I was meeting my date at the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village. It wasn’t the usual online dating prospect that I’d spent the last six years entertaining. This was a friend setup, and I was grateful for the change.
Dating in L.A. came with a warning label of “do not enter” and “beware.” At first I thought, “It can’t be that bad.” My marriage had ended just like every cliched L.A. love story, with my ex running off with his assistant. It didn’t help that my mother died the same week. Dating had to be better than that. Or at least that‘s what I told myself.
The dating landscape had changed entirely from when I was in my 20s. Gone were the days of bar hopping and men falling at my feet. Men didn’t do that anymore, and neither did I. And because I was now a mother of two young daughters, I needed to find a better, more efficient way to date, so online I went.
I set up a profile and started swiping away. I was an attractive 40-something who was successful, smart and independent, so it wasn’t hard to find a date. But nothing could have prepared me for the dumpster fire I was entering.
I would go on dinner dates with men who acted like they were pitching their LinkedIn résumé while checking out every midriff-baring waitress in the place. When I told them that I wasn’t interested in a second date, they would text me things like “You weren’t that great anyway” or “Get over yourself.” I decided to start agreeing to dates that had some sort of adventure attached because that way I would have fun regardless.
As I wandered through the woods while hiking with a seemingly great prospect, he made his move under the shade of a willow tree and immediately announced: “You almost made me ejaculate.” Gross. I chalked it up to a learning experience and started to screen these men better. FaceTiming became a prerequisite for me to agree to meet in person, until one day I picked up a scheduled virtual meet-and-greet, only to be met with a masturbating man on the other end. Were there no safe spaces in this online dating world?
Maybe it was me, I thought. But as I shared my experiences with some of my post-divorce single-mom friends, I learned that I was not unique. These kinds of encounters were widespread across the city limits of Los Angeles. Women were being ridiculed after refusing the offer of oral sex. They were being asked to be “taken out” and then forced to split the bill. Ghosting wasn’t something you saw in a sci-fi thriller but rather a typical form of communicating “I am no longer interested” sans any indication or warning.
As I walked through the hotel doors to meet my blind date, I was prepared for anything — but mostly something terrible. I had had little communication with this man outside of the random phone call I made on the night my friend said, “I have someone I want to set you up with.” The conversation was short, and I was a little drunk, hence the aggressive and random phone call at 11 p.m. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t a lunatic — a trauma response from the dumpster diving I had been doing in the online dating scene.
He had made a reservation at the hotel restaurant and was sitting at a table upon my arrival. “I ordered a drink. I hope you don’t mind,” he said. So I ordered one too. I was relieved that I could calm my nervousness with some liquid courage. He was handsome but not in a beefcake-personal-trainer L.A. kind of way. He was 51 years old but looked like he was in his 40s. He towered over my 5-foot-4 frame by at least a foot. His dark hair and slight stubble complemented his striking blue eyes.
As we toasted our mutual friend, he made a self-deprecating joke about his nose fitting inside the glass. He wasn’t the kind of guy I would typically “swipe right” on a dating app. He lived in Irvine, which I described as “geographically undesirable.” He was a conservative Jew who was kosher, a far cry from my liberal-leaning Catholic upbringing. But because our friend thought we would have potential, I figured it was worth a shot despite the differences in our backgrounds.
This date was different than the majority of my previous disasters. The conversation flowed effortlessly, and I was learning more about him, such as how kosher meant not putting cheese on a burger.
When the date ended, we exited the hotel and he offered me a ride to my car, which I had opted to self-park. I was prepared for him to kiss me like the other guys who forced themselves on me despite any social indications otherwise. But he didn’t and instead offered me a hug goodbye, which I leaned into.
As I drove the two miles back to my home, he called me, making sure I was OK and made it there safely. The immediate respect and care I felt from this man made me believe that hope was not lost. Therefore, I took a chance and I told him exactly how I felt. I liked him and I wanted to see him again. He was taken aback by my unexpected vulnerability but greeted me with open arms and another date.
One date led to another. We went on a nine-mile hike that nearly killed both of us. He taught me how to fire a gun, during which I learned that there would be no hope for me in a standoff. And I made him dinner, which I ruined but he appreciated nonetheless. With each date, he showed me that he was strong, steady and consistent. And through every interaction, I felt more comfortable being myself and allowing him to see who I really am.
And as I am currently navigating the continuation of our relationship, I know that the disaster, dumpster-fire dating of my past was valuable. It taught me what I don’t want, but it also allowed me to know what “good” feels like. It showed me that there is no mile limitation, religious background or political belief system that can quantify a relationship’s success. What truly matters is being with someone who respects you, appreciates you and makes you feel safe, even if that means that cheese will never go on a hamburger.
The author is an L.A.-based producer and writer who shares her post-divorce adventures on her blog, diaryofadivorcee.com. She’s on Instagram @carriepylelawrence and TikTok @diaryofadivorcee.
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 LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.