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L.A. Affairs: Dating tragic men taught me something. I was tired of meeting losers

Asia Pietrzyk / For The Times

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It was raining. This wasn’t an L.A. sprinkle either. It was pouring outside. I kept imagining battling rush-hour traffic in the rain just to meet another loser.

I had suggested to Steve that we meet at a dive bar in Gardena because it was equidistant between our two homes, mine in San Pedro and his in downtown L.A. Still, it was raining, and as an L.A. native, even a light shower has me fearful of hydroplaning.

But I braved the weather, the traffic and my fears about him not being a match and arrived early at the Desert Room. It was dark and sticky inside. I took a seat at the bar and waited. Steve walked in a few minutes later.

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After my marriage ended, I realized I still wasn’t lucky with relationships. But I had recently met a scientist on eHarmony and thought there might be a connection.

Oct. 20, 2023

Wow, he wasn’t what I expected — or rather, he was better than I expected. He was tall, fit and well-dressed. After a few dates with men who looked like they had rolled out of bed just before our meeting — some even smelling of BO — I was happy to see that Steve appeared to have actually taken a shower that morning. I sniffed the air. No body odor.

And he was charming — so charming. We got along so well that the bartender, Cheryl, was amazed it was our first date. When Steve and I shared a kiss at the bar, Cheryl said, “It’s not just wet outside tonight!”

My spectacular first date with Steve happened eight years ago. We married this summer on the roof of his condo complex in downtown L.A. (I live there now too.) As we said our vows, a Duran Duran cover band played in nearby Pershing Square, threatening to drown us out. Police helicopters flew overhead during our first dance, sirens blaring in the street below.

As part of our wedding, I told the story of my first date with Steve because I wanted to emphasize just how special it was that we met in this city. App dating is uniquely hellish in L.A. You’ll spend hours on the road, often in traffic, enduring the high cost of restaurant dining, just to realize you have nothing in common with your date.

I drove Los Angeles from end to end, listening to music and feeling on a visceral level that L.A. both scared me and would be my future home.

Oct. 13, 2023

But in telling this story, I also wanted to underline how I don’t think I would have met Steve had I not dated in the way I did. I met Steve because I “dated liberally.”

“Dating liberally” means going out to meet a lot of people. It means not being picky about swiping right. And so I found myself on first dates with those BO guys and others including the one in Hermosa Beach who kept me waiting while he spoke to another woman in yoga pants (with a much better butt than mine).

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Then there was the fella in Westchester, who had serious halitosis, who leaned in for a kiss after dinner. I met up with a guy in El Segundo who said he was 47 when he was actually more like 57, and I had drinks with a dude in Hollywood who said he was 5 feet 7 inches tall when he was actually more like 5 feet 4. (I’m 5 feet 8, by the way.) I heard “I’m just not looking for a serious relationship right now” more times than I’d like to admit, sometimes after driving for an hour to get together.

So sure, “dating liberally” wasn’t a perfect dating method. However, I sensed from the beginning that this was the only way I would find Mr. Right in L.A.

I hadn’t thought about him in 25 years until his email arrived. On our second date, he told me that he had adored me since we were teenagers.

Oct. 6, 2023

Had I not been “dating liberally,” I never would have swiped right on Steve. He was a little older than the men I typically dated (he’s eight years my senior). Then there was our first phone call. He seemed so “suburban” over the phone — so normal and kind of boring. (After all, he had previously been living in La Ca?ada Flintridge.) Why else had I given him the litmus test of meeting me at a dive bar in Gardena? If he complained that it was a dump (it was), I’d know he wasn’t for me. I wanted a man who could be comfortable anywhere, not just in a trendy bar in Silver Lake.

Then there was the rain on the night of our first date. That I still went out to meet him in that weather meant I was up for taking chances on men. Naysayers will argue that I easily could have figured out a lot about our compatibility had I just hopped on Skype with him pre-date. But, like I said, I probably wouldn’t have swiped right on him in the first place had I not been “dating liberally.”

A few months after meeting Steve (years before he ever popped the question), we were at a party in Mt. Washington, and someone asked how we had met. I proudly declared that we’d met on Tinder. The folks we were talking to couldn’t believe it. They all shared how much they hated app dating, especially how you had to waste so much time meeting up with the wrong people.

I missed companionship and the experience of sharing my life with a man who also wanted the same things that I wanted. So I created profiles on dating sites.

Sept. 29, 2023

But the app’s job is not to serve you perfect matches. That’s the work you have to do yourself. In my case, I needed numbers. I had to go out to meet a lot of the wrong guys because this was the only way to increase my chances of meeting the right one. I actually had to get my butt out of my house and suffer the roads, the traffic and, sometimes, even the rain. As grueling as “dating liberally” was in this city, it was the only way for me to find love.

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The author is a writer living in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. Visit her website for more information at larasterling.com.

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 $400 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.

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