Dating was always daunting for me.
I was as scared that a woman might say yes as I was scared she might say no.
You see, I was a middle-aged virgin.
This is probably the moment when you’ll want to know whether I rushed out to see “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” when it came out in 2005. I didn’t. At the time, I was living alone in the Burbank house I’d grown up in. The experience of attending a new movie in a theater had become too assaulting to my eyes and ears. And the plot held little appeal. Why pay money to see that? I was living it.
I had yearned to break out of my isolation. But no matter how many times I promised myself to “just get out there,” I couldn’t find the courage to take action. And I struggled to figure out how I’d ended up here.
I was popular in elementary school, but puberty changed things. My friends got bigger and taller and went on to become the star athletes. I didn’t. I fell in with a bunch of Trekkies and science-fiction fanatics, and made it out of high school without going on a single date.
After high school, I started working in my family’s travel agency and was eager to get out into the real world. I did well in my work, but I was actually left with fewer social opportunities than I’d had in school.
I was never confused about my sexual orientation; I just had no game. I still lived at home, and every once in a blue moon, my mother would say something about hoping that I’d meet a nice girl one day.
Largely, though, I was left to figure it out for myself.
For years, I used to tell myself that I could always start looking for a date tomorrow, trying not to think about the reality that one day I would run out of tomorrows.
Then, in the fall of 2011, I found myself attending several social functions in less than two weeks — all by myself.
By the last event, a banquet in memory of a recently deceased family friend, I was 52 and had finally had enough. I was done feeling like the loneliest person in any room I entered.
Was that something resembling courage coming over me?
I decided to work on it.
Part of the problem was that, as the owner of a small business I ran from home, I lacked opportunities to meet people through work. So I began the search by asking friends if they knew any single women who might like to meet me. I forced myself to get better at striking up conversations with strangers. And I decided I had to dive into online dating. (I’d resisted it. The blunt truth was that as long as I resided at home with my parents, any effort I made to be taken seriously on the dating scene was going to be hamstrung. But even after my parents died, it took me awhile to get on board.)
Once I got the hang of it, though, I began dating on a slow but steady basis.
There were plenty of misadventures.
There was the woman who waited until we met to inform me that, though she lived by herself, she was actually still married because her husband had really good health insurance. There was the woman who needed a full five minutes to tell me about all the animals she kept at home.
There was the woman with whom I spent a pleasant afternoon at the Getty Center and took to dinner afterward. I thought the date had gone well, but as we pulled up in front of her building, she had the passenger door open and was making a run for it before the car even came to a complete stop.
But at least I was out there.
Despite the disappointments, I usually learned something from each encounter.
Spoiler alert: It was during this period I had sex for the first time, at 54, with a kindhearted woman not unlike the character of Trish in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” (By this time, I had indeed seen the movie. It was courageous territory: A few of the details are dead-on, such as Steve Carell’s character spending his evenings with an elderly neighbor couple. Yeah, that was me.)
Making love turned out to be a transcendent experience; falling in love remained elusive.
In three and a half years, I’d gone on about 20 first dates, three or four second dates and no thirds.
It was a challenge to keep believing I wasn’t spinning my wheels.
Then came Laurie.
A divorcée from Simi Valley with two grown daughters, Laurie hadn’t actively dated in years. She’d even let her eHarmony membership lapse. In fact, she saw my initial greeting on that website only because I happened to send it during a “free communication” weekend after spotting her profile, which was still there.
Laurie would later tell me she had resigned herself to the likelihood of living out her days alone. But something in my first message sparked her interest.
From the beginning, things between us were different.
Instead of quickly setting up a face-to-face meeting, we interacted by e-mail and phone for six weeks. It was a great way to get to know each other.
When it came time to meet face-to-face, I thought there might be a better way to break the ice than meeting at a restaurant and sitting motionless across the table from each other, struggling to keep the conversation going.
So I found a dance teacher in Van Nuys, and we took a private ballroom dance lesson. Neither of us had any formal dance training, but we bounced around the floor together for an hour, did our best to follow some simple steps and got comfortable being close to — and touching — each other.
After dancing, we went to dinner and strolled the neighborhood. As we returned to our cars, I hoped that Laurie would welcome a goodnight kiss. I didn’t expect that kiss to lead to a three-hour make-out session on a darkened side street in Van Nuys. (Side note: Until that moment, I’d always looked disapprovingly at couples engaging in public displays of affection, probably because deep down I envied them.)
Laurie and I were inseparable from that night on.
Within two months, we’d said we loved each other. And a little more than a year after that first date — I rented out my house in Burbank and moved in with Laurie.
In the townhouse we now share, we talk occasionally about how far both of us have come in the last several years. (Laurie says at the time we met she was “half a virgin” herself for being away from the dating scene so long.)
I remember back to that banquet and the pledge I made to myself that I was going to transform my life. I suppose you might ask whether I regret that I waited as long as I did to look for love.
But I wouldn’t change a thing.
The author is a travel agent in Simi Valley. His website is davidbernhart.com.
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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