L.A. Affairs: She told me the exact date she was going to shatter my heart
We had an expiration date: Jan. 28.
We’d met back in September, on Hinge. The app indicated that she lived about 10 miles away, in Central L.A. In reality, she was 1,000 miles away, visiting her parents in Idaho. She said she’d be back in Los Angeles in a month, if I were willing to wait to meet in person.
That was fine with me. There were two things I had a lot of in the middle of the pandemic: time and patience.
The day after Thanksgiving, after we had been seeing each other for about two months, she told me that her lease was coming to an end in late January, and she would be moving back to her parents’ place to save money on rent and ride out the rest of the pandemic. Until that point, we’d agreed to be exclusive — to cut down our risk of exposure to COVID-19. We agreed we would see only each other until she left.
“This isn’t going to be a long term thing,” she’d told me.
“I feel the same,” I’d agreed. After all, I wasn’t sure I was ready to commit.
But even though I understood, a strange sense of hurt emerged alongside my relief. Would we not even try for something greater?
I had been traveling the world and was about to head out for a new adventure — Australia. Then, someone mentioned her name: Laura.
She may have said that we were “definitely not girlfriend-boyfriend,” but I didn’t let that deter me. I tried to make the most of the moments and opportunities we had. A big hug when I walked into her apartment. Cuddling while watching TV on the couch. A celebratory kiss after getting a piece to fit on a 1,000-piece puzzle that we’d begun working on together, of an idyllic picnic scene, including cups of coffee and a blanket spread out on the grass.
It was as though coronavirus had accelerated us straight into year seven of a relationship.
We both knew what we were. We were aware of the imminent expiration date. Yet that didn’t stop us from creating relationship routines.
With the world shut down, finding things to keep ourselves entertained had become both a challenge and an adventure. The drive from my house in West L.A. to Central L.A. was mundane; nevertheless during those 40 minutes, red light after red light, I knew that we would find something to do. Together.
In a time with not much to look forward to, she brought a lot of joy into my life.
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We shared beers while looking out over Elysian Park. We summited peaks in Burbank. We savored ice cream in Larchmont Village. Sat on beach towels at Echo Park Lake and read. Explored hidden stairs in the Hollywood Hills. Ate takeout pasta from Jon and Vinny’s. And toiled away over that 1,000-piece puzzle. I wished that I could have taken her out on real dates, but I knew I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to create these memories without the pandemic, and for that I was grateful.
In mid-December, we talked about setting some boundaries. She said she didn’t want to get too attached before moving home. Though I understood, it still stung. Was I not good enough? Was she simply putting up with my presence? I saw texts from other guys from Hinge pop up on her phone. We may have agreed that we weren’t going to be long term, but I thought we had established a partnership, a bond, and maybe even something special.
One night at her place, while she was taking a call for work, I was wrapping up the puzzle. One single piece eluded me. I looked all around for it. I thought that maybe her cat had eaten it. Just as the empty spaces of the puzzle slowly disappeared, our time together was also coming to a close.
I had agreed that there would be no future where the two of us would be together, but something deep in me
had begun to feel a change of heart. Was it the feeling of looking forward to having something to do? A change of daily routine? Or maybe — as much as I tried to suppress that impending sense of sadness — was I secretly hoping this temporary arrangement would have potential for a future after the pandemic subsided?
By a stroke of luck, I discovered the missing puzzle piece in the pocket of my hoodie a week later. I must have absentmindedly placed it there when we moved the puzzle from the floor, where we had started it, to the table where we worked on it in earnest.
I pondered whether to keep the piece as a symbol of our time together. Were we really going to just let things come to an abrupt end? I realized there was still so much I wanted to share with her. Experiences, stories, even a future.
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.
Did she really not feel the same? Didn’t the last couple of months mean anything to her?
Driving to her apartment, anticipating the moment when I’d be greeted by her smile, will never leave my memory. Our expiration date of Jan. 28th had been well established. I just didn’t think it would hit me so hard, until it did.
Our time had come to an end and that final hug carried extra weight. A few days before she left town, we’d met up one last time so I could say goodbye and return the final puzzle piece. As I handed it over, I couldn’t help but wish that I could be the missing puzzle piece to her life.
The author is a materials engineer living in West L.A. He is on Instagram @1.800.timchan.
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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