STILL ON HER MIND

Los Angeles Times - - SATURDAY - By Bibi Pi­rayesh Bib­i­naz Pi­rayesh was born in Tehran and, at age 10, came to Los An­ge­les, where she now lives and writes. L.A. Af­fairs chron­i­cles dat­ing in and around Los An­ge­les. If you have com­ments or a true story to tell, write us at home@la­times.com.

When I was 15, I lived for a year in Iran with my grand­mother. Some Fri­day af­ter­noons, we would steal away from the chaos of Tehran and go to a tra­di­tional ke­bab house out­side the city. Sit­ting on the restau­rant’s out­door beds, I would let down my scarf and lie back on the cush­ions, and she would or­der a hookah and let me smoke it with her. Two free, re­bel­lious souls.

“Some day,” she would say, “you will meet your man and you will know.” She never said, “Some day, you may meet a man over a phone app — and know.” I met him on Tin­der. He was Egyptian, a first-gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grant, like me. But other than the way we met, noth­ing felt for­eign be­tween us. On our first date, we ended up at a hookah lounge, and I thought of my grand­mother. “A re­spectable man will al­ways make you feel safe,” she would say, and he did. When we walked into By­b­los on West­wood Boule­vard, I felt like I was with fam­ily. Ev­ery­one knew him, and I, by as­so­ci­a­tion, got a warm wel­come. I felt at home.

We had stayed up till 4 a.m. that first night. I traced the edges of his salt-and-pep­per beard through the cloud of smoke around our heads and gasped at how beau­ti­ful he looked when he smiled. When he spoke to me earnestly about his first mar­riage — a big no-no in the dat­ing rules I had gone over with sin­gle girl­friends — I felt my­self merge with him. He was wounded in a way I never thought a man could be by a woman. He had cared in a way I never thought men did about women.

While my grand­mother had taught me to be re­bel­lious and free, she had also taught me, per­haps with­out mean­ing to, that men could not be trusted, that com­mit­ting to a man was to lose your in­de­pen­dence. Over the years, I had dis­missed my in­abil­ity to com­mit as a sign of my moder­nity and in­de­pen­dence, but deep down I knew I car­ried my grand­mother’s fears.

In be­tween dates, I re­viewed his pro and con list and was shocked to dis­cover that I liked things about him that would nor­mally have been deal break­ers: He was re­cently di­vorced, he had a child, he had an al­tar in his living room with Chris­tian me­mora­bilia.

At 35, I was sud­denly faced with a man who knew what fam­ily was, what re­spon­si­bil­ity and com­mit­ment re­quired, what pain was, and what faith was.

My friends weren’t con­vinced. “He’s not so­phis­ti­cated enough for you,” they said.

“Your bi­o­log­i­cal clock is do­ing your choos­ing.”

“You can do bet­ter.”

It’s true that he wasn’t as so­phis­ti­cated as I am, but his out­look on life was far more ma­ture than mine. He was ten­der. When I told him I liked him, the words came out nat­u­rally. I was vul­ner­a­ble, but some­how it was OK.

My mother and my ther­a­pist re­minded me of his “cons.”

“Maybe you’re just at­tracted to his bro­ken­ness,” my ther­a­pist sug­gested.

Their doubts would feed mine, but the mo­ment I would see him, I knew what ev­ery­one who loved me was deny­ing: I was the bro­ken one, and he was the one heal­ing me.

We were at a sushi bar on Cen­tinela on the night he asked me about our fu­ture. “What do you think about us?” he asked as he topped off my sake cup.

I im­aged my­self telling him the truth, say­ing that I loved us. I wanted us. But in­stead, I said, “I don’t know about you. You have a child. You are still wounded. You’re from a dif­fer­ent reli­gion. Your mar­riage … your ex-wife … your child … ”

It was as if some­thing were hold­ing my mouth closed and speak­ing for me. They were not my words, but out they flowed, so loud even the sushi chef heard some of them over the chat­ter and noise of the bar. And with each word I felt him pull back from me. With each word I felt my­self undo all the ties that had bound us.

He lis­tened and didn’t ob­ject and qui­etly drove me home. He never tried to over­rule me. And that’s when I knew I loved him even more than I feared.

My girl­friends tried to ex­plain it away. “He’s in­se­cure. Who just ends a re­la­tion­ship like that?” My mother let out a sigh of re­lief, and my ther­a­pist sug­gested I get right back into the dat­ing game.

But even now, months later, af­ter a night out with the girls or on a date with a guy from some other app, I lie awake at nights think­ing of him. And though as a Mus­lim I’ve never thought much about Je­sus, I think of his pic­ture hang­ing in his living room, and I hope it is pro­tect­ing him and his lit­tle boy. I say a lit­tle prayer and hope that I am for­given.

Joseph Daniel Fiedler For The Times

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