I arrived about 35 minutes early, having grossly overestimated the afternoon traffic I would encounter through downtown Los Angeles on my way to Echo Park. We’d stolen each other a few weeks ago, exchanged messages and shortly after that our phone numbers. I had never written to anyone like her. Liz shared long, complicated, and perfectly punctuated questions and answers on topics that meandered in all directions, all in a single text. I would read and re-read those long bubbles, trying to get all I could out of it, and responding to their persistent curiosity in the same way.
We discovered that we both love to read and support independent coffee shops. So Stories Books & Cafe on Sunset seemed like the perfect place for a first date.
I couldn’t help but feel a little awkward waiting at the entrance, so I strolled by and kept walking, around the corner and down the street towards Echo Park Lake, using the extra time to think about how I came here was first place.
Five years and a hundred pounds was all it took to get me dating again. Or actually going out seriously for the first time.
Born and raised in south Los Angeles to a complicated but supportive family that immigrated from Guatemala, I was always the chubby kid. I had a lot of self-doubt and self-loathing. I tried to lose weight but kept gaining weight. At 5’10” I was always known as ‘the big guy’ and often felt insecure around women. I started dating someone when I was a freshman in college and we stayed together for years – until one day she shocked me and told me it was over, she didn’t care about me anymore than just a friend.
I know it’s a cliché, but on January 1st, 2020 – right before the pandemic started – I vowed to lose the weight for good. By eating healthy and exercising, I slowly lost 100 pounds over the course of 18 months and kept it off. I had dealt with the physical. Now it was time to get down to the personal.
After the heartbreak I suffered, I was afraid to put in the time and effort that love took. I had given so much of myself to someone else, and the slow, painful realization that I would never get that part of me back was hard to accept. I fought through phases of depression, anxiety and harsh self-criticism. I had convinced myself that I didn’t need a partner, that I didn’t deserve anyone’s affection. Losing weight helped me regain some of my confidence. But at 27, I lacked the dating experience that many young men learn in high school.
All of these feelings swirled around in the back of my mind as I wandered aimlessly through the park, barely able to enjoy the beautiful Sunday afternoon while my mind raced frantically. First dates had been rare, and the lack of many second dates often made me doubt myself again.
Would this date be different? I asked myself this question as I gazed at the swan boats slowly drifting on the lake, propelled by happy couples and families. Would I share this with someone one day? Daydreaming only went so far until time brought me back to reality.
I returned to Stories, now just 10 minutes early, and reassured myself that showing up 35 early seemed less desperate.
I pretended to browse through books while I waited. But it would be disingenuous of me to say that I kept my cool the whole time, re-reading the same book covers over and over again, and giving every young woman who walked through the door warning sidelong glances. I thought it would look better if she had caught me ‘unprepared’ on her arrival, seemingly preoccupied with good contemporary novels (of which she told me she was a fan).
When she finally approached and said my name, I was a little taken aback.
We ordered refreshments, the adrenaline preventing me from pronouncing “Arnold Palmer” correctly. We sat outside and looked at each other before darting away. The nerves were beginning to let up. It didn’t take long before we resumed our text chats, building and expanding on what little we already knew about each other.
It was nice to talk to someone like that. We talked about our lives, interests, hobbies, hopes, dreams. I caught a glimpse of her shy smile as her mask came off to take a sip of her iced coffee.
I didn’t address my weight loss, problems with eating, fluctuating self-esteem, or sudden depression. You don’t bring up such things on a first date. The last two years of my life have included a never-ending journey of self-love, acceptance, purpose and self-care. To say it was exhausting would be taking it lightly.
But in the hours we spent that day sharing little bits of ourselves — our stories, our voices, long looks, little laughs, and witty comments — it really felt like a well-deserved rest.
We found ourselves on a bench overlooking Echo Park Lake late in the evening, just in time to see the swan boat lights come to life. The silence between us was comfortable, a comfort in each other’s presence as we shared spoonfuls of Esquite from a nearby merchant.
I looked over at her.
“Do you think you would want to do that again?” I asked.
“Yes, I think I would like that.”
The author is a writer and high school teacher graduating from Cal State Los Angeles with an English degree. He and Liz continue to date and seek out independent bookstores and coffee shops whenever they can.
LA Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the LA area, and we want to hear your real story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. The submission guidelines can be found here. Past columns can be found here.
https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2022-03-11/la-affairs-alvaro-aragon-dating-after-you-lost-100-pounds Dating After Losing 100 Pounds