L.A. Affairs: I made a pact to go on 10 dates in 2021.

My friend and I sat at a cozy restaurant in Pasadena and toasted our good fortune: Not only were we finally eating at a restaurant (on the patio, of course), but we had both landed new jobs. Several months earlier, we’d made a pact to start new career adventures in 2020. While COVID-19 had put a damper on our searches that year, we had done it.

Riding the same high, I asked her, “Well, what should our next goal be?”

We tossed around a few ideas before I said, “I think 2021 should be the year that we date.”

We were both in our late 20s, and neither of us had been dating much. (Thank you, pandemic.) I had been in grad school and held down a job on the weekends, and she was a nurse, which didn’t leave much time for a typical dating schedule.

In the past, she’d laugh me off when I brought up dating, but this time she said, “Sure, why not?” I think the pandemic has made all of us realize that life is short. I took it a step further and set up a measurable goal: “OK, 10 dates.” To our pandemic ears, that sounded like a lot. And there were still details to be sorted out. Where would we even meet men? What dating apps? And could we meet them in person? Still, we made our pact and figured we would see how things unfolded in the new year. My bestie and I got together with two other single girlfriends and persuaded them to join in the challenge.

It wasn’t long before I got a text from my best friend, “A guy at work asked me out.” Soon, she was going on one date after another with this new man. I was happy for her, but I was secretly worried too: Was I going to get left in the dust before our 2021 had even begun?

If I’m being honest, I tended to be attracted to guys with a natural expiration date. My first boyfriend I met during a summer internship, and I didn’t even tell him I liked him until we were both back in our respective states. We tried long-distance dating, but it quickly fizzled out. And there was the guy I met while on a two-week vacation. Sure, it was fun to flirt. But once he started saying he was going to move back to the U.S. with me, I freaked out. Somehow I felt freer to be myself when I knew it would eventually end.

I was determined to change that pattern.

At the beginning of the new year, I kicked things off by downloading Hinge. I started many chats, but few of them went past the app.

Then I landed my first date, and on an uncharacteristically warm January day we ate ice cream. It went well, and I was smitten. Then he ghosted me. Thinking back, it was probably all a dopamine rush from a long, lonely 2020.

The next man checked off all the boxes on paper, but he left me feeling exhausted.

On another date, a drummer decided to show me his extended drumming performance on YouTube. While we were FaceTiming, I found myself bored.

Was this what the rest of the year would be like?

A few more weeks went by, and I was almost halfway through my challenge. It was mid-February. I began to wonder how many times I could respond to “What are your quarantine hobbies?”

My brother-in-law advised me, “Just get off the app. Go out with the guy that asks you out right away.” What did he know? He and my sister were dating before smartphones were a thing. I was feeling fatigued.

It was around that time that I got a message from a new guy, Moshe. His profile didn’t stand out at first glance, but I was intrigued by the way he answered his prompts and that he had read mine.

But did I want to start another pen pal session?

Something about his wide smile and kind eyes made me take a second glance. I answered with my attempt at a witty response and was surprised when he quickly responded and then asked me out for coffee. I tried to keep it casual, “Yeah, sure, I like coffee.” I told him I lived in Pasadena. “I live in the South Bay,” he replied. He might as well have said he lived in another country. But I was staying open-minded. We agreed to meet halfway.

“If this date is a flop,” I told my bestie the day of our date, “I’m gonna take a break.”

Our date was at Chimney Coffee house in Chinatown. Moshe was taller than I expected, well-dressed — oh, and did I mention, very handsome.

His quiet presence both unnerved me and made me feel calm at the same time. I found myself overcompensating by being super-chatty. When he went to grab our coffee order, I mentally told myself to chill. He came back and I admitted, “I’m nervous.” He offered that wide smile and said, “Me too.”

The rest of the date we talked about the usual stuff and bonded over growing up in religious Latino homes and our favorite comedy TV shows. I remember thinking how familiar he felt, like I had known him for a long time and we were reconnecting after time apart. I realized I didn’t want it to be over. But after just an hour he said, “Well, I don’t want you to get too much sun, so should we go?” I was disappointed. “I don’t know if he likes me or not” I later told my friend. But the next day he texted to tell me he’d gone to the library to check out the book that I’d just finished.

Our second date we met at the Strand in Redondo Beach. After poke bowls for lunch, we walked along the sand, talking for hours. I didn’t want this date to end. Eventually he said, “Well, I don’t want you to get cold, so should we go?” Was he being considerate? Or was he trying to get rid of me?

On our third date, he met me for dinner in Pasadena. I confessed all about the pact. “Wow, no pressure,” he joked.

We’re still dating, and I’ve lost track of the numbers.

In a lot of ways, we are both old souls. We like listening to jazz and we send each other Spotify “mix tapes.” We take turns writing letters and postcards to each other. We go for long walks when we need to process things. When he picked me up from the airport for the first time, he brought flowers. When he picked me up the second time, he brought a watermelon — because it’s my favorite fruit. I took him to his first Dodgers game. He taught me how to eat crab.

Once, I asked Moshe how many app dates he’d gone on before me. “None,” he replied. “You were the first.” Though each of us has spent more time in traffic than we’d like, we can’t imagine a better reason to do so.

Oh, and the girlfriends that I made a pact with last year?

Their new relationships are also going strong, and the eight of us recently celebrated the new year together. The party was hosted by my nurse friend and the guy who asked her out at work.

The only question now is, what will our next pact be?

The author is a program coordinator living in Pasadena. She is on instagram @nataleemore.

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 LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.

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