of red flags. Throughout the weekend, I kept trying to navigate my way over to her during the activities but never managed to end up in the same group as her. She also seemed to be interested in someone else who was in attendance that weekend, unfortunately.

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I saw her at various events over the next few months and finally worked up the nerve to speak to her. Little by little, we talked and got to know more about each other. Finally, at an activity at the now-defunct Every Picture Tells A Story bookstore on North Robertson Boulevard, I was determined to ask her out, a full five months after I first saw her. (A tortoise is quicker than I am.)

I did. And she said yes. Was I ever excited!

Our first date was at Vito’s in Santa Monica. I was nervous and ate only half my dinner. But our conversation felt comfortable. There was no pretense.

On our second date, she quizzed me extensively about my dating history. I must have passed the test since we kept seeing each other. Each successive date was more enjoyable.

I kept looking for red flags, but there were none. Could that be?

But it just felt right, right from the beginning. There was no game playing, like waiting a certain number of days to call. We took an immediate interest in each other’s careers, for example, I was studying to be a personal financial planner, and she was working in communications for a non-profit but wanted to be a writer and encouraged each other on.

One day, on a date in the South Bay, we admitted that we were both surprised at how differently this relationship seemed to be unfolding. The best way I can describe it is that it just felt comfortable. (In the best way possible.) She admitted that she was feeling like it was all too good to be true as well and wondering what “the catch” would be.

Evidently, she had been looking for red flags too.

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We dated for six months before I proposed to her at Chez Helene in Beverly Hills.

She said yes (to my relief), and we were married nine months later. (Not because we had to: She wanted the ceremony to be in August to follow the tradition of her happily married parents and paternal grandparents, who also wed in that month.) We were married in Encino on a sweltering August day — 22 years ago today — but the ceremony was indoors, so no one melted.

I guess this is a long way of saying my great aunt was right.

The author is a finance professional living in Los Angeles.

Straight, gay, bisexual, transgender or nonbinary: L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for love in and around Los Angeles — and we want to hear your story. You must allow your name to be published and the story you tell has to be true. We pay $300 for each essay we publish. Email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com.


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