*It was just after 10 AM on a typically spectacular, cloudless Los Angeles Saturday when Marla backed out of the driveway of her cozy Santa Monica home to begin running errands.
The first stop on her list was a desperately needed visit to the neighborhood carwash. Then, after collecting a package and stamps at the post office, she hit a hardware store in search of a new showerhead.
And now Marla and her sparkling clean vehicle are headed east on Olympic Blvd. into downtown L.A. where she will make her way into the teeming, ridiculously boisterous Bottega Louie for a leisurely lunch and human-gazing at its zenith, before closing out the day back in Santa Monica pushing a basket at her neighborhood supermarket.
An academic professional with flexible working hours, Marla could easily run her errands during the week and not on weekends when these places are bustling with people. But bustling is just how she wants it, for at the top of Marla’s to-do list is finding a man.
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Her mission doesn’t necessarily explain the flowing, breezy orange and yellow floral print sun dress she’s wearing today; Marla has always dressed in equal parts comfort and style. Still, today she is putting her best beige flat sandaled foot forward. Marla may be wearing her brown shoulder-length hair up, but lately, for the first time in years, her guard is down.
For privacy’s sake, “Marla” doesn’t want her real name revealed. But she is not at all shy about divulging her age (46) or discussing her strategy to find a mate.
“Everything good in my life—my degree, my career, buying my home–I worked hard for these things,” she says during a hands-free cell call from her car. “I had to ask myself why I invest so little time in finding a partner. It didn’t make sense.”
The first thing she did in amending her search was to cancel her online dating subscriptions.
“Way too many game players and scammers,” she said. “Married men, men writing from other countries asking for money. One man I liked turned out to be a woman catfishing me, using some guy’s photos. That did it. I decided to go old school and meet people the way people did before the Internet.”
Then she remembered how people met before the Internet. Bars. House parties. The club scene. Things she was never into.
So, Marla decided to recognize that every time she is in public represents an opportunity to meet someone special. It could happen at a 7-Eleven; while doing business at the bank; after Sunday church service; while getting her car serviced, or standing in line at Big Jo’s in Santa Monica for a cheeseburger.
The magic, she reasons, could occur at a free concert in the park, while shopping for the perfect strawberries at a farmer’s market, or the gas station. Marla used to refuse wedding invitations because she dreaded attending them alone. She now accepts those invites precisely for that reason.
To be clear, it’s not like everywhere Marla goes she is Chatty Cathy or constantly engaging strangers like some man-on-the-street TV reporter. It’s a matter of personal awareness.
“It’s just a different frame of mind,” she says. “Usually, out in public, I used to want to just get stuff done. Now I pay more attention to the people around me. I know I can meet somebody this way.” Marla says this as if she’s just discovered a great recipe for baking bread or a wonderful new legal tax shelter.
It was at the end of 2019, after realizing she and her girlfriends invested inordinate chunks of time scrolling dating sites filled with unsavory characters, that Marla decided on a more conventional approach to meeting men: simply being open to the notion of fellowshipping in real-time, in the flesh.
Just as she mustered the gumption, “here comes the pandemic,” she groans. Not only was the world on lockdown, but “in public everyone wore masks and we really couldn’t see one another.”
Covid-19 didn’t stop her, though. “From a distance, I made friends with both men and women. At the supermarket. The park, too. In its way, covid connected people. Now that things have eased up, leaving my home or office is an adventure.”
Marla was once married. They met in college. Both 21 and madly infatuated, just four months after meeting and shunning the advice of nearly everyone around them, they tied the knot. Three tumultuous years later came the divorce, accelerated by the insistence of her former husband and his mother that Marla have a child.
The years that followed included “three major life-changing” relationships, each lasting three or four years, during which Marla says she learned plenty about herself and navigating a healthy partnership. “We’re talking clear communication, mutual respect, and honesty–with my partner and especially myself–about who I really am and what I truly want.”
Between those associations, online dating was Marla’s primary way of meeting men. Those days are over. “When you decide that you’re not going to be at the mercy of the online thing, it’s amazing how easy it becomes to talk to people out in the world,” she says in a proud lilt. “I’ve met many possibilities. I’ve also made some friends I’ll have for the rest of my life.”
A friend of Marla’s ruefully uses the D word to describe her actions. Marla laughs with her but knows the truth.
“I’m anything but desperate. I’m happy. I love my work, make a good living, and have some great friends. Having a conversation with a stranger at the Department of Motor Vehicles doesn’t mean he’s getting my phone number. Shoot, the best company I’ve ever kept is with myself. I’d love to share my metamorphosis with someone who can appreciate it.”
We’re still on the phone when Marla pulls up to the parking valet station at Bottega Louie. She asks the valet if he’s busy today. “It’s a madhouse inside,” I hear him say. Without a reservation, there could be quite a wait for a table.
“Oh, I don’t mind,” says Marla.
Of course, she doesn’t. She knows that an open mind and a midday libation at a chic, crowded bar is a recipe for some delicious tête-à-tête. And maybe more.
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist, and author writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV, and the Internet. Respond to him via STEVRIVORY@AOL.COM