When people complain to me about how hard it is to find a serious, long-term relationship in Los Angeles, I tell them to stop dating and go to their nearest parks and recreation department.
I was in my mid-20s when I told my two roommates I was taking a full sabbatical from dating. We were lying out in the backyard of the West L.A. house we rented, getting some sun and watching the planes buzz by overhead as they landed at Santa Monica Airport.
Taking a “man-cation” was not a difficult decision. My last two dates had consisted of a work buddy who had taken me out for drinks and tried to pick up another woman for what he hoped would become a threesome (it didn’t) and a short-term relationship with a guy who asked me to pick him up at the airport and then let me pay for and pump my own gas. On Valentine’s Day.
And it wasn’t as if I missed dating. I was starting a writing career, had a good job in television. And because I grew up in L.A., I had friends going back to middle school. It was a full life. And once I swore off men, I even had some extra time. I decided to improve my tennis game through Santa Monica’s sports and fitness program.
When I signed up for tennis classes, I remember thinking, “Hmmm … the beginners class is probably going to be all women and the advanced will probably be all men.” I went for the intermediate classes. I was still committed to my e-man-cipation, but hope springs eternal. When I showed up at Douglas Park at 25th Street and Wilshire Boulevard, as I anticipated, the class was a mix of both sexes.
What I remember most about walking onto the court that day was seeing a men’s racing bike leaning against the fence … because its seat practically came up to my nose (I’m 5-foot-3).
I chuckled to myself, “What kind of pituitary case rides this?”
I turned and there he was.
Six-foot-six. Nice-looking. He would turn out to be a really good tennis player. And I had absolutely no romantic interest in him.
We were a friendly class, and soon some us started hanging out together, including, let’s call him Stretch, for lack of imagination. I still had no romantic interest. I got a neck ache just looking up at him. Besides, he was busy chasing after one of our classmates — a tall, perky, athletic blond.
After a while, the class ended and the perky blond faded away, but Stretch and I remained friends. We’d brunch at the Rose Cafe and cruise the Strand, before it became a contact sport. And of course play tennis.
Then one sunny Sunday I was lying out in the backyard again and decided to go to a movie. My roomies couldn’t go, so I started dialing. I got all the way to the Ws before I finally reached someone. It was Stretch. (Obviously his real name begins with a W.)
Sure, he’d like to join me. But how about drinks first? So we had drinks at the old Century Plaza Hotel. Then we tested colognes at Bullock’s in the old Century City Shopping Center. Then we saw “Nothing in Common” at the Plitt Century Plaza Theater. Then, dinner at Cafe Montana.
Stretch told me his mom was a businesswoman who owned really bad racehorses. About his dad who had died of MS. How he had taught emotionally disturbed kids before becoming a CPA. And how he had switched into intermediate tennis because there were no women in the advanced classes.
By the end of the evening, something had shifted in our relationship.
Then on the way home he lobbed this into my court: Would I like to go to the horseraces in Del Mar next weekend? Casually adding, “We could spend the night in La Jolla … or come back. Up to you.” I remember staring at the dashboard, thinking, “Wow. A weekend away?! We hadn’t even kissed.” My mind was reeling. I casually said I’d think about it.
When we got to my place, he walked me to the door and went in for a kiss. He was on the bottom step. I was on the top.
We talked the next day. And the next. But there was still that invitation for the weekend in Del Mar hanging out there. It seemed like a recipe for ... awkwardness. Would we? Wouldn’t we? So I did the logical thing: I invited him over that Wednesday night and we got it out of the way.
Of course I didn’t realize it then, but by shutting out the clutter and chaos of dating, I had given myself time to get to know a truly decent man.
On April 7, we will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. We raised a fabulous daughter. We can take thousand-mile car trips without getting on each other’s nerves.
Thank you, Santa Monica parks and rec.
Denise Moss is a writer and producer in Los Angeles. She is on Instagram @left2.write1.
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