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L.A. Affairs: We fell in love when the world locked down

A kite with a couple's faces floating in the clouds.
I can’t wait to see him out in the world, with other people.
(Asia Pietrzyk / For The Times)

The first time I saw him, he was holding a piece of pie.

I walked outside my El Segundo apartment and there he was, a cute young man with cool flea market sunglasses smiling at me, holding a piece of berry pie.

We met in April 2020, a hectic time for probably every person in the world.

It was more than a month into quarantine, and people were slowly introducing a bit of normalcy back into their lives. For some, this meant going to the grocery store in person instead of ordering online. For me, this meant meeting with a stranger.

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His name was Andrew, and we met via a dating app.

I’m not going to say I’m embarrassed that we met on a dating app or that I’m embarrassed I’ve met everyone I’ve dated from an app. I view dating apps like I view Diet Coke: It’s not as good as the “real thing,” but I’m going to keep drinking it.

We collected some of our favorite L.A. Affairs columns — which run weekly in the Los Angeles Times, and chronicle the ups and downs of dating in Los Angeles and the search for love — into a new book. Here’s a sneak peek at a few of the columns you’ll find inside. Hint: The book would make a fab V-Day gift!

I was almost at my breaking point with dating apps, though. I was caught in the existential and hypocritical scroll of Hinge:

Oh, this guy’s cute.

I hate this app.

That hot barista matched with me!

Oh, your favorite show is “The Office?” How original.

Why do I keep going on here?

I should go for a jog. I’m not going for a jog.

I’m going to die alone.

Have I been scrolling for over an hour?

The new book -- due out in time for Valentine’s Day 2021 -- will feature our favorite tales of searching for love in Southern California, curated from the beloved L.A. Affairs column.

Dating apps weren’t the best tool to preserve my mental health. Yet I continued to use them, even through the early weeks of a pandemic.

Was it the best way to spend my time? No.

Was it heightening my anxiety and deepening the sense of loneliness I felt while the world around me was seemingly ending? Probably.

But one day, as fate would have it, the algorithm led me to Andrew.

There was nothing extraordinary about his profile, but somehow we started messaging. Right from the start, the conversation felt fulfilling.

We agreed to a FaceTime date where we would have virtual drinks.

I drank sangria while wearing a blouse and pizza-patterned pajama shorts, which he couldn’t see.

He drank wine.

I’m starting to go on dates, and I’m nervous about broaching this. Do I even bring it up? Read Damona’s answer to this and other relationship questions.

We talked easily and for hours. I realized I should probably go to bed soon and began to wrap things up.

“This was really nice,” I said. “It was,” he responded.

“Maybe we can …”

“Maybe we can …”

We laughed as we interrupted each other.

“I mean, I’ve been really isolated these past few weeks,” I said reassuringly.

“Yeah, me too,” he agreed.

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“Maybe we can safely go on a walk sometime?” I asked.

“Yeah, what’s so bad about two people going for a walk?” he responded.

“Nothing! We can go on a distanced walk together. Maybe later this week?”

“Yeah, later this week.”

Enter later that week, and enter the pie.

I learned Andrew that had been at his parents’ house the night before and his mother had made the berry pie. He thought I might like a slice, and he was right.

We walked around my neighborhood and traded stories about our upbringings. We flew this dinky little kite I bought from the local 99 Cents Only store in March. (It was the beginning of quarantine, OK?; we were all coping with depression, and I’m not judging you for buying adult coloring books.)

It was sweet and seemed like an afternoon John Green could’ve written about in his latest teen fiction novel.

Our 2 p.m. meeting suddenly turned into midnight, and through the laughing and learning and listening there was finally that “lull.”

You know what date lull I’m talking about: the lull when one of you is about to make a move and neither is sure who it will be.

Andrew scooted closer and said, “Do you think the CDC would mind if I kissed you?”

I let out a small laugh.

It was a fair question though. We had both been isolated in our homes since the beginning of the stay-at-home order, so I knew COVID-19 wasn’t a huge issue. But this was the new reality of dating; this was our new world.

“I won’t tell if you won’t.”

A little over a week later we said we loved each other, and it happened in the most organic and natural way.

I know, believe me, I know. If I were on the other side of this story, I would roll my eyes and think, “Yeah, OK, can’t wait to see you crying and heartbroken in a week because of this stranger you supposedly love.”

I thought that too in those first few days and was conflicted about having that guard up. But right from the start, it was different.

I know how fast it seems, but we knew how we felt. I wouldn’t change anything.

