I arrived about 35 minutes early, having severely overestimated the afternoon traffic that I would hit through downtown Los Angeles on my way to Echo Park. We’d swiped right on each other a couple of weeks prior, exchanged messages, and, soon after, our phone numbers. I had never texted anyone like her before. Liz shared long, intricate, and perfectly punctuated questions and answers on topics that meandered in every direction, all in a single text. I would read and reread these long bubbles, trying to extract all that I could and respond in kind to her persistent curiosities.
We discovered that we both loved reading and supporting independently owned cafes. So Stories Books & Cafe on Sunset seemed like the perfect spot for a first date.
I couldn’t help but feel a little awkward standing around the entrance waiting, so I strolled past and kept going, around the corner and down the street, toward Echo Park Lake, using the extra time to ruminate on how I got here in the first place.
Five years and a hundred pounds were all it took to get me dating again. Or, actually, dating for the first time in earnest.
Born and raised in South Los Angeles, into a complicated but supportive family that immigrated from Guatemala, I was always the chubby kid. I felt a lot of self-doubt and self-resentment. I tried to lose weight but always gained it back. At 5’10”, I was always known as “the big guy” and often felt insecure around women. I started dating someone as a freshman in college, and we stayed together for years — until one day she shocked me and told me it was over. She was no longer interested in me as more than just a friend.
I know it’s a cliché, but on Jan. 1, 2020 — right before the pandemic began — I vowed to lose the weight for good. By eating healthy and working out, I slowly lost 100 pounds over the course of 18 months and kept it off. I’d dealt with the physical. So now it was time to deal with the personal.
After the heartbreak I’d suffered, I feared putting in the time and effort love demanded. I had devoted so much of myself to another, and the slow, aching realization that I’d never have that part of me back was difficult to accept. I struggled through phases of depression, anxiety, and harsh self-criticism. I had convinced myself I didn’t need a partner, that I was undeserving of anyone’s affections. Losing weight helped me regain some of my confidence. But at 27, I was missing the dating experience that many young men learn in high school.
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All these sentiments were swirling at the back of my mind as I aimlessly walked in the park, hardly able to enjoy the beautiful Sunday afternoon while my thoughts raced frantically. First dates had been few and far between, and the lack of many second dates often left me doubting myself once more.
Would this date be any different? I found myself asking this question as I looked out toward the swan boats slowly drifting on the lake, propelled by happy couples and families. Would I share this with someone someday? The daydreaming only went so far as the time snapped me back into reality.
I returned to Stories, now only 10 minutes early, assuring myself that it seemed less desperate than showing up 35 early.
I pretended to browse books as I waited. But it would be disingenuous of me to say that I kept my cool the entire time, reading and rereading the same book covers, taking cautionary side glances at every young woman who came through the door. I thought it would look better if she’d “caught me off guard,” seemingly preoccupied with some good contemporary fiction (of which she informed me she was a fan) when she arrived.
By the time she finally approached and said my name, I felt a little dumbfounded.
We ordered refreshments, the adrenaline hindering my ability to pronounce “Arnold Palmer” correctly. We took a seat outside, eyes catching each other before darting away. The nerves started to fade a bit. It didn’t take long for us to carry on from our text chats, building and expanding on the little we already knew about each other.
It was nice to talk to someone in this way. We talked about our lives, interests, hobbies, hopes, and dreams. I caught glimpses of her timid smile when her mask came down to take a sip of her iced coffee.
I didn’t bring up my weight loss, my issues with food, my wavering self-esteem, or sudden bouts of depression. One doesn’t discuss those things on a first date. The past two years of my life involved undertaking a never-ending journey of self-love, acceptance, purpose, and self-care. To say it was exhausting was putting it lightly.
But in the hours we spent that day sharing little parts of ourselves — our stories, our voices, long glances, little laughs, and witty comments — it truly felt like a much-deserved rest.
We found ourselves on a bench overlooking Echo Park Lake late into the evening, just in time to see the swan boat lights burst into life. The silence between us was pleasant, comfort in each other’s presence as we shared spoonfuls of esquite from a nearby vendor.
I looked over at her.
“Do you think you’d want to do this again?” I asked.
“Yes, I think I’d like that.”
The author is a writer and high school teacher pursuing his graduate degree in English at Cal State Los Angeles. He and Liz continue to date, seeking out indie bookstores and coffee shops whenever they can.
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.
Source by www.latimes.com
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