Our relationship turned into the love story I dreamed about

Our L.A. stories were bridged in more ways than one on our first date.

We had dinner at Bestia in the Arts District, a halfway point between where we lived. She was from the San Gabriel Valley and I’m from South L.A. During our post-dinner walk, we found ourselves at the foot of the 6th Street Viaduct, which neither of us had visited before. As we crossed the bridge, with the ever-so-sparkling downtown skyline behind us, we joked and talked about the future.

“You should move with me to D.C.,” she said.

Going along with our flirty banter, I said of course. The truth is, I don’t see myself leaving Los Angeles. She and I grew up in Los Angeles, and we both wanted to settle down here when the time came. However, she thought that being able to experience somewhere different could offer a chance for growth.

Our turn of fate that December night on the bridge made us eager to experience the rest of Los Angeles together. I was a die-hard Angeleno eager to show it off, and she offered a fresh perspective with her excellent questions and observational skills. The city’s diverse communities allowed us to see different sides of each other.

On our second date, I took her to my favorite bookstore, Skylight Books in Los Feliz, where we shared our favorite reads. We went on an impromptu Christmas morning hike in Culver City, where we learned more about each other’s families. And she took me to one of her favorite restaurants, Nep Cafe in Fountain Valley, where she put me on to Vietnamese coffee.

“Sequoia MLK weekend?!” she playfully suggested a month after we met. I knew she was joking, but I was thrilled by the possibility of having her all to myself for two or three days. It was also a great opportunity to get to know each other better. So we planned our weekend trip.

The unusually rainy winter prevented us from going to Sequoia, so we opted for a charming Airstream-style camper in Ventura. Despite the rain, we dined, thrifted and explored the town’s Main Street. At the end of that weekend, she told me she was worried that she was having too much fun. She feared that there would be a limited amount of fun for us.

Little did I know she was right. A few weeks later in February, as we were out in downtown L.A. celebrating my recent promotion, she mentioned she had found a solid listing for a place in Washington, D.C., and was seriously considering it.

We had known each other for only two months. Who was I to stop her from doing something she really wanted to do? I told her that I would support her decision to leave L.A. Two weeks later, she committed to moving.

We were unsure whether a long-distance relationship could work out, but we wanted to see where our L.A. story would take us. We agreed to see each other until she left and then we would break up. Our L.A. anthology had a page limit.

Despite her forthcoming move, the experiences we continued to have didn’t feel limited.

I got to explore more of the San Gabriel Valley, which I knew little about. She gave me a much-needed smooch on mile 18 of the Los Angeles Marathon, and we did the most SoCal thing: We went to Coachella. With Bad Bunny and Bomba Estéreo’s “Ojitos Lindos” as our theme song, we weren’t afraid of getting closer and fully experiencing each other.

Slowly our relationship formed into the L.A. love story I used to dream about. Not because it was set in Los Angeles but because it couldn’t have happened anywhere else. Our immigrant backgrounds — she being from Vietnam and my parents from Mexico — and our conversations while we drove from place to place were molded by Los Angeles, a city we both love.

Although I hated our relationship’s constraints, I knew it was teaching me an important lesson. I’m always in a rush and setting ambitious goals and working quickly to accomplish them. She taught me to slow down, live in the present and take the time to make moments happen. It’s probably why I valued every drive on the 10 Freeway to visit her in Rosemead — so much so that I felt my eyes gleaming with childish excitement.

During her last week in L.A. with me, we went to a Dodgers game (my first!), got Sonoratown tacos and had drinks in the city’s tallest building. The panoramic view made me reflect on the good times we had together, but part of me sighed: “It’s Los Angeles. There’s still so much to do.”

She asked me to drive her to Los Angeles International Airport. I love movie moments, so the thought of an LAX farewell thrilled me a bit. As I helped her check her luggage, I couldn’t help but think how ironic it was that I was helping her get away from me. I pushed through the emotions as we embraced one last time.

The teary walk back to my car was difficult. Our L.A. routine was over. Was I making a mistake by letting her go? Despite the post-breakup confusion, I was reminded that she left me with something valuable: a larger perspective of Los Angeles.

After all, the day following that February conversation, we had lunch in Rosemead, lounged in Lacy Park and stumbled upon a Lunar New Year festival in San Gabriel. In the end, I’m happy because I know I never would’ve gone to those places or lived those experiences had it not been for her. We created the best moments in the best setting.

That’s why I’ll always have that gleam in my eye every time I drive down the 10.

The author is an urban planner who lives in South Los Angeles. He’s on Twitter: @roberto_lunajr

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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