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Dating means I need to learn to fall — and get back on the bike

Dating means I need to learn to fall — and get back on the bike
I was falling hard. (Johanna Goodman / For The Times)

We met in a high-end cycling pop-up shop on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. He came in from a group ride. Tall, blond spiky hair and a birthmark around his left eye. There was something about this little “imperfection” on his face that made him even more attractive. His black and yellow helmet was tucked under a surprisingly muscular arm. His upper body looked more like a swimmer’s and less like the typical road cyclist physique: twig-like arms and soccer-player-strong legs.

I don’t remember who spoke first, but the rest of the world faded away. I could have listened to his deep, rich, Welsh-accented voice forever. He asked if I’d like to go for a ride sometime.

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The first time we hung out wasn’t to ride, however, it was for my birthday dinner at Tacos Por Favor in Venice. I discovered he’s smart, really smart. We discussed his work in sports physiology, his doctorate program, and the type of testing and coaching he does with professional athletes. We were surrounded by my friends, but I felt like I was on a first date. A really good one.

By the end of the night, it was just the two of us sitting on Venice Beach, getting to know each other.

Our conversation ebbed and flowed as easily as the waves in front of us.

I ought to have played it cooler since we had just met, but I hadn’t felt this deep an attraction or connection in ages. Unlike some guys I’d gone on dates with in Los Angeles, he was refreshingly not full of himself (though he had every reason to be). He was pursuing his passions and fulfilling his dreams. He asked questions, seemed interested in me, and listened, really listened.

There was something so warm, kind and inviting in his sage-green eyes. Maybe he sensed how smitten I was becoming because he splashed me with a new reality: “I’m not looking for a relationship or anything … I just broke up with my girlfriend.” He’d literally just gotten out of a serious six-year relationship (they’d been living together), and he said he wasn't in the right "head space" to begin another relationship.

He walked me home, and we embraced at my door. He hugged me like he meant it. He lingered and looked into my eyes like he wanted to come up. But he walked to Main Street to call an Uber.

He texted on his way home: “You’re awesome. Want to hang out again this weekend? Dinner, movies, wine?” Knowing that he didn’t want what I want, I shouldn’t have. But I really wanted to see him again. We made plans. My best friend warned, “Get together with him again if you want to, but don’t expect anything. He’s only looking for fun.”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

A few weeks later, I spent the night at his place, but nothing serious happened. I was tempted, very tempted, but I knew it would just mean falling harder. We had similar senses of humor, taste in music, movies, podcasts, outlooks on life …

I was falling hard and fast for this unique guy who clearly and specifically told me he didn’t want to be in a relationship.

I couldn’t help but hope he’d change his mind.

Deep down, I knew he wouldn’t. My heart was open to the possibility of us, his wasn’t. I was bound to get hurt.

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♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Six months later, I got a Friday night text from him after nothing in weeks. “Group ride, tomorrow. Helen’s Cycles, Santa Monica, 7:45. In?”

Being invited to a group ride by a guy I had a massive crush on was about as appealing as pouring lemon juice on a paper cut. He'd flirt. With me? Possibly. But with other women too. I exhaled, dropped my shoulders (they inch up to my ears when I’m tense) and texted: “I’m gonna pass, thanks.”

The next morning, I set out solo. My mission: a hilly, four-hour ride to quiet my mind, enjoy the views of the ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains. And to forget about him. Or at least try.

I crested Latigo Canyon Road, a curvy, continuous 10-mile ascent overlooking Malibu, and reached “the Snake” — an iconic spot on Mulholland Drive. I imagined I was a giant slalom skier in the Olympics. Whoosh. Turn. Whoosh. Turn. I felt the wind against my skin. Deep breaths. My mind cleared. Peace.

It happened fast.

One moment, I was in complete control, leaning left with the curve. The next, my bike slipped out from under me. And the road took it.

Midair. Light. Airborne.

I hit the ground. Hard. And I slid.

Shock. Adrenaline. Somehow I got myself and my bike up and over to the safety of the shoulder.

My right thumb didn’t look normal at all. It faced the wrong direction.

The ER was clean and surprisingly quiet. “This is why I don’t ride a bike,” a nurse stated as she took my pulse and vital signs. On a 1 to 10 pain scale, I was at 11.

In a way, I was glad he wasn’t there to see me so banged up. He’s exactly the kind of person I’d want around in a crisis. But I was alone in my crush. My affections were in my heart, in my head. The one that connected with the asphalt at 35 miles per hour.

It all made me resolve: No more daydreaming. I need to be present. I need to take care of myself.

The next months were a blur of waiting rooms, X-rays, a hard cast, then a soft cast, then a splint. Physical therapy. Walking, everywhere.

When I finally got back on the bike, I was told to “trust it."

But now, on every descent, I think about the Snake. I want to be the smooth, speedy giant-slalom racing descender, but I'm not. Yet.

Letting my guard down and falling for someone scares me more than flying down a hill at 40 miles an hour on 2 inches of rubber. I’d like someone stable, consistent and unwavering to fall into. I wish I could skip the dating apps and meeting strangers and the risk that they might not like me back. But falling doesn’t work like that.

Perhaps fear and pain never completely go away. Maybe we just get better at dealing with it. Fear better. Fall better?

Now, I know: softly flutter the brakes, shave speed before the curve, not in the middle. Drop the heel, put pressure in the opposing foot. Look up. Eyes ahead.

The author is a freelance writer. Her website is theridethejourney.com and she is on Instagram @chris.hadgis

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L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for love in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments or a true story to tell, email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com.

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