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L.A. Affairs: My ex tried to play matchmaker for me. What could possibly go wrong?

Woman holds a cactus in front of a window.
(Simone Martin-Newberry / For The Times)

It’s the end of August, but Costco already has Christmas decorations and 20-pound bags of individually wrapped candy canes for sale. (Move over, Halloween!) Now is the perfect time for single people everywhere to start thinking of their excuses to avoid holiday hell. And by that, I mean the endless questions and invitations by the well-meaning who would rather see you sleep in a messy child’s room as a guest or be forced to make small talk with dull people than be alone.

Finding romantic love is not for everyone. I’m an only child. I learned how to enjoy my own company at an early age. And now I’m a 63-year-old orphan with no children or significant other.

But I did have someone for a decade, from the time I was 25 through 35. Those years are prime time for finding a mate for life. In this case, we were more into partnership than becoming parents. It might have lasted a lifetime if it weren’t for his addiction. Comes with the territory — the music business. Even after several interventions and stints in rehab, he always relapsed. I wasn’t equipped to handle it. The last straw was a trip to the Everglades.

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I thought love was about how I felt in the moment. Then I embarked on a roller coaster of a health journey with Carl.

We were in a canoe, but I was doing all the paddling while he slept. Fine by me, I thought then. It was like being alone. Too bad he missed seeing all the wildlife, including a thick, black snake that swam toward the canoe. He also missed watching me heroically make rogue waves with my oar to get it to go in another direction. He slept right through all that frantic boat rocking and splashing. However, it was a fit of coughing that woke him up from his nap. By this point, his nose and throat were so damaged that he always had nosebleeds. So when he hawked a bloody loogie, spit it into the swampy water and a garfish leaped up and ate it, I decided I had had enough.

For the next 20 years, I went through an assortment of boyfriends. I think about that Joni Mitchell song “Cactus Tree,” except that the characters in my version would be low-rent. “There’s the one who smells like dog food and the one who calls me whore. There’s the one who wants his mommy and the one who’s just a bore …”

Fast-forward to today. My ex finally got clean, celebrating nearly a decade of sobriety. (Yeah, it took a while, but he did it.) The only thing he’s addicted to now is $50 algae shots from Erewhon. He also got lucky and found a lovely mate a couple of years ago. Health food and hot yoga would have been unthinkable when we lived in New York. He used to call anyone who was into that a “macropsychotic.”

I’ve done my share of dumpster diving. The dating landscape had changed from when I was in my 20s. Gone were the days of bar hopping and men falling at my feet.

After all these years, we are still good friends, and it boggles his mind that I don’t have anyone. His logic is, “You’re not terrible-looking.”

I repeatedly tell him that being paired up is not important to me, that I’m no longer interested. At my age, I’m happy just being with my six cats. He should understand this sentiment because he had nothing good to say about any of my ex-boyfriends, although he never met most of them. I don’t have anything good to say about them either. I’m the one who was traumatized by this parade of freaks.

My ex keeps offering to find someone for me. Sometimes he calls me after an A.A. meeting, usually shouting because he’s driving on Temescal Canyon Road with the top down. “Guess who was in my meeting? ... He’s single too!” I scream back, asking if he knows the definition of the word “anonymous.” Ignoring me, he continues, morphing into his mother, I might add, but instead of pushing food, he’s trying to be a matchmaker to broken stars. Only if I address him by his mother’s first name will he stop with the relentless nagging about why being alone is bad. But the quiet lasts only a few days.

A couple of times, I have called my ex’s bluff and said, “OK, set it up.” Then I end up getting the same answer: “Nah, you don’t want him. He has problems.” The more I pretend to be interested in his selected bachelor, the longer the list of problems grows. I don’t need any help finding a man. I could find gems like that on my own if I wanted to.

When I have really wanted to mess with him, I’ve told my ex that I already met someone. It might just be a vague crush, like someone I regularly see and exchange smiles with along the bike path. (I recall the fun and sport of flirting — how it’s done in real life, not online. Talk about a lost art.) But it’s a fleeting crush and usually out of the question, especially when, for example, I see my fake prospect at Gelson’s in Silver Lake with another man, loading their cart in the way that only longtime couples do.

Anyway, I tend to play it up like things could really happen. You can set your watch on my ex’s response: “What does he do? Does he have any money? Why is he single? What’s wrong with him?” It’s never: “Oh, that’s great. I hope things go well.” Never.

Ruben and I spoke by phone daily, and our relationship only deepened. I planned to visit him in Mexico whenever I could, and we’d enjoy whatever time we could spend together. Then came COVID-19.

Maybe he’s trying to protect me — more like a big brother than a jealous ex. I’ve had my own opinions about his girlfriends too. I liked only two of them: the one who put all his things at the bottom of her driveway on a busy street after she found out he was cheating on her, and the one he’s with now.

He has been cautious about my spending any time with her, though. He must be afraid I’ll tell her things that he’d like to forget. Like that trip to the Everglades many years ago.

It may not be romantic love, but it’s still some kind of love.

The author is a former global head of photography for Reuters. She now has a company, Tadpole Salon, where she works with artists on business strategy. She’s also working on a book of her stories and writes every day from a small house in Frogtown. Follow her on Instagram: @nancyglowinski.

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. You can find past columns here.


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