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Why I’m so glad Mr. Perfect turned out to be Mr. All Wrong For Me

Why I’m so glad Mr. Perfect turned out to be Mr. All Wrong For Me
I didn’t learn much French in that class, but I did learn something about male perfection. (Irene Renaldi / For the Times)

He prowled into the French class at UCLA like a GQ model fresh from a photo shoot. Tall, slender, elegantly yet casually dressed, with tousled brown hair and sleepy hazel eyes under exquisite dark brows, he paused gracefully in front of the room. The hum of pre-class conversation faltered as all eyes turned. He glanced unhurriedly around and came to sit next to me.

He introduced himself. He looked to be in his mid-20s. Bewitched by his perfect smile, I didn’t hear what he said. The instructor, a no-nonsense Parisienne renowned for her brusque style, narrowed her eyes at him from the front of the room. He turned his brilliant smile on her and she dropped her attendance sheet, a blush mottling her dry cheeks.

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I didn’t learn much French in that class, but I did learn something about male perfection.

I went home that night to my bungalow off a dilapidated communal courtyard in Venice and announced to my neighbors, “I’ve met Mr. Perfect!” “Wow, what’s his name?” I had to admit I didn’t know.

A Northern Californian, I’d divorced and fled to Los Angeles a year earlier to channel my sorrows into school. I was in my 30s but looked younger. I hadn’t dated since the divorce.

Over the course of the class, we’d become friendly acquaintances. On the last night, he asked for my phone number and asked me out. I arrived home and told my neighbors, “I have a date with Mr. Perfect!” Cries of encouragement greeted my announcement, though I thought I detected some raised eyebrows.

When I’d told Mr. Perfect I lived in Venice, he’d sounded mildly impressed. “On the canals?” he asked. “Well, no,” I admitted, “Closer to Lincoln Boulevard actually.”

When he arrived, I proudly showed him my beloved but admittedly run-down bungalow, outfitted with thrift shop furniture. A leafy vine leaped exuberantly through a crack in the ceiling. Mr. Perfect’s smile seemed a bit strained as he hurried me out to his car, a gray Peugeot convertible.

We drove to the beach. The car’s top was down, and soft spring air flowed through my hair as we drove west on Venice. Walking through the sand at the beach, we stopped as the sun slid down over the horizon. I was startled when I felt his arm drape casually over my shoulders. He leaned down to kiss me. A few astonishing minutes later, he pulled away and wrapped his arm around me as we walked back to the car. I settled into my seat and considered a lighthearted comment to ease the moment, but he was intent on extricating his car unscratched from the lot.

We drove to a small elegant restaurant on Abbot Kinney. Over mushroom risotto and Pinot Gris, Mr. Perfect told me about himself. His family lived in Bel-Air. He had gone to an Ivy League college. He had an unspecified position with his family’s corporation. He had been regarded as a wild child for unnamed foibles during college, but now his family looked forward to him settling down and taking the reins of responsibility.

Listening to his tales of a world completely alien to me, I tried to ignore the small voice in the back of my mind whispering that he was too beautiful, too rich and much too young for me.

He smiled at me as the waiter brought more wine, and my heart fluttered. Was he finally going to ask me about myself? I was mentally recalibrating references to my past experiences to reflect my fictitiously younger age when he leaned toward me, took and kissed my hand, and murmured, “Why don’t you have those wood floors in your bungalow replaced? They’re warped.” I laughed out loud. “I can barely manage the rent!” He leaned back, letting go of my hand. “You rent that place?”

Conversation lagged as we ended the meal and he drove me home. He walked me to my doorstep just as my neighbor’s friendly cat whisked past me to vomit inside. I made a joke about binging and purging. Mr. Perfect said in a gentlemanly tone that he wouldn't be coming in. I walked with him back out to the street, in time to catch some local kids trying to remove his hubcaps. He froze. I shouted at them; they scattered. Mr. Perfect, his beautiful face pale, leaped into his car and sped away.

The next day, my courtyard friends demanded details. “Perfect,” I lied. “He said he’ll call me.”

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“No more perfect men for me,” I announced when it became all too obvious that he’d never call.

A few weeks later, a friend invited me to a party: “I want you to meet my cousin,” she’d said. (I didn’t want to go, but it would get me away from my silent answering machine. Yes, this was 30 years ago, when answering machines were the thing.) Her cousin was shorter than me, with a mop of dark curls. I had gone to the party feeling like I’d never laugh again, but he had me guffawing 10 minutes in. I stayed late at the party.

The next day, I came home from class to find my answering machine blinking. He kept calling and kept making me laugh. He drove an old BMW. Some neighborhood kids tried to steal his hubcaps, too, but he took it in stride. We were married the following year and had three daughters. They make me laugh too.

The author is a former college adjunct professor.

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