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L.A. Affairs: What might have happened if we’d gotten that drink?

Illustration of a couple facing opposite directions, holding heart symbols in their hands.
It was a decision I regret to this day.
(Sol Cotti / For The Times)

I was visiting a friend in New Zealand in 2019 when I had an extra travel day. I booked a private tour of the stunning Milford Sound, a fiord known for its waterfalls and rainforests. He was my guide. It was “crush at first sight” for me. He was kind and funny and a tall drink of water. By the end of the six-hour drive, we had essentially swapped life stories. He told me about his divorce; I told him about my boyfriend who had died and my journey to date again. We talked about seemingly everything from whether polyamory really works (it doesn’t, does it!?), to the silver fern legend of the Maori, the Indigenous people of New Zealand. At the end of our tour, we shared a warm embrace.

And we kept in touch through texts and Instagram.

When he came to the United States for a tourism industry trade fair in early March 2020 — four cities in 10 days — we made plans to see each other on the last night before his flight out of LAX. We planned to get together for a drink, but events began conspiring against us. Work kept both of us out later than expected. And as a triathlete, I needed to be up at 5 a.m. the following morning to swim.

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When I realized the likelihood of drinks was fading, I countered with getting together for lunch the next day.

It was a decision I now regret.

Between traffic, another business meeting and trying to make the flight, the lunch never happened. He was apologetic. I was gutted. He told me he was coming back to Los Angeles in May and we’d see each other then.

The world was all but shut down within days of that promise, and there would be no May trip.

After he made it home, he messaged to ask me how I was doing. That message led to another and the beginning of the most beautiful, international romance I could have imagined. We got to know each other in the most genuine, simple, old-school way.

The almost unfathomable 19-hour time difference seemed to work in our favor: When it was noon my time, he was just waking up (a day into the future and in the opposite season). But it meant we could spend each day endlessly texting: We were watching the world seemingly implode from opposite sides of the planet. All day, we traded news about COVID-19, how we were getting through quarantine, and how we were handling living in isolation from friends, family and normal things.

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We sent batches of deep questions as a fun way of learning more about each other. And we shared photos of our latest culinary creations, bike rides and home projects. He gave me his mom’s secret recipe for making Kahlua from scratch. (Delicious, BTW. I made a huge bottle of the coffee liqueur that will probably last me for years; I still take a shot of it when I have something to celebrate.)

Mostly, we just made each other laugh. At one point I told him that our relationship reminded me of that scene in “Crazy, Stupid, Love” where Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are finally about to make out, but they get wrapped up in telling story after story as they lie in bed together, and they end up laughing and falling asleep and nothing ever happens.

Things did start happening with us though. Our messaging very easily and naturally turned a corner (thank God, there were never any X-rated photos exchanged). He became a master at stirring my imagination. And I definitely think I blew his mind with how well it worked.

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It felt so real and meaningful in those initial few months of the pandemic taking its grip on the world.

While the summer of 2020 was roiled by COVID-19 and protests in the U.S., New Zealand went back to normal fairly quickly. As he started to live again in a very unrestricted manner, I could feel him slipping away. I knew that as things started opening, he would have the opportunity to go out, meet people and date. I knew I couldn’t hold him back. So I told him.

Things were never the same. While he didn’t entirely disappear from my life right away, that was the end of things as I had known them.

He has a girlfriend now. And they have a dog.

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I know that conventional wisdom says, ‘Don’t date your roommate.’ But this felt different.

Looking back, I think the thing that hurts the most is that he did not object when I told him I thought we had too many factors working against us and that what we had was unsustainable. I let him go and he flew. It was the right thing. The selfless thing.

But not a day goes by that I do not miss him or wonder whether we might still someday have our chance.

I wonder what would have happened if we had met up for that drink.

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It’s possible it would have been harder for me now. But I feel like at least I would have known what might be possible.

What I do know is, if I ever make it back to New Zealand, I may never return home.

The author is an investigator, consultant and writer.

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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