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L.A. Affairs: I’m proof you should never compromise when it comes to love

Illustration of couple arranging the building blocks of their relationship.
We kept running into each other at church.
(Jiawen Chen / For The Times)

Reentering the dating scene after being in a long-term relationship is scary.

Especially when you’re in your 40s.

I moved to Los Angeles from Texas with a longtime boyfriend, but it wasn’t long before we’d agreed to part ways. Despite having a lot in common, there were some big things we disagreed on. He never wanted to get married. He never wanted kids, and he didn’t really believe in going to church. But all three were important to me.

The last time I was in the dating scene, dating apps weren’t invented and online dating was just getting started.

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I had a pretty good track record of rejecting norms and traditions. That included marriage. Yet I suddenly found myself articulating all the reasons people marry — and believing what I was saying.

A friend introduced me to OkCupid and how answering a few questions would serve up a list of potential dates and their chances of compatibility. I thought, “What? Is this going to mean fewer bad dates? I’m signing up!” I had a few email exchanges, but no real dates transpired.

So I tried connecting over shared interests. I joined a gay running group. I work in communications, so I joined a gay media professionals group. I made several new friends. I went on a few dates, sharing my love of good food at many restaurants on Abbot Kinney, taking walks along the beach in Santa Monica and venturing downtown for an L.A. Master Chorale concert at the Disney Concert Hall.

I can’t say I went on any bad dates, but something was always missing.

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I am the invisible “B” in LGBTQIA+ — and I deserve to be seen. “Bierasure” is one of the lesser known issues that plague the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s the tendency to ignore and falsify evidence of bisexuality and its existence, and it leads to painful reactions when someone comes out as bisexual.

I had also begun volunteering in the LGBT ministry at my church, and we were planning a social at a local bowling alley. At the last minute, the ministry’s lead organizer couldn’t make it, so the rest of us volunteers agreed to get there early to greet everyone and ensure any new people felt welcome.

And that’s when I met Andrew.

He was new to Los Angeles, having moved from San Diego to finish his MBA at UCLA. We ended up bowling on the same team and chatted with each other throughout the night. But nothing more. We didn’t even exchange phone numbers.

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We kept running into each other at church though. One month, as I was setting up a table for a church bake sale, I looked up and saw him walking my way with a plate of homemade cookies. Another volunteer remarked to me, “The new guy is so cute.” I thought to myself, “And he bakes.”

We continued to get to know each other over the next few months, but I honestly didn’t know whether he was interested in anything more. (I’d misinterpreted friendliness for flirtatiousness in the past. I didn’t want to do that again.) One weekend, we made a plan to show him around the beach cities, but he had to cancel. Another weekend, we decided to walk Abbot Kinney Boulevard on a First Friday. (I told my best friend, Tony, that I wasn’t sure whether it was a date or just a casual meetup. When Andrew showed up at my house in a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, I thought: “OK, not a date.”)

A few weeks later, a friend threw a birthday party for me and I invited Andrew, but he couldn’t make it because he had plans. That night, he texted me to ask how the party was and whether any cute guys had shown up. I replied that all my friends are cute and that he should have been flattered to have been on the guest list. His response?

“You think I’m cute?”

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He followed it up with a winky face emoji and flirtatious — yes, definitely flirtatious — texting and suggested dinner later that week. I yelled over to Tony: “You know that guy from church I’ve been telling you about? I think it’s more than friends.”

We settled on dinner at my house later that week. I was planning to make a mushroom tortellini with a Bolognese sauce when I happened to ask him if there was anything he didn’t like to eat. Anything except mushrooms, he said. I had to run out to find a substitute pasta. And the evening ended with a kiss.

On the surface, we might appear an unlikely couple. He is white, a Navy veteran, mostly an introvert and in his early 30s. I am Asian, 50, in advertising and more of an extrovert. He likes spicy food, and I break a sweat at the sight of a chile flake. He’s more “Game of Thrones,” and I like tear-jerker dramas like, “A Million Little Things.”

But as we began dating, we began to uncover our shared values. We both believed in the importance of family. We both believed in marriage and looked at our parents as role models. (Our parents have more than 96 years of happy marriage in total.) Also, as evidenced by running into each other every week at church, our Catholic faith was important to both of us.

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Still, the pastor who married us suggested premarital counseling. One session was about finances. He gave us each a set of sticky notes, with “agree,” “disagree” and “meh” written on them. We sat facing him, so we couldn’t see each other’s answers as the pastor asked questions about our inclinations toward spending, saving and budgeting and the like as we held up the sticky note that corresponded to our answer.

At the end of the exercise he said he’d never seen a couple be more consistent.

Another exercise was about communication. We had to discuss something that had bothered us but wasn’t that big of a deal. Our example was Andrew’s lack of speed in unpacking his belongings when he first moved in. The pastor asked us to role play what the other person must be thinking. As I stepped into Andrew’s shoes, I said, “I’m stressed and tired from moving and just want to relax.” He stepped into my shoes and said, “It’s my house and I’d just like you to respect it and keep it in order.”

We were stunned by the accuracy of the exercise. The pastor told us to use it often and, when we notice that something is irritating or frustrating the other, to ask: “Do we need to check in?”

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While it’s rare that we need to, we use these tools to this day.

Coming out is a lonely experience, and while I had friends and support along my journey, friends and support do not do the work for you.

In the end, our different backgrounds and ages didn’t matter, because the things we found important in life were what we had in common. And we didn’t compromise on them. Because values you don’t compromise. Choosing between watching “The Mandalorian” or “This Is Us” is where you do.

It’s why we had a church wedding surrounded by our supportive friends and family. It’s why we’re expecting our first baby this spring, a boy. We have a name picked out, but we haven’t told anyone yet. We’re going to wait to meet him to make sure the name fits.

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The author is a marketing consultant and a member of the LGBT ministry at his church in Santa Monica and can be found on Twitter at @smumark.

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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