L.A. Affairs: I wanted a wife. But did I want to date a single mom?
I’m not saying that finding a lifetime partner was easier back in my day in the 1960s, nor harder. Just different. I know. I‘m an old-timer. I started dating when I was 15 — my dad had to drive the girl and me to a teenage party — and kept dating until I was 38.
Yes, I was a serial dater. As I aged, I came to think of the term as akin to serial killer. Notorious. Not a good moniker.
You must have gathered that this was before the days of computer dating. Contact was made through ads in the backs of newspapers, at massive dances, at church groups for singles, at bars, at ski clubs, at camps in the woods, and at singles branches of groups devoted to hobbies. I know. I tried ‘em all. In the L.A. area, the chance of meeting a potential girlfriend, let alone a future mate, who lived within 20 miles of me was looking slim indeed. Lots of money spent on gas.
I had a long list of “can’t date ifs.” I also wasn’t meeting the right guy. Could the two somehow be related? Nah.
At one point, I realized I had trekked from my South Pasadena apartment for dates in Whittier, Arcadia, Sierra Madre, La Mirada, Van Nuys, Santa Monica, Marina del Rey, Manhattan Beach, Norwalk and Downey. Yes, I was circling the L.A. Basin. Discouraged, I began to think of it as circling the drain. No relationship ever evolved into love. True, one date neglected to tell me that she was still married, and another was two-timing her live-in boyfriend, who was out of town. And I clearly ruined some promising relationships myself.
I had the sinking feeling that there was something wrong with me. My relatives kept telling me that I just “hadn’t met the right girl.” But let’s face it, I was nearing 40. I was already too old for “girls.” A woman in her 30s would have been more appropriate.
Then Grace entered my life via a singles group at a church. We became good friends. (She and I both knew that marriage to each other wasn’t in the cards.) Grace was an omnivorous reader and had happened upon a book about finding an ideal mate. She decided to use some of her wisdom on me: “Listen, this book I’m reading says that for a guy like you, a young widow who’d had a happy marriage would be ideal.”
You know what? That made sense! A widow would be expecting another happy marriage, not disillusioned by too many bad experiences. And there would be no disgruntled ex lurking about. I hated meeting exes.
I know this sounds like I was being opportunistic, but look at it from my point of view: I was a man who had tried seemingly everything else in my quest to marry and finally settle down.
Full of hope, I revised my ad in the lonely hearts section of the newspaper, saying that I wanted to meet a young widow.
And that’s exactly that happened. She was 32. And her husband had died suddenly following a heart attack.
But there was more.
She had a young child, a daughter, then 2 years old.
I wasn’t going to plead or beg her to stay. 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.
Now, back when I was dating, I’d liked kids in theory. My family tree was notable for barely reproducing. I knew that even in marriage I might not be having children. So hitting it off with a woman who had one or two offspring potentially seemed good to me.
But then, as I’d aged and met more women who were available because of their divorces, I’d had a new problem. Simply put, sometimes I liked the woman but not her kids. (A kid kicking me under the table when I took the woman out to dinner was not conducive to romance.) On other dates, the kids were great, but the woman and I didn’t hit it off.
So dating a single mom? It could get complicated.
For the first time in my dating history, the lack of a second date had nothing to do with its inevitable lack of sex. So why do I remember Anthony so fondly? He’s the boy who reminded me what I was worth, at the moment I desperately needed to hear it.
At first meeting, though, the three of us seemed to be compatible in every way. For me, it was love at first sight. For her, it took a little longer. (At first sight, she would later tell me, she didn’t like the plaid-horse-blanket-type sport coat I was wearing.)
After about a year, we married. Her daughter was part of the ceremony, conducted by a minister who’d pulled a bottle of wine and three glasses from his desk drawer when he’d counseled us, sharing, “When I was driving my car to be married to my second wife, my hands started shaking at the wheel and I had to pull over.”
During the wedding ceremony, I was glad I wasn’t feeling any of that.
Shortly after, our daughter — I’ve rarely thought of her as my step-daughter — took to saying, “And I got married too.” Charming. We had to straighten that out.
Later, a miracle: We had a second daughter.
So who had been right about sizing up my earlier life?
I was right, there had been something wrong with me. (A woeful lack of confidence that took six years of group therapy.) And my relatives were right too; as old as I was, and despite circling the L.A. Basin, I just hadn’t met the right woman. But most right of all, of course, was Grace.
My wife and I will soon celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary. My wife continues to be the most perpetually fascinating woman I’ve ever met. And I still tell our older daughter, “I wouldn’t have married your mother if I hadn’t loved you too.” She likes to hear that.
And I still have the plaid-horse-blanket-type sport coat that I once thought was so stylish. My wife, a gifted director of plays and musicals, uses it on the actor portraying the nerd.
I can live with that.
The author is a retired school counselor living in Ojai.
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