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L.A. Affairs: I thought we’d get married. But a house came between us

I wanted “my” place to become “our” place.
I wanted “my” place to become “our” place.
(Greg Clarke / For The Times)

After my wife passed away following a 19-year struggle with breast cancer, I found myself in the dating pool for the first time in over 30 years. As a widower, I dabbled in the black arts of internet dating with varying degrees of success but nothing really stuck.

Then a friend told me she knew someone who would be perfect for me. I agreed to meet this friend at Pinot Bistro, a restaurant in Studio City, to see where it went. (I was skeptical. She lived in Valencia; I lived in Sherman Oaks, which meant she was “GU” — geographically undesirable, a term I learned from my internet dating stint.) I found her sitting at the bar. She gave me the once over and slyly grinned with approval. I once-overed her, and yeah, nice.

Maybe our matchmaker friend knew what she was doing.

We headed to the dining room and had a magical time, enjoying the food, the company — talking until the restaurant closed. She was a single mother who had raised her teenage son with the help of her mother, who lived with her.

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She told me her plan/fantasy was that when her son went off to college she would move to Marina del Rey, trading in sedate suburban motherhood to become a hip Westside single. As the calendar pages flew past, though, we became very much involved, and the relationship deepened. We worked well together. Her earlier plan seemed to dissolve into our combined reality.

I told my two roommates I was taking full sabbatical from dating. Taking a ‘man-cation’ was not a difficult decision. My last two dates had been total duds.

I regularly braved the commuter traffic to see her in Valencia, but we really lived our best life while in Los Angeles and beyond. We loved fine dining, going to a few Ludo pop-ups, Mélisse and Picasso in Vegas. We took a magical trip to Santa Barbara bookended by Peter Gabriel and Buffalo Springfield concerts five nights apart. We happily met and mingled with each other’s families.

In time, we were spending practically every night together. It was comfortable.
With that in mind, and our relationship growing, possibly moving toward something involving bands of gold, we decided it would be the right time for her to move in with me and and make my house ours.

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That’s when we started talking about finances and what would be fair about sharing costs.

My therapist was pushing me to date more, which is hard when you’re a teacher and can’t go out “on a school night.” But I’m getting myself out there. L.A. traffic willing.

And that’s when I discovered she thought that since it was “my” house, she shouldn’t have to pay anything toward the mortgage. I set her straight on that immediately: I thought she should be paying half. She didn’t like that. At one point, she suggested paying me half the value of the house at the time I bought it way back when and then she would have half ownership. I suggested we get it appraised and then she’d pay me half of the newly appraised value.

And so on it went.

Undaunted, we moved ahead without resolving the issues. Red flags be damned. We started to look at ways to improve the house to become “her” house. Designers and contractors mulled over renovations to the master bedroom and master bath. I had a new deck built in the backyard. I had a couple of rooms painted to her specifications, and I spent a couple of days assembling Ikea parts for her new home office. We were choosing tiles, countertops, doors, windows ... .

Simultaneously, I was helping her get her house ready for rent. (Her son had by this time gone off to college, and her mother was moving elsewhere.)

At first I felt really strong and empowered, like I was taking my power back and protecting my heart. As the days went on, though, and he didn’t follow up to see why I’d gone silent, I just felt sad and empty. Truth is, I hate the power struggle that so often comes with online dating.

It was all coming together until one day, completely out of nowhere, she looked up at me with her big brown eyes and said, “I can’t move in here with you.”

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I was stunned.

And I asked the obvious: Why not?

She said it had been my wife’s house and would always be that.

I was still in shock. It’s not like we had ever discussed this reluctance over the course of our time together.

She admitted she had been thinking that, as we renovated, it would become “our house.” But apparently that wasn’t the case. She just couldn’t see herself living here with me.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t angry. The only words that came out of my mouth — calmly — were “Get out.”

Now it was her turn to be shocked. In retrospect, I think she thought I would relent and agree to sell the house and move with her to a new place, a place that would be “our” place, in the marina. This argument wasn’t going anywhere, so she suggested we simply set it aside for a week to give us both more time to think.

I decided it would be a week that underscored the best things about our relationship. And we really had a wonderful week.

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As it turned out, Day 6 was Valentine’s Day. We had a lovely dinner at Bottega Louie and attended an L.A. Phil concert at Disney Concert Hall. She tried to bring up the looming question of our future, but I asked her not to. I wasn’t going to plead or beg, and I felt my actions of the past week — and during the more than three years we had been together — had done all my talking for me.

My wife Sasha and I had been together for 25 years and, over our time together, had developed a trust that was unquestioned. We agreed on so much, and when we didn’t, we talked it through and came to a place where we both saw each other’s point of view, subsequently agreeing on what was best for “us.” I didn’t realize how rare that was. I thought that was the way things were supposed to be, when you were in love, as it came so easily to us. I just didn’t understand a hidden agenda, and I was lucky that, until this developed, I’d never had to.

On Day 7, my girlfriend had made her decision.

She couldn’t see herself living in my house. As she had told me on the first day we met, she wanted to move to the marina.

Now I had only one more thing to say. It was time for her to go.

The author is an entertainment technology sales executive and is on Twitter @Stephen91403

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. You can find submission guidelines here.


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