My First Love

Regarding Henri

I had won the personal ads lottery with Henri, a virtual collage of my adolescent fantasies—or so I thought

I found my first love, Henri, where other people find massage parlors and erotic hotlines—in the personals section of the L.A. Weekly. I was 40 and, although far from a virgin, I had never heard the proverbial violins. (A couple of tambourines, maybe. But no concertos.) A few days later, my phone rang.

He had an intriguing French accent. Given L.A.'s international mix, anything was possible: Algerian, Senegalese or Haitian.

"Ah, non, I am Parisien," Henri purred.

He was also an artist. I had won the personal ads lottery!

When we met, I was struck by Henri's soulful eyes, quiet intensity and uncanny resemblance to Jean Paul Belmondo and Mick Jagger. In other words, a virtual collage of my adolescent fantasies. There are rules to dating people you meet via personal ads. I broke them all.

"Want to see my apartment?" Henri asked.

I wagged my head like a puppy being offered a chocolate ice cream cone. I didn't just hear violins. I heard the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The next morning, Henri grilled me about where and how "our children" would be educated. This was It! True love! My friend Amy didn't agree.

"Where does he take you?" she asked.

"To the moon and stars," I gushed.

"No. Really. Where do you go on dates?"

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How could I explain? Henri never took me anywhere but from his front door to his bed. Who needs sushi bars, jazz clubs and theater? Henri and I couldn't keep our clothes on for more than a nanosecond. As far as I know, the Board of Health frowns on nudity where hot beverages are served.

"I don't like it," snapped Amy.

Not wanting to put stress on our friendship, I started lying to Amy. I told her I was seeing other guys. Within a month, I was also lying to a therapist. (Henri insisted I needed one.)

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"How do you and Henri spend your time together?" the therapist asked.

"Oh, we enjoy music, art, films."

I neglected to mention that we experienced all of the above in Henri's twin bed. Yes, I know. I know. A man in his forties who sleeps on a twin bed has "issues." I didn't mind the narrow, lumpy bed as much as Henri's habit of providing running commentary on my flaws. It was like going to bed with Casanova and waking up with Gore Vidal.

I was "too thin." I was "hyper." Even my panties were wrong. According to Henri, a woman's undies should be pure silk. He reached into his bureau drawer and retreived a black lace souvenir from a former lover. (Um, how do you say "red flag" in French?)

I had never been so happy. Or so miserable. I was tired of lying to friends and to a woman I was paying $120 an hour to hear me lie to myself. I subsequently came to my senses and told Henri it was over. I thought he'd be relieved. Now he would have more time to devote to his silk panty collection.

However, the more I pulled away, the more ardently Henri pursued me. He left pleading messages on my voicemail. He would change. He would go to therapy with me. I must see him again.

I finally relented. On one condition. If I didn't have a "good time" on our next date, Henri would have to pay me $200. Cash. And, one other thing, we would have a real date. Outside his apartment.

"Are you serious?" he asked.

"Mais, oui!"

I demanded to see the cash up front. Henri, sheepishly, showed me the money before we embarked on our date. Where did we go? To buy Henri a grown-up bed, of course. Over a sea of mattresses, it became quickly apparent that Henri and I were not a match. We were so grumpy and argumentative, the salesman at Sleepy's assumed we were married.

"I didn't have a good time," I said when Henri dropped me off, "You owe me $200."

In disbelief, Henri handed over the cash. I went straight to Nordstrom's and turned my First True Love into a set of luxury, Egyptian cotton, 600-thread count sheets. That was many years ago. Love comes and goes. My sheets get better with every washing.