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L.A. Affairs: He turned our romantic getaway into a stress test. Did I pass?

A man and woman are about to kiss on a TV when technical difficulties hit.
(Allie Sullberg / For The Times)
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As the Ferris wheel reached its apex and Sam leaned in to kiss me, I felt like Meg Ryan or Julia Roberts. After years of singledom, I was having my romantic comedy moment, and I was in shock. But why not believe it? Hadn’t I earned it?

At 28, I’d never had a serious relationship. I’d just had confusing situationships that always seemed to end with guys who weren’t “ready for something serious” and me crying on the phone to my mom. The moment I met Sam, though, things felt different. For one, we’d met not through an app but through a mutual friend, Kyra. After a quick intro, Sam suggested that we skip texting: “We’re both Kyra-approved. Wanna just get drinks?”

He was nerdy-cute, totally my type. We were both Jewish entertainment professionals, which we joked was laughably unoriginal in L.A. We had similar values, similar interests and, judging by our good-night make-out session, similar kissing styles.

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I swiped through dating apps seeking a sense of normalcy after my brother’s death. A former Angeleno living in New Orleans seemed special.

Feb. 16, 2024

Determined to protect myself from the pitfalls of my past romantic entanglements, I proactively involved my therapist. She encouraged me enthusiastically, assuring me that he’d given good signals so far. No red flags.

By date four, I did something terrifying: I discussed my emotions with a guy I was dating. Voice quavering, I told Sam that I was looking for an actual relationship, one that could go somewhere. I didn’t need a commitment from him right away, but if he didn’t eventually want the same, this wouldn’t work. “That’s exactly how I feel,” he said, squeezing me playfully.

Sam asked me to a Valentine’s dinner. (Another first.) I tried to keep my cool but couldn’t resist a girlish squeal. An actual Valentine!?

Soon after, I left town for two weeks. Even as we texted and he joked that my knowledge of Pokémon made me extremely attractive to him, I worried he’d forget me. He wanted to see me as soon as I got back. It was his birthday, and he invited me to drinks with his friends. He even suggested that we go on a day trip the same weekend. As we left the bar where we’d met his buddies, he whispered, “Everyone thinks you’re great.”

In the app age in which we mostly date strangers, it’s easy to leave no trace of yourself in another person’s life. If you didn’t “soft launch” on Instagram, if your friends never mingled, did it happen? But Sam was actively inviting me into his world. I eagerly anticipated our trip to Newport Beach the next morning.

I met one of my exes on Grindr. He was an astrological match, and our Virgo/Taurus vibes were palpable. But was that enough for a real relationship to bloom?

Feb. 9, 2024

Nora Ephron couldn’t have written a cuter outing. It was one of those perfect SoCal winter days, bright and sunny and not too hot. We rode rented bikes to Balboa Island, where we ate frozen bananas, referencing “Arrested Development” (“There’s always money in the banana stand!”). We won each other prizes at the arcade and, yes, smooched on the Ferris wheel. It was perfect.

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We were exhausted and quiet during the long drive home. I thought about how comfortable silence was a hallmark of many of my closest friendships. Two months in, maybe we could just relax together.

We did relax after he invited me into his apartment, where video games evolved into more physical activities. I felt so close to him, especially when he suggested we watch his favorite movie, “Before Sunrise,” which I’d never seen. The romantic film left me pleasantly sleepy and reassured in his arms. This was a guy who actually wanted love.

Twenty-four hours later, Sam texted me. He was feeling really anxious. I knew he struggled with anxiety, so I told him I was here if he needed to talk. I was a supportive (if unofficial) girlfriend now and I knew he was having big feelings about turning 30.

Our phone call that night was brief and horrifying. He said he really enjoyed spending time with me but didn’t feel the spark. “I figured I should do a stress test with our trip yesterday, but it doesn’t feel right,” he told me.

I flew back to my husband, brushing off the night with Anthony as harmless flirting. But every time I remembered his fingers against my leg, an electric surge swept my body.

Feb. 2, 2024

The whiplash was stupefying. My rom-com fantasies burst into flames. His words, “stress test,” haunted me. A test? Did that mean I’d failed? I worked up my courage and texted him that if our weekend had been so “not right,” he probably shouldn’t have slept with me afterward. His multiparagraph apology didn’t keep me from sobbing for days like Diane Keaton in “Something’s Gotta Give.”

My therapist assured me I was learning. I’d done everything right. “This means he doesn’t know how to have a relationship. Not you.” I paused. I hated to think I was undatable and needed to change myself, but if it 飞补蝉苍’迟 about me, how could I ever expect anything to be different?

Sam didn’t completely disappear; whenever he liked a post on Instagram Stories, my rom-com detector blared. Was this the part where he realized letting me go was a horrible mistake? Would we reunite like Céline and Jesse in “Before Midnight”? If I confronted him (ideally in a dramatic L.A. thunderstorm), would we fall into each other’s arms?

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Eventually, Kyra told me she’d spoken to him. “He knows he screwed up a good thing,” she said, “but he’s in a rough headspace. Maybe it’s better that things ended.”

I started a conversation with her in a chat room. She was witty and had razor-sharp quips, parrying every attempt at deeper connection with playful defiance.

Jan. 26, 2024

I’ve finally accepted that it really 飞补蝉苍’迟 about me, but I’ve also realized something else. My generation, old enough to have loved ’90s rom-coms but young enough to have been lab rats for dating apps, might be romantically stunted. It’s tough — for me, for Sam, for many millennials — to recognize “good” or “bad” in dating. But I’m keeping an open mind. Life isn’t a rom-com, but hopefully if I keep telling the universe (and the men I date) what I want, I’ll keep inching closer to the top of the Ferris wheel.

The author is a television writer and freelance copywriter. She lives in Hollywood, close enough to Runyon Canyon to feel guilty for not hiking more. Visit her website at writtenbyslh.wordpress.com. She’s on Instagram: @sopharsogood94

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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