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L.A. Affairs: I wanted a girlfriend. Would swiping right during a pandemic really help?

(Guang Lim / For The Times)

The news about the Omicron variant was steady and trending ugly: its arrival from South Africa, travel restrictions, inevitable spread all over the globe. Oh no, I thought, here we go again. I had memories of early 2020 when the world was shut down because of COVID-19, which spread quickly and devastated global economies, affecting the health of people and leading to countless deaths.

It was déjà vu. To make matters worse, COVID numbers were steadily increasing, and as a single man, I avoided the dating apps and vowed to get through the pandemic alone. At times, I wilted and went back to the apps to see if I could connect with someone. I had a few socially distanced dates. There was the woman who didn’t want to meet in person but was cool with FaceTiming instead. After five virtual meetups, I asked if we could meet in person. (She was too scared to do so.) Also, there was the woman who refused to sit together in a parklet of a restaurant, instead preferring that we bring our food to a park and eat standing at least 6 feet apart, our masks pulled down for each bite.

As the headlines about Omicron splashed across the news in December, I had to decide. Do I repeat my hesitancy to try to find someone on the dating apps? Or do I continue? Since the Delta surge of COVID-19, I had met some nice people and had gone on quite a few dates. Some of these relationships lasted two or three months, but nothing seemed to click long term. I was bound and determined. I was going to brave through it, take the risks and try to find the elusive love of my life.

We collected some of our favorite L.A. Affairs columns — which run weekly in the Los Angeles Times, and chronicle the ups and downs of dating in Los Angeles and the search for love — into a new book. Here’s a sneak peek at a few of the columns you’ll find inside. Hint: The book would make a fab V-Day gift!

Several women’s profiles seemed promising. There was Beth the tech worker who had an interest in skydiving. Also, there was Stacee the comedian who seemed funny but also looked like she might be a handful, always commanding attention. One day, after scrolling for what seemed to be forever, I saw the profile of Ann. She was a schoolteacher, as I am. She’s about my age, just 11 months older. And she lived a bit far, in Ventura County. It would be about an hour-and-40-minute drive if traffic was flowing, but that could be overcome. Swipe right.

In the Bumble dating app, guys must swipe right and wait with bated breath, hoping a woman will take that critical first step for a connection. A few hours after swiping right, a notification popped up on my phone. It was Ann. OK, I thought, now we’re talking. She seemed friendly. I scrolled through her profile again. She was pretty, and her answers to some pre-set questions were funny and entertaining.

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I messaged her back.

At first it seemed as if the distance might be too far for her. I told her that I didn’t mind the distance and that I would drive to see her. “Who knows,” I wrote, “perhaps we will find that we are worth the drive.” She suggested that we meet halfway instead of driving all the way only to find that we didn’t have any chemistry. I agreed. She said Christmas was coming and her children were visiting from out of state (her daughter) and out of the country (her son). I said, “That’s fine. Maybe after Christmas.”

On Dec. 26, we met at a pub. She texted me a few minutes before I got there saying that she was there, filling me with some misgivings. Why didn’t I leave earlier? I always arrive before my date.

Ann was stunning, and her smile was radiant across her face. I thought: She looks even more beautiful in person.

She wanted an IPA, and I wanted dark. When the bartender asked if we wanted 12 or 16 ounces, I thought that she would go for the lesser amount. Au contraire. To my surprise, she chose 16 ounces. Based on her choice, I thought, this could be the one for me.

We went for a walk. I love history and enjoy sharing my passion. Sometimes I can nerd out a bit pointing out this or that historical place. To my surprise, she really seemed to be enjoying it. After walking for a while, we ended up on a college campus admiring the architecture, gardens and statues. In front of one ivy-covered faculty office building and standing close to each other, we leaned in for our first kiss.

When the world began to fall apart two years ago, they made a place for me. These are my people. I make better sense to myself when they are around.

There seemed to be a connection. We spoke that night and the next day. I received a text early the following day with Ann asking me if I wanted to hang out. I said I couldn’t play that day because I had a hard-to-get hair appointment and I really needed a cut. “Would you like to visit me here?” I asked.

To my surprise she said she would. We spent that day walking around my quaint town.

New Year’s Eve was coming. Should I ask her out? I decided I would. She told me that she would be busy that night and was planning to welcome in the new year with her sister. I proposed getting together on New Year’s Day. The next day she called me. Change of plans. She wasn’t going to her sister’s. Therefore, Ann invited me to her house. We could have dinner and ring in the new year together. I said, “Yes. Can I bring my dog?” She responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes.”

I got to her house on New Year’s Eve about 7 p.m. Within the first hour one disaster after the other took place. First, my dog decided to defecate on her carpet in the living room. Not realizing what happened, I brought in his small kennel and put it right on top of my dog’s business, smashing the poop into the carpet. Ann didn’t seem bothered by this setback; she seemed more pleasant than ever. She tossed me an apron and said, “Let’s cook.” Disaster No. 2: I accidentally knocked over one of her expensive wine glasses, shattering it into pieces. Mortified, I tried to hide my embarrassment. 2021 could not end quickly enough.

We seemed to pre-tragedize the weekend. Following those mishaps, everything went perfectly. We rang in the new year talking, eating an amazing meal and drinking Champagne, discovering the many things we had in common. We were lifetime educators and we liked writing, reading and hiking. She asked if I would go on a hike with her on New Year’s Day. I said yes.

New Year’s Day went perfectly: the lingering breakfast, the long hike followed by dinner and a viewing of “Being the Ricardos.” The next morning all was over, I thought, as I drove the hour and 40 minutes back home. I didn’t want to leave her. I wanted to stay and continue the magic our weekend together had brought. I was propelled toward her and felt that the relationship had to continue.

For the next few days, we talked on the phone, making plans to get together again. We decided she would come to my place next. The day she was to come over she texted me. She had tested positive for COVID. Just the night before I had experienced a few sniffles and a couple of sneezes. I took a sick day from work and went to get a PCR test. The results wouldn’t be available for two to three days.

The next day was another day off. I went to a rapid test site. Negative. The results of the PCR test came back. Positive. I made a quick call to Ann and said: “Let’s get together since we both have it.” Her doctor had said that if we were positive we could quarantine together — it was a perfectly good arrangement. Ann said she would be over as soon as she could pack and get her things together.

We were two almost-strangers sharing living quarters with each other. It was just about a month after having made first contact and about two weeks since our first date. “Oh, yeah,” my friends said, “that’s a good idea. There was no way that was going to work out.”

I was widowed, and raising two teenagers, just going through the motions. I began to wonder whether my life was over too, even though I was only 44.

Ann and I found out a lot about each other in the week we quarantined together. We had a lot in common. We are very positive people. We are good listeners and easygoing, refusing to make big deals out of small issues. Because of our daily meditations, yoga practice and love of eating, we felt that we had known each other forever, two souls separated at some point but who were finally back together. We relished in our roles as caretakers for each other.

It turned out that I wouldn’t have wanted to go through COVID any other way. The connection we built was visceral and powerful, and the test that COVID put upon our relationship was easily defeated by the joy that we experienced in discovering each other. We talked about who gave whom the disease, but in the end, we realized it didn’t matter. COVID brought us together, and more than three months after our first date, we are still together and making plans for our next dates, adventures and trips.

The author, a lifelong Californian, is a high school English teacher and adjunct professor. He is on Twitter @parkmess.

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 [email protected]. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.


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