Saying No to Handsome Married Dude: A Dating While Dad Story
September 20, 2016, La Cienega Park.
A hot and humid day has turned markedly cooler, and a welcome brisk breeze blows across the sand.
Chuchi races to the play structure, climbs expertly to the top. “Look at me, abba,” he cries; “Look at me!”
When he hears my son’s word for father, a man standing at the play structure looks up from his phone At his feet a boy, a little smaller than Chuchi, digs in the sand.
“You Israeli?” the dad asks, his accent marking him as a man who thinks he might be meeting a countryman.
I grin, shake my head. “Not yet,” I say. He laughs, his white teeth a brilliant contrast to his dark olive complexion. The dad is maybe in his mid-30s, short with what looks like a dancer’s build. He’s wearing yoga pants and a purple t-shirt.
It takes me about seven seconds to realize he’s absolutely gorgeous.
Chuchi calls for me, and my striking new friend’s own son paws at his legs. For a few minutes we watch our boys romp, each of us not so subtly trying to encourage the children to play together.
My son takes the lead on introductions. “I’m Chuchi’, he tells the other boy. “I’m Noam,” the four year-old says. They start digging together.
I turn to Noam’s dad. “I’m Hugo.”
We shake hands, and with the accompanying eye contact, I know. I know and he knows that I know. We grin.
I’m not a pickup artist. I don’t have a mechanical mind, so the idea of honing a technique to seduce someone has always struck me as not only strange but unworkable. Any success I have with men or women is based on intuition and not a script. That said, situations like this — where you meet a prospective partner at a bar, or on a playground — always bring up the same image in my head: walking a labyrinth.
With each beat of the conversation, with each slight adjustment of the body that brings you closer to or playfully further from the other person, it’s like another step along a path of slowly tightening concentric circles. There is one sure end, but the path can be long or short.
In La Cienega park on this afternoon, the path seems quick. Lior and I talk about kids, and our jobs (he installs high-end, customized home alarm systems). We do what bi and gay men who need a little security check often do — we namedrop some gay clubs. Just in case we’ve read the signals wrong up until now, we are reassured.
Chuchi and Noam want to be pushed on the swings side by side. Lior and I walk them over, then brush elbows and knuckles as we push the boys. I’m a little giddy. I can smell his mix of cologne and sweat. His hairline is damp, and it’s an act of monumental will not to touch it.
It’s been years since I hooked up with a guy I met somewhere other than online. It’s been years since I’ve been with a guy this objectively hot.
After feeling sexually shut down all day, I feel intensely alive. The weather matches my mood; as we push the boys, I hear a distant thunderclap.
“I’d like to get together sometime,” Lior says.
“Me too. What nights do you have Noam?”
I’ve just assumed that Lior is a single dad. He hasn’t mentioned his ex, nor I mine, but some things you can take for granted.
“I have him every night,” Lior says quietly.
My first thought is that Lior was married to a woman who died, and in about four seconds, I’ve reinvented him as a heartbroken widower. He grows even handsomer, his beautiful carved Mediterranean face ennobled by tragedy.
“I have a wife, and my mother-in-law lives with us too.”
I don’t want to ask, but I do. “Your wife?”
Lior looks at me a moment and doesn’t speak. The boys leap off the swings and run back to the play structure. We follow.
“We’ve been married a long time. She doesn’t need to know what she doesn’t need to know.”
I watch Chuchi climb the faux rock wall. I see the muscles flex in his back. I think about how much he looks like his mother, the woman who deserved to know what I never told her.
When my two years of voluntary celibacy ended last year, I carved out a basic ethical code. I might have uncommitted sex, I might even have anonymous sex, but I would not have sex that was predicated on dishonesty. I would not knowingly participate in someone else’s lie.
Not many rules. But rules I cling to. Boys like me need to have something to tether them.
“I’m sorry, man. That’s just not gonna work for me.” I am still looking at my son as I say this.
“My wife is a problem for you?” Lior is instantly the very archetype of an indignant Israeli. He folds his arms, and I force myself to look at him.
“I’m sorry, yes.”
Lior is furious.
“And you made your son by yourself? Or is another man the father?”
Here we go. I’ve hurt him and he’s angry and rude.. Three minutes ago my whole body was tingling for this dude and now I wish he were back in Haifa, a couple of oceans between us.
“I’m sorry, Lior, man, I have this rule. I don’t see married people.”
He mocks me in a quiet, sibilant voice. “Those rules are ancient, old-fashioned. And you’re much too old to be so… “ — he pauses for a word — “picky.”
I stand very still and watch the boys. For an interminable minute, we watch Chuchi and Noam argue the wisdom of going down a slide head first.
Finally, a sigh. “Okay,” Lior says gruffly. “See you around.”
He calls his son and I watch them walk away.
Chuchi takes my hand, demands pizza. We walk towards the car.
“Can I see Noam again?” asks my son.
“We’ll see, bunny.”
“He’s my new best friend.”
As we drive to the restaurant, I’m peppered by a series of emotions. I’m pleased with myself for sticking to a rule. I’m stung by his remark about my age, which goes right to the heart of my anxiety about my fading desirability. My body is angry that I turned down the opportunity to run my hands and mouth over this man’s skin.
As I park the car, a wave of exhaustion hits. I sigh.
Chuchi comes to the rescue.
“I love you, abba! It’s pizza! Pizza makes us happy!”
I lift him out of the car. The sky has begun to turn pink. I feel raindrops.
And there, right there on the corner of Shenandoah and Pico, the thought comes to me. I am a good man. Even if my age is showing, even if my game is not what it once was, even if the Liors of this world will soon not be mine for the taking, even if I’ve done it wrong a million times, I am a good man.
To celebrate, I eat twice as much pizza as I’d planned.