Quick relationship quiz:
What's the opposite of a fix-up?
(A) Dinner with an old friend who's visiting L.A., her friend (with whom she's staying while in town) and her friend's roommate.
(B) Drinks with the same group at a hipster hangout on the Sunset Strip.
(C) An evening with a woman whom you've been told you won't like — and then can't stop looking at or talking with or thinking about.
(D) All of the above.
The correct answer, of course, is D.
I had met Deborah briefly before. Our mutual friend — I'll call her Gillian, largely because that's her name — had visited me at my South Bay office during a weeklong vacation here. I spent about 15 seconds with Deb, just long enough to discover her British accent (great) and her cranky mood (not so great). To be fair, she was buying a car, an ordeal that could make even Pollyanna snarl like my neighbor's pit bull. (No offense, Spike.)
Then it was Gillian's last night in town, and she invited me to dinner. The invitation went something like this: "I'm going back East tomorrow, and I'd love to see you tonight, but I already have plans with Deborah and her roommate Richard. Deborah's very … um … different from you. She's much more negative. In fact, I'm pretty sure you guys wouldn't like each other. But if you want to join us, you're welcome to."
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Who could pass up an offer like that?
I wasn't in the market for a girlfriend. One year removed from the last of a series of relatively long relationships, I was enjoying being single and dating casually. But I braved the Hollywood traffic and the August humidity and met the three of them at a sushi joint.
Dinner was uneventful, other than the electrical charge that passed between us. Richard would tell Deb later that "you were doing that thing you do" when interested in a guy — a certain smile, a type of attentiveness, a flirtatious style. I was so engrossed in our conversation that a couple of hours seemed a mere moment in time.
Nobody seemed to want the evening to end, so we went to Sky Bar at the Mondrian. (Certainly not my scene, and I suspect the feeling is mutual. Can bars have feelings? Sure, they can.) There were no celeb sightings, as far as I can recall. But Brangelina themselves could have fallen onto my lap, and I wouldn't have noticed. That's how taken I was with this woman.
She was a journalist, feisty, funny, honest, open, quick, opinionated and passionate. I was a corporate lawyer; my suits ran the gamut from Brooks Brothers blue to Brooks Brothers gray. But I was struck that evening by how simpatico our political and world views were. And we had the same musical biases (loved Wilco, hated Sting), cinematic tastes (loved "Rushmore," hated "The English Patient") and literary tendencies (she recommended Martin Amis to me; I suggested that she check out "Lucky Jim," by his dad, Kingsley).
E-mail exchanges followed, with Richard carefully included in them to maintain plausible deniability that this was more than just a new friendship. Our first real date followed, and I knew that I had fallen hard when I felt nauseous all that day. (Some pregnant women are nauseated by the thought or smell of anything except red meat. If I'm excited about a budding relationship, I can only eat In-n-Out. So on my way to pick her up, I stopped off for a double double — animal style, of course.)
What about the negativity? Not an issue. Deborah would be the first to admit that she's hardly a "glass half full" person. For my part, after a typical troubled adolescence, my adult default temperament had always been a sort of general optimism, a belief that things would work out because they always had. But our shared values, belief systems and cultural preferences made us kindred spirits and rendered our dispositional differences insignificant. In fact, over time, as life handed me serious health and other challenges, and gave Deborah the challenge of dealing with that, she had to become the optimistic one. But that's a story for another day.
The conventional wisdom — that you find romance when you're not looking for it, that the deepest relationships come from having no expectations — is trite but true. But I can top that: I learned that an anti-setup can be even more powerful.
In a final ironic twist — ironic in the real sense, not the brazenly wrong Alanis Morissette usage — our mutual friend Gillian got one of those "minister for a day" licenses from L.A. County and performed our wedding ceremony. Alanis is by all accounts a lovely person, and obviously a great talent, but really. Rain on your wedding day? Bad luck, not ironic. Married by the woman who introduced you and thought you'd hate each other? Classic, textbook irony. Look up "irony" in the dictionary, and you'll find a picture of Gillian marrying us.
By the way, that will be on my next quiz.
Dan Kiefer is a writer living in Los Angeles.