It was a figurative flip of a coin: My friend Rick and I were deciding on where to go for a weekend away.
There was old reliable — any one of the many small gay resorts in Palm Springs that promised sun, relaxation and a certain camaraderie among the guests that was always enjoyable. Or a men’s retreat weekend at a hot springs in Northern California. It would be a loosely structured two and a half days of hiking, hot tubbing in natural spring water and communing with nature. But to get there involved a kind of planes-trains-and-automobiles trip that would take most of a day.
Rick was game for anything and left the decision to me. We were both single at the time and weekend trips away for us were not unusual. At first I was leaning toward Palm Springs as the path of least resistance, but then I reasoned: Palm Springs would always be there, the retreat was a once-a-year event.
We arrived late afternoon and settled into a building where everyone would be essentially indoor camping. Sleeping bags were thrown haphazardly everywhere, bags of clothing, snacks and essentials piled here and there. Compared to most, we were a bit late to the party and Rick and I searched for a small piece of real estate to lay our stuff out and found nothing.
As we decamped to the larger room I spotted a guy from the back and just stopped. Something about him. About 6-foot, solid build, nice haircut. But he hadn’t faced my direction yet (and that was the point at which I was usually disappointed). Then he did and I wasn’t. I have a type and he was most definitely it — I didn't come across that every day. Sort of ruggedly handsome with an air of confidence about him. I made a mental note to make sure our paths crossed over the weekend.
The next morning we were both in the same group of six or so guys having breakfast. I found out his name was Tom and he lived in Sacramento.
We hiked in the morning after breakfast and ended up in the same group of guys hanging in the hot springs afterward. They all bobbed in a circle, chatting away amiably. I elbowed my way into the group next to Tom. I think we both realized this was our moment. It was only a weekend. No time for playing hard to get.
What followed was two days of romance — and exploration. As I got to know him I realized Tom was sort of the strong, silent type. Alternately friendly and then aloof. But for better or worse I’ve always liked a challenge. I rarely pursued things that came too easily.
By late Sunday afternoon it was time for goodbye. We traded phone numbers and email addresses. But as he drove off I turned to my friend Rick and said “50/50 I never lay eyes on him again.” It wasn’t him, or even us. Weekend romances are what they are. Plus, I’d had a long distance relationship before. A successful investment banker in New York. The distance proved to be too much and it ended painfully for both of us. At that moment the prospect of another relationship that involved LAX did not appeal.
Weeks later our emails crossed in cyberspace. He invited me to his weekend place in Lake Tahoe. I envisioned an elegant slope side chalet with ski in/ski out access and a fireplace. I eagerly accepted. It turned out to be a foreclosure condo, renovations still in progress, and a TV with rabbit ears. I laughed to myself about those dashed expectations but was fine with it. I wasn’t there for the accommodations.
We spent that Friday night in Tahoe at the local English pub, chatting and getting to know each other a bit better. I asked if he was out to family, friends and co-workers. It was a no on all counts. Tom asked if that was an issue. It wasn’t only because I wasn’t thinking beyond Sunday night. But I responded truthfully, that I wouldn’t take anyone that seriously if they weren’t out. Being someone’s dirty little secret may be sexy in your 20s but felt pathetic in your 40s.
As we sat in his living room later that evening watching the small box TV set, something came over me: A kind of total contentment I realized I hadn’t felt in some time. Despite the limited time we’d spent together, I felt completely and surprisingly comfortable.
The weekend ended and I invited him to Los Angeles. He made plane reservations the next day for two weeks later. We soon fell into a pattern of one of us getting on a plane every other week to see each other, alternating between Los Angeles and Sacramento.
I met his family, who couldn’t have been more wonderful. I began to take this more seriously. When we’d met I was still trying to get over a brief affair with a lawyer I’d met a year or so before. He was handsome and smart and at the time everything I thought I’d wanted. I’d fallen hard. A few months in it became clear I was too far ahead of him in terms of my feelings for it to continue. I’d become somewhat cynical that that person was out there for me. Despite a job I liked and an active social life, I couldn’t get past a feeling of being unmoored. And I was weary of living a life that was just about me. I wanted something substantive and enduring. Not always easy to find in a city like Los Angeles.
Tom seemed to embrace our relationship wholeheartedly and without hesitation. Still, my built-in and hard-won cynicism held me back. But his openheartedness was a road map for me to move forward. Three months in I used the word "boyfriend," introducing him to an acquaintance at an art fair in Santa Monica. He noticed and commented on it later that evening. It felt right. He met my friends, who gave a unanimous thumbs up. (They'd not always been as positive about previous paramours.)
He also came out to family — and it was without drama.
Almost one year in I became taken with the idea of renting my house and buying a downtown loft. But it wasn't big enough for two. It forced a conversation I wouldn't have had — at least then. I asked Tom if he'd thought about moving to Los Angeles. My job was location-specific, Tom's a bit more portable. It turns out he had — and if we were still together at the two-year mark, he would. I put my loft plans on hold.
Two years in, we bought a loft together on the Eastside of Los Angeles. I moved from a three-bedroom house that I had all to myself to a one bedroom loft with my new partner. There has to be some metaphor here in the lack of walls and doors in my new life. But I embraced it and the anchor in my life that Tom now represents. His family became mine.
And somehow, the holidays I used to dread having to find a way to fill — with family all back east and friends who mostly scatter — became something to anticipate.
We’re now almost 14 years in. Last month we celebrated our first wedding anniversary. It was a day that saw 80 of our nearest and dearest gathered to celebrate our union. It hasn’t always been easy — relationships, as they say, rarely are. He found my bluntness jarring — and occasionally offensive. I found his sloppiness around the house irritating. We were both negotiating this brave new world and feelings were sometimes bruised. But the steadiness and foundation this relationship has brought to my life — the knowing of what my future holds — has been worth it.
The author is a literary agent.
Straight, gay, bisexual, transgender or nonbinary: L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for love in and around Los Angeles — and we want to hear your story. You must allow your name to be published and the story you tell has to be true. We pay $300 for each essay we publish. Email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com.
MORE L.A. LOVE STORIES …