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L.A. Affairs: He wanted me to be his COVID sidepiece

Illustration of a couple tumbling into a sea of coronavirus.
(Asako Masunouchi / For The Times)

I made out with the COVID testing guy. We met while working on the set of a TV show in Norwalk. I know you aren’t supposed to make out with strangers right now, but it seemed safe because he was the testing guy, and the testing guy wouldn’t have COVID because then he couldn’t be the testing guy!

What he does have is a girlfriend — a long-distance girlfriend in Northern California, but a girlfriend. Before you get on me for being some sort of dicey homewrecker, it’s not like that. They’re in an open relationship. Not because they are some sexy and mature bisexual couple living in Silver Lake who want to explore different bodies. No, it’s because they don’t know what they want with each other. I hate that. I hate when people make lukewarm decisions about love.

Either be in it or be out! Love is supposed to be bold, not shifty and undecided.

A therapist explained that violent traumas can make all your inner emotions flare. All your conflicts, even those years old and long buried. And so I confessed it all. All my struggles. And this time, with the therapist’s help, I recognized that I was a woman.

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The COVID testing guy is cute and smells so good. He uses hand sanitizer that smells like his cologne. In the middle of a pandemic, this is considered dreamy. He is also a paramedic — which is so hot because he could save me in a car accident or recognize if my Nana was having a stroke. So hot. One time I joked about hurting myself at work (I had already moved on to a different set) so he could rush over and help me. He didn’t play along with the joke, and I very much detested that too.

Normally when I’m out of love, a.k.a. my normal life, I have plenty of other things to keep my mind occupied. I do comedy shows, go out drinking with friends, plan trips. Now I just lie in bed, pop anti-anxiety meds, and fantasize about making out with the hot French chef from “Emily in Paris.” This sounds so much more sad when I write it down. Basically, it is easy to want someone in your life right now because eventually you’ll get tired of mediocre “Emily in Paris” fantasies.

We were eating in a pretty garden patio surrounded by masked servers and twinkly lights when he told me he was in an open relationship. I was enjoying my vegan alfredo when he dropped the bomb. I wasn’t expecting it, but I wasn’t completely shocked that the guy I was feeling this chemistry with was already committed to someone else. It’s L.A. and polyamory isn’t much more unusual than pushing your dog in a stroller. I almost had to laugh at the fact that the first guy I’d met since the world shut down already had a girlfriend. I went to the restroom and looked at myself in the mirror, breathing through my third glass of Sauvignon Blanc, when the ground started shaking. Yes, a mild earthquake had just hit and I was shaken both literally and emotionally.

We went on COVID-safe dates including dining on the outdoor patio at Sage Vegan Bistro in Pasadena, driving to lookouts in the Angeles National Forest and picnicking in Griffith Park. It was sort of reminiscent of when I lived in a small town in Oregon and there wasn’t much to do, so you had to make your own fun. He was always very thoughtful on these dates; he opened my door, packed snacks, paid for my dinner. We talked and texted every day. Once, I even drove two freeways out of my way to bring him a caramel macchiato on his new set in DTLA. It almost felt like I wasn’t at all his COVID sidepiece.

I could tell he had real feelings for me, even though he always kept things a little light and flirty. He would often say that he didn’t know whether things were going to last with his girlfriend; they were still going through their rough patch. It kept me thinking, “What if they do break up and we have a real shot?” I wanted to explore our relationship without the love triangle.

I would try to get close to him, and he was by no means a closed book, but there was always a distance. I wonder what it could have been? Oh, yeah, he was in a relationship and it wasn’t with me. One night we were at his apartment in Sherman Oaks about to Postmates poke bowls and he gave me his phone to look over the menu. His girlfriend, of course, texted him right then. We both saw it and didn’t say anything about it.

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I couldn’t enjoy what we had knowing she was there too.

Look, I’m 37 and in a no-B.S. zone. What you see is what you get. I’m at the point in my life where I’d rather get everything out on the table on Day One so there are no unwanted surprises.

I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t be satisfied with this situation. But I was alone in a pandemic. I would think, “Do I even like him that much, or is he just someone to play with?” Not in a sick way, but a fun way. We could flirt, have secret kisses, make jokes, make each other a little angry.

We did have chemistry, and I liked spending time with him. Every time we went out, I got a little more invested. It was something resembling real romance, though at the end of the day it was not. I wanted real romance. I wanted to feel special, and this made me feel the opposite. I could no longer keep up the charade in my head. I texted him and explained I couldn’t see him anymore.

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We made plans to say our goodbyes at a cafe in Pasadena. He bought a latte for me and a slice of vegan pie to split. (Neither of us were vegan, but his girlfriend was, and he’d really gotten into it. I thought the pie could have been creamier.)

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 put on a sassy attitude for this breakup conversation, but deep down I was sad because I was saying goodbye to the sliver of pandemic romance I had for the betterment of future me. (I sighed inwardly at myself. Who really cares about betterment in a pandemic? Aren’t we all just doing what it takes to survive?) After the bland pie and truly delicious coffee, we kissed on the sidewalk, like new lovers do, in front of strangers. We said goodbye, and just like that it was over.

I don’t know if it’s the isolation or something in me that’s always been there, but I want so badly to be in love right now. I want to feel that way about someone who also feels that way for me.

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The COVID testing guy wasn’t that guy. He is someone I played boyfriend with during the pandemic. I wonder if I meant anything real to him, but I think I was just someone he played girlfriend with during the pandemic. I was happy to be entangled in a messy human romance that reminded me of what life felt like before we were cut off from the world and each other. This tiny romance, though weird and painful, made social isolation feel more like normal life for a moment.

The author is a comedian, writer and student in UCLA’s Professional Program in Writing for Television. She is on Instagram @taylormcknight23.

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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