Without thinking, I type “dinner” in response to my date’s “drinks or dinner?” text.
Moments later, Adam is standing before me in Laurel Hardware, a hip West Hollywood restaurant.
Two thoughts fire through my mind — “Ooh, there’s that tingle of attraction again” and “Shoot, I forgot this is a shared-plate place.”
Sharing plates early in the dating process makes me anxious. It’s not the sharing that bothers me. Rather, it’s a health issue. I am allergic to more than 20 foods — eating one of them can lead to sleepiness, bloodshot eyes, hives across my cheeks, swollen gums and lips.
Also, I have a serious aversion to meat.
“There are a few things I don’t eat,” he says as we huddle over the menu.
“Me, too.” Trying to downplay it, I say: “I’m allergic to some foods and eat mostly vegetarian.”
“Ah, I do eat meat,” a fact I soon discover he’s putting lightly.
As I admit I sometimes make exceptions for seafood, he says: “But I don’t eat seafood.”
Adam orders chicken wings, I ask for Brussels sprouts — and we agree to share a plain pizza.
I soon learn that he hates ricotta and cottage cheese, and isn’t a fan of guacamole; I love all three. I don’t function without green tea, but no coffee or tea for Adam; orange juice is his morning drink. And he has monthly “meat-ups” with fellow barbecue-obsessed buddies.
The more differences we discover, the more we laugh at our own — and each other’s — idiosyncrasies.
I begin to tell my allergy story, then stop.
“You want to hear this?” I ask.
“Yeah, it’s part of getting to know each other,” he said.
Our conversation grows more intimate as we move from dietary restrictions to what we learned from our past marriages.
After dessert (we agreed on sorbet), we wander onto brightly lit Santa Monica Boulevard. Our hands slip easily together as we search for our next stop.
He kisses me as a gust of wind blows and people brush by. There’s an L.A. mural by the artist WRDSMTH featuring lovers bending in each other’s arms. It’s red and black and sexy. I feel as if I’m in it.
Up the block, we encounter a tall metal horse sculpture. He challenges me to get on it as we talk about divorce in our 40s and finding each other on Hinge. After baring my soul about my eating habits and failed marriage, mounting a gigantic horse seems like nothing. He offers a hand, but it’s too high.
“Can’t get back up on the horse?” he says as we laugh.
We glance up and down the street, and he points out the Gelson’s grocery store across Santa Monica Boulevard.
“Ha. We should walk the aisles,” he says.
“Yeah, we should.”
Bizarre as the idea is, the suggestion of sharing something so mundane elevates this third date.
He takes my hand, and we run across the street.
Most third dates with other men have been choreographed outings designed to impress, maybe involving a hard-to-get dinner reservation or theater tickets — certainly never a spontaneous stroll through the grocery store. But I’ve also never felt so at ease on one.
We head past the dairy case. “I know, cottage cheese, yuck,” I say.
Then, on to his beloved orange juice. “The pulpier, the better,” he says.
We get nostalgic in the cereal aisle. The first bowl out of a fresh box of Cheerios is one of my favorite things. He prefers Honey Nut Cheerios.
“Apple Jacks or Froot Loops?” he asks.
As we head toward the exit under the florescent grocery store lights, I reminisce about how my mom lined up cereal options on the kitchen table when I was a kid; on the counter, she placed brown bag lunches for my sisters and me, marked with our names and stick-figure drawings of each of us.
He wonders aloud whether his nearly 13-year-old twins should start making their own lunches. He has an 8-year-old, too.
We walk closely to one another down the street and into a bar, where we camp out in the corner. After we sway to ’90s tunes for a couple hours, we decide to leave.
The night has grown cold. Adam wraps his arm around me as we stroll toward his car. He’s parked outside a gay bar where dancers perform on platforms, wearing sparkly Speedos.
We duck inside. I drape my arms around his neck, as we move to the music.
“You’re beautiful,” he says.
And I feel that I am — odd eating habits and all.
We slip back out into the wind, and I start a shopping list of our crossover foods in my head: orange juice, plain pizza, sorbet, Apple Jacks.
As he opens the passenger door to his car, I take a deep breath, and my mind runs down what just happened: I laid out a whole menu of quirks, and rather than being turned off, he revealed a list of his own.
Two years later, we’ve shared hundreds of meals, many of them with the kids, who also have diverging food preferences. We laugh at ourselves and with each other when trying to find meals that work for the five of us.
Our third date stands as a revelation: Rather than being rejected as I had feared, by opening up about myself, I allowed my now-boyfriend to really know me. The date also sparked new appreciation for everyday tasks that easily can be taken for granted or feel like a hassle. Now, every time I rush into a grocery store, I stop to crack a smile. And it’s never a chore to pick up some OJ — even if I have to make sure it’s the kind with extra pulp.