L.A. Affairs: I was looking for a partner. He was looking for a fight

A woman heading out for a socially distanced hike.
As I plunge back into dating after the death of my husband, I consider hiking to be an ideal date activity.
(Megan White / For The Times)

I’ve always found it hard to stay in one place. I feel most at home when I’m on the move. At 3 years old, I climbed to the top of a light pole. At 16, I graduated from high school and joined a theater troupe. After I got married and had three children, I regularly rode my bike through Griffith Park pulling two of those children behind me in a Burley bike trailer. I also used the park for training runs — up to and around the zoo and back — before running the L.A. Marathon two years after I gave birth to my fourth and last child.

In 2017, two years after my husband died, I found myself hiking 510 miles across Spain on the Camino de Santiago with my middle daughter. It was time to reclaim my life. As I plunged back into dating, it’s no surprise that I gravitated toward hiking as an ideal date activity.

Earlier this year, before the shutdown, I had gone on three dates with someone I’ll call Math Man. We met through and had gone out for a coffee, a lunch and — not surprisingly — a 6-mile hike in Towsley Canyon. After our coffee chat, he messaged me all the reasons why we might not be a good fit. (“I am agnostic,” he noted, as one example.) . But then he ended with, “I leave it up to you.” Knowing that no one is going to check every box, I thought I’d keep an open mind and proposed getting together again. The very precise rationale he used had amused me, and I told him so. Two more enjoyable dates followed.

I became much more vulnerable with A. than with any sexual partner I’ve had. The liberating quasi-anonymity of the online world allowed me to divulge feelings and fantasies I wouldn’t otherwise.

Aug. 29, 2020

The stay-at-home order put an immediate damper on this budding romance. We had to cancel our next because of the pandemic.

Neither of us liked talking on the phone, but we did text from time to time as we waited to see the next step the pandemic would take. He asked me when we might hike again, wondering if we might venture out together. “Maybe in a couple of months,” I countered, “when we flatten the curve?” I had particular reason to be cautious — I share a home with two longtime friends in their 70s who are very dear to me. They are the godmothers of my children and were my partners in caretaking as my husband succumbed to a long, painful journey with heart disease. The idea of putting them at risk was unthinkable. After a week of no communication, it was easy to imagine that Math Man had moved on.


So when he suddenly texted me again in mid-May, I was surprised. He said he was sad I wouldn’t hike with him but knew it made sense. But then the conversation took a turn. He said he’d had a few drinks, so I was to take what followed for what it was worth:

He feared never again waking up alongside a woman he loved.

He missed sex too.

He feared he would never have that again.

But, he said, “You’re right to protect your friends.”

I was both taken aback by and in admiration of his full disclosure. Had the unrelenting social isolation spurred this sudden burst of uncensored truth? I commended his honesty and suggested we email each other as a way to stay more in touch without the demands of FaceTiming or the limitations of texting.

We had been dating for three years when he finally told me he didn’t believe in the institution of marriage. “Why do women always want marriage?” he said.

Aug. 15, 2020

At first all went well. We filled out a personal questionnaire I had found with probing questions such as, “What is your favorite memory?” and “Who do you admire?” He played along, and we both enjoyed some funny and revealing answers. I wondered if we might begin to connect again.

Then Math Man went on a hiking trip to the Sierra. As a joke, I emailed a picture of two bears to him. My internet was slow, so I accidentally sent it twice.

He emailed me back, “You have fears. I get it. Those same fears unfortunately can prevent you from the very thing you want to see! LIFE. I have been to many parts of the planet. I will not allow my fears to dictate my life and neither should you. You need a guide. Oddly, I’m a good one.”

Suddenly he was lecturing me like I was 14. To know so little about me and yet to make such sweeping judgments — I didn’t even recognize the woman to whom he was referring! Still, I tried to be nice. I wrote back, complimenting him first for his hiking drive and then telling him I didn’t think we were a good fit.


He turned angry. He sent an email saying he couldn’t care less about my decision and accusing me of not having the decency to talk this out. But to my mind, being on the receiving end of someone’s rant would not be the same as “talking it out.” Perhaps COVID-19 had gotten to him in more ways than I realized. I am lucky to have a wonderful community of people in my life, and it is not worth sacrificing that for someone who only wanted his needs met.

I have been hiking solo or with my daughter at 6 a.m. for months now, often at Towsley Canyon and Wilacre parks, as restrictions loosened. Occasionally, we pass people on the trails and always keep our distance.

I can’t help but take special note of the men we pass, wondering offhandedly with each one if there is any possibility there. Only now, most of us have masks on or masks at the ready. And I wonder what I’ll really find when they take them off.

The author lives in the San Fernando Valley and is a teacher, painter and hiker. She is on instagram @hikingmother

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