Was I looking for love, or was I looking for an excuse?
For a queer woman, the dating pool is limited no matter how large of a city you live in. It can be difficult to find a potential date who is not your best friend’s ex, let alone park your car without bumping into an ex-girlfriend. While I wouldn’t say that I moved from Seattle to Los Angeles for this reason, exactly, after nine years, I was ready for a fresh start.
I arrived in Los Angeles on New Year’s Day of this year, and I was single. By mid-January, I was getting to know the city from the passenger’s seat of a new sweetie’s Jeep. But by Valentine’s Day she was gone, and I had ruined the city of no ex-girlfriends. I told myself L.A. was still full of people I had yet to meet. I set out to swiping on a dating app. My first connection was with someone who hooked me with a line that she was “Just looking for a girl to pop popcorn with.”
Though our first date felt relaxed, in retrospect our conversation was intense — broaching subjects like religion and children. She told me she wanted to have four kids and a golden retriever. I quipped that I was “dating lite.” Despite such heavy topics, her strongest reaction came when I told her I liked to hike.
“I don’t hike,” she said firmly.
She told me a woman she dated had once invited her to meet at a lookout point for a sunset picnic. Dressed in white pants, a cashmere sweater and perhaps the same fur-lined loafers she was wearing the night we’d met, that “lookout point,” she claimed, was atop a hike that kicked up her allergies, sullied her clothes and made her sweat. I took the hint — no hiking dates.
A week later I sat by the pool at the Line hotel with some Seattle friends before they flew back to my old city. I told them about my dates — a date that never showed, a date that felt like just friends, cocktails with a musician paleontologist who intrigued me. After recapping my drinks with the “no hiking for me” date, I said I’d planned to see her again but I knew it wasn’t going anywhere. “Why not?” They wanted to know. My flimsy justifications fell flat.
“You’re going to fall in love with her. That’s what always happens when my friends say they aren’t getting serious with someone,” one of them said.
“That’s not what’s happening here.” I answered sharply.
In the weeks that followed, the one I “wasn’t going to fall in love with” made regular appearances. At her suggestion, we built the IKEA bookshelf that stood between me and being fully moved in. As we unloaded books from my last box onto the shelves, in rainbow order, I began to suspect I had found a total catch. Dating apps and other prospects fell away.
Despite this, I floundered when she asked me to be exclusive. I was caught between my defenses and the fact that I had been trying to find true partnership for most of my adult life. Did I really believe that I had already ruined my chance at love in L.A.? Or after all this time looking for love, was I afraid of the deep end?
I decided to take the plunge. After that, we moved on to terms like “girlfriends” and even “love” without a hitch.
None of this prepared me for the day she used the word “hike.”
It happened when her interest was piqued by a photo of a turtle that I took during one of my hikes.
“Babe,” I warned, “if you want to see the turtles you have to go on a hike.”
“OK,” she said, “I’ll do it.”
I was used to a 9 a.m. hike start, but it was after 11 when we began our climb at Debs Park on a spring day that felt like summer, 80 degrees and shadeless. I held my tongue, but I was worried. I felt a little bit miserable and this was my activity. Would we make it to the turtles without a meltdown? Was I risking our relationship for an activity I knew my girlfriend despised?
Despite the temperature, she side-eyed me less than I expected.
Hot and panting, we crested the final hill and reached the oasis we had come for — a lush pond swimming with ducks, fish and turtles. She stopped suddenly.
“I’ve been here before.”
“That’s not possible,” I said. “You never hike.”
“Is there another way here that’s straight up?” She asked.
Actually, there was.
From another side, the hike has a fork where you can choose to ditch the meandering for a steep, direct line that arrives at the opposite side of the pond.
“This is it! This is where I went on that date!”
For a moment I thought this memory might taint our adventure.
“Well, it’s way better with you,” she took my hand and we kissed.
We looped around the pond, cooing at turtles not only on flat rocks in the sun, but also stacked on each other’s backs in the brush along our path. Orange shapes streaked across the water — two massive koi I had never noticed, and a pair of hawks soared overhead.
Later, recovering on the couch in the air conditioning, she proclaimed, “I think I might be a hiker!”
The author is a writer, creative writing coach and LGBTQ literature advocate. She is on Instagram @molly__parton and her website is mollythorntonwrites.com
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