L.A. Affairs: I went on several first dates. Getting to date No. 2 was another story
Nhung Lê / For The Times
When I found her, I had just started my online dating journey in Los Angeles while she was ending hers.
I was 27 when I left the Bay Area and moved to Glendale for a teaching gig. I had gone on a few online dates with Angelenos and had started learning more about L.A.’s music, art and creative scenes. One of my dates had moved from New York to become an actor; a few others worked in the fast-paced corporate world of downtown L.A. While it was fun exploring L.A. nightlife and culture, each date ended with an agreement that it was a pleasant time, but there was no rush (mostly from her) to pursue a second outing.
Online dating posed a tricky scenario for me. Writing a sleek profile and posting alluring pictures was one challenge, but making a connection on date No. 1 to provoke another get-together was where I faltered each time. I was getting accustomed to polite rejection and couldn’t help thinking that this would be the narrative I would tell my family back in the Bay — that I made a lot of “friends” but just hadn’t had time to meet the right partner yet.
When I saw Staci’s dating profile, I immediately foresaw my written response as being one of thousands sitting in her inbox. It was her reply to my greeting that made me intrigued: “Hey, I’m leaving OKCupid, but you can email me if you still want to chat.”
I was excited and felt like I had reached out to her at the perfect time, but based on my other dates, I didn’t get my hopes up. Over email for a few weeks, Staci and I discussed our film interests, hobbies and similar passions for teaching. (She was also an English teacher.)
Not being a native to Los Angeles made me feel like a bit of an outsider and impostor. The dates I had previously gone on were with women from everywhere but L.A. Staci being born and raised here made me nervous. My fears about going on an initial date with her were rooted in being a transplant to Southern California. Would I be hip enough? Did I glamorize Los Angeles in a way that she would immediately find annoying? I would soon find out.
We decided to meet up for coffee at the old Zephyr Coffee House & Art Gallery in Pasadena, a close location to both of our spots. It also turned out both of our school districts had the same spring break schedule. When I walked up to the courtyard front of the coffeehouse, she was grading papers, casually looking up at me as I walked past the gate.
“I thought that might be you,” she said. That first interaction set the tone for easy conversation about our similarities and differences.
I ordered a latte while she ordered an iced mocha. I paid special attention to the pace she would sip her coffee — slow and measured — all while asking me questions about how I liked living in Southern California after moving from Oakland.
We talked about the differences between Los Angeles driving culture and Bay Area driving culture, our respective teaching experiences and how we both went to the same yoga studio in town. I was surprised by the ease of our exchange and dialogue, which was free of pressure and awkward pauses. There was none of that, and we kept talking long after we finished our drinks. Then we decided to grab some food.
We continued the evening at a sushi bar down the street. On the TV display was a fitting metaphor for the evening, a binary of the respective worlds we came from: a hockey game between the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings.
Our dinner conversation covered the awkwardness of online dating, the forced chit-chat that occurs, and the even more horrendous messages and not-safe-for-work images that guys constantly send to women.
“I’m surprised you sent me your email as you were ending your dating quest,” I said.
“Well, you seemed like a nice enough guy, so I thought why not?” Staci replied.
Was that a compliment? It was hard to tell. I asked Staci what her dating experience was like on OKCupid. “Most guys I’ve met online either want to show you how much money they have or how smart they are by talking the entire night,” she said. “It’s a pretty sad scene, which is why I left, so you found me at the right time, I guess.”
As we closed the sushi bar I suggested another get-together, maybe lunch next time.
“Sure, how about La Grande Orange on Fair Oaks? I love their brunch menu.” And there it was. Her response made me feel something I hadn’t felt on a date before, especially one in Los Angeles: hope.
It was on our second date that I knew Staci was someone I wanted to learn more about. We discussed our families and our perspectives on faith as well as our past relationships. After brunch, we went to a movie, “21 Jump Street,” at the ArcLight on Colorado Boulevard, and we followed that by having coffee across the street at Europane Cafe.
Talking over our iced mochas, I began to see a consistent pattern in our behavior — extended day-into-evening dates and continued plans to meet up again in the near future. We became inseparable throughout the spring and spent the summer exploring Los Angeles together. At the end of August, I moved into her apartment in East Pasadena.
Fast-forward through many iterations of dating apps and trends of swiping left and right, I’m grateful for being online at that specific moment to meet Staci. Today we are happily married with two kids and still laugh about how crazy online dating is and how lucky we were to meet each other. Her first words to me at Zephyr still stick out after all these years: “I thought that might be you.”
The author is a high school teacher in Los Angeles. He lives in Azusa. He’s on Instagram: @_jeminibry_
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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