At age 31 and still single, I moved with a friend from Columbus, Ohio, to Los Angeles, seeking my fortune as a screenwriter.

When our one-year house rental in Van Nuys ended, I decided to find my own place and rented a cozy studio apartment in Pacific Palisades, near a bluff overlooking the ocean. I enjoyed no-roommate living with my cat and dog but quickly realized I was lonely and remembered I had not had a date since moving to California. I set about remedying the situation.

To increase my social interactions with humans, especially men, and to secure a steady income after short-lived success writing Saturday morning cartoons, I gave up my freelance writing career for full-time employment in public relations. I joined a community theater group and a synagogue, as well. My efforts produced wonderful friendships but no dating prospects.

Jobwise, I did a stint as public relations director in Los Angeles for the University of Judaism (now the American Jewish University), where my expectations soared — as did those of my mother — that I would finally meet a “nice Jewish boy.” I also began answering personal ads in the Jewish Journal.

But no luck.

I was tired of the “Why-aren’t-you-married-yet…” conversations I had at seemingly every turn.

Shortly after turning 40, I started a new job at the Los Angeles Unified School District, where I was hired as a communications officer. There were three other men in the office in my preferred age range — all single.

“I’m going to have a good time,” I confided to my friends, relishing the favorable odds, and within a few days I had picked my favorite. (Luckily, there were no rules against dating co-workers, and I was so delighted to meet a potential mate I didn’t care about the warnings about the pitfalls of office romances.)

His name was Shel, short for Sheldon. I was attracted to him immediately. Four years older than I, he was my perennial “type” — bearded, curly brown hair sprinkled with gray, given to wearing button-down shirts and tweedy, professorial jackets, always iconoclastically tieless. Cute and irresistible in a nerdy sort of way, he was a department veteran delightfully eager and willing to answer my barrage of newbie questions.

The year was 1988, and Shel patiently taught me how to format documents on a desktop computer, which was new to me in what was then still a world ruled by typewriters. When I lamented the sparseness of my cubicle, he led me on a labyrinthine journey to the “tunnel,” a subterranean repository for used office furniture. We tagged a few things for delivery, but Shel gentlemanly insisted on rolling a replacement desk chair back himself so I could benefit from it immediately.

By listening to Shel’s conversations with “stakeholders” — Board of Education members, administrators, news editors and reporters, parents, principals, students, teachers — I learned the art of deftly handling myriad phone calls on everything from board meeting minutiae, to the only-in-Los Angeles notion that school might be canceled due to rain, to sensitive school personnel issues.

We usually lunched with colleagues in the cafeteria but soon started going out regularly by ourselves to nearby downtown restaurants. Even when we talked shop, Shel displayed a playful, wry sense of humor, tops on my must-have list of relationship criteria.

Outside of work, Shel taught me to ride a bicycle so that I could join him in his hobby and passion.

I was obviously smitten, but Shel — recently divorced and emerging from a series of unsuccessful relationships — did not seem to want anything more than to be friends.

Undaunted, I enlisted the aid of the other female communications officer to drop some not-too-subtle hints for him to ask me out on a real date.

Years later, he told me the real reason was that my persistent partner in crime agreed to stop bugging him if he did.

Our first date was on Feb. 7. A week later on Valentine’s Day he gave me a card. I gave him a miniature wire sculpture of a bicycle — a tricycle really, which is all I could find, with a heart-shaped seat.

A few weeks later, he invited me to his place for what would become our first night together. He charmed me by saying that if I preferred, I could sleep in his 13-year-old daughter’s bedroom since she wasn’t there that weekend — an offer I declined.

Soon, I met his daughter, mother, siblings and the members of his longtime men’s support group. He met my closest friends and my mother, when she came for her annual visit from New Orleans.

It wasn’t long before co-workers discerned we were an item, mostly because trying to be discreet at the office was almost impossible once we began scheduling lots of simultaneous vacation time.

Four years after our first date, we bought a condo in Santa Monica.

And even though we had declared our love for each other a few years earlier, it thrilled me to hear him say, just before we signed the escrow papers: “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think we were permanent.”

Several months later, over lunch-hour bowls of noodles in Little Tokyo, I heard myself say, “I’d really like to get married before the first half-century of my life is over.”

“OK,” he said.

Our wedding was a traditional Jewish affair, which pleased our elderly mothers, who fortunately were able to attend. Since then, a son-in-law, granddaughter and lots of grand-nephews and -nieces have been added to my “instant” large family, which, as an only child, I never thought I’d have.

We have been together 32 years, married 27.

Whenever anyone asks how we met, I tell them that when I was hired by the school district, Shel came with the job as the ultimate fringe benefit.

The author is a retired public relations professional and freelance writer, who acts in and directs community theater. She and Shel still live in Santa Monica, where that tricycle sculpture adorns a living room shelf.

Ria Parody Erlich – www.latimes.com

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