I often think back to that first week and what it was that made me fall so hard. I loved how each new day I spent with Andrew, he got funnier — the made-up accents, the way we made each other laugh, the way he insisted on cooking pizzas wearing only his underwear and a goofy chef’s hat. I loved how he opened himself to me.

I loved the way he sang my favorite songs as if they were written about me and only me.

I loved how much I felt like myself around him, and I loved that he brought me berry pie.

I always wondered when this would happen in my life, and I had made peace with the idea of living without a partner for a long time. I was sure I was going to be that woman in her 40s who was envied by her married friends because I wasn’t “tied down” and could fly to Morocco whenever I wanted because I didn’t have the responsibilities that people in committed relationships do.

As much as I fantasized about my life with a partner, I fantasized about a life without one.

I had been mostly single my entire life, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. It just never happened. I put myself out there and experienced all those icky-wonderful-painful-beautiful things people in their early 20s should experience. My heart felt many highs, but it also felt many lows.

So I never actually thought it would end up in my favor.

But it did happen, and I had two opposite yet parallel quarantine experiences to show for it.

One month, I found myself isolated alone, overwhelmed with work and uncontrollably crying all the damn time. The next month, I found myself isolated with Andrew, overwhelmed with falling in love and crying uncontrollably all the damn time.

I saw both sides of it. I saw the pain of feeling alone and the warmth of being isolated with a lover. I felt the overwhelming darkness of 2020 and the hope of what gifts such a dark time could bring.

How do I even begin to make sense of everything I felt?

Time moves slower in quarantine. Andrew and I got to places in weeks that many couples take months, if not years, to reach. There are no distractions when you fall for someone in quarantine. There are no dating formalities.

We never went out to dinner. We never rushed home after work to freshen up and change clothes so we could meet at a bar for cocktails. There was never any back-and-forth with scheduling or Googling “fun things happening in L.A. this weekend” to come up with date ideas.

We had one date where we dressed up and went to a classy restaurant in Culver City, Dear John’s. It was a brief moment in time when restrictions had loosened and indoor dining was permitted again. We arrived with our masks on and sat at the table with a white tablecloth and a taped QR code for the menu. It was a lovely evening and we had a great time, but it felt kind of weird. As much as it seemed like a typical date night, we were being served by waiters in protective medical gear who handed us sanitized pens with the bill. Nothing about that is typical.

So for most of our relationship, it’s just been us.

We go on evening walks and we run errands together. We cook and talk and wash dishes and lie next to each other. There’s not much to do in the world of dating when the society around you is closed indefinitely.

This is all I’ve ever known with Andrew, and I love our story.

But I wonder what we would be like if we had met in a different world. Would we feel so deeply if our relationship developed over dinner and drinks once a week?

Sometimes it feels as though Andrew and I have experienced every emotion together — disappointment, giddiness, excitement, sorrow, fear — and yet there are still many things we haven’t done.

We haven’t met each other’s friends or gone to Tuesday Night Trivia at my local dive bar. I’ve never been able to be awed by him when he performs in an open mike, and he hasn’t been able to laugh at me with my improv team onstage.

I’ve never felt that petty jealousy when I catch a waitress flirting with him. He’s never caught a man placing his hand on my lower back when he tries to pass me in a crowded bar. There are many little moments quarantine has taken from us. I know they seem insignificant, but I still wonder.

I wonder what it will feel like to be stuck in the middle of a crowd, dancing with him at a concert. I wonder what it will sound like at his mom’s Colombian family parties with vallenato music sung by Carlos Vives blasting from the backyard speaker as the smell of barbecued steak with ají fills his aunt’s house. I wonder what it will look like to see us both wearing jeans day in and day out and not sweats.

These little moments will never undermine the gravity of what is going on in our world today. But while we mourn the lives lost to coronavirus, I think we cling to the little moments throughout the day to help us heal.

The evening walks up my neighborhood hills, the homemade omelets he learned how to properly flip from a YouTube video, the sunset bike rides in Redondo Beach.

The little things aren’t so little, are they?

The last year has had a way of flipping, reversing and turning time inside out. It took days to fall in love with Andrew but months for us to eat at a restaurant together.

I want to do more things with my partner. I want to see him in a world that is bigger than my 500-square-foot studio apartment. Well, actually I have seen that. We’ve been calling our new two-bedroom apartment in Culver City home since December. But I want to see him in a world with other people.

I know one day these things will happen for us.

When might that day come? I don’t know; none of us do. Right now it’s looking like we’re going to have to wait a while.

What I do know is, it’s been almost a year since we met, and to celebrate, I’m baking a berry pie.

The author is a producer on L.A. Times Today. You can find her on all social media at @camibuckman

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here.


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