A guy from grad school was seriously into me. But did I even have time to date?

Fresh out of college, I met two friends at my first job as an entry-level accountant at a Fortune 500 firm in the San Fernando Valley. We were in a small group that commiserated about our boring corporate jobs. Over lunch and short trips to Las Vegas, we dreamed about improving our lives, taking control of our future and building a solid financial outlook for ourselves.

After about a year, my two friends, who later became a couple, and I took the entrance exams for grad school, completed long applications, gathered transcripts and analyzed tuition costs. We enrolled in classes together at Cal State Northridge, deciding that if any of us needed help, we would be there to support one another.

We recognized that working full-time and going back to school would involve sacrifices: bringing leftovers for lunch instead of going out to all the great restaurants on Ventura Boulevard, cutting back on any unnecessary costs such as concerts or dinners, and cutting out our weekend getaway trips. We even thought about how to optimize our time, which meant that we might arrive to class in our business clothes. The opportunity to improve our professional careers seemed to outweigh all our hesitations, and we knew we would support one another in navigating this new academic world.

I was in my late 20s and had been dating — but no one serious. My friends were getting married all around me, and many were starting families. I was focused on making sure that I would be able to support myself in the future.

My social life slowed considerably because I started a new demanding job as a recruiter and because of the full-time evening class load, which took up all of my free time at night and during my weekends.

My small group survived the first semester of grad school. It’s frequently called the most difficult semester because of overlapping time commitments, group projects and struggles with managing social, professional and academic expectations.

During winter break, we decided to continue our success and continue taking classes together the following semester.

The first day of class, I was delayed leaving my office. My boss decided to schedule a meeting with me at 6 p.m., and class started at 7 p.m. Racing through the Valley to get to campus, I thought about how easy it would be to “call out sick” and go back home to take off my scratchy suit and way too tall heels. But I kept driving past my home to the overcrowded parking lot where all the other late and increasingly more frantic new students were also navigating too few parking spots.

As I ran across the campus to Bookstein Hall in my heels and suit, I was relieved that my friends had saved me a seat in class. I sat down and plopped down my laptop bag. That’s when I noticed that my friends were sitting next to a friendly-looking guy who was laughing and loudly teasing them. He was handsome and tall and also smart and funny.

I put my head down, took notes and used the 15-minute break to finish phone calls to clients who expected my full attention well into the evening hours.

Each week, friendly guy continued to hang out with my friends as I raced to class, usually late. His name was Chris and he was sarcastic and amusing. And I looked forward to ending my stressful workdays with some laughter.

A couple of months into the semester, one of my friends, Denis, called me to say that friendly guy had been asking about me: Did I have a boyfriend? If so, how serious was it? And so on. Denis wanted to know what I wanted him to share about my dating life. He told me that if I wasn’t interested in Chris, he would shoot the inquiry down, and I wouldn’t have to worry about any awkward situations.

I thought about the request and said, “Tell Chris I’m not dating anyone seriously. I don’t really have the time.”

The following week, Denis called to say, “Chris wants to go out, but I told him that we will all have to go out together. So we’ll go out to Miceli’s. If he’s a nuisance, we can ignore him and be entertained by the singing.”

The following weekend, I put aside homework and our group of four drove Ventura Boulevard to the restaurant. As we passed the parking area on Cahuenga Boulevard, got lost on side streets and navigated the trip back to the parking area, we laughed out loud. We continued to enjoy the wonderful evening, laughing, talking about classes and the professors, and discussing what we might do with our degrees after graduation.

In the middle of dinner, I excused myself to the restroom, and Chris followed me. Then he asked if he could steal a kiss in the dimly lit hallway to the sounds of servers serenading us from the main dining room. I agreed.

We walked back to the table together and held hands for the rest of the evening. My friends winked and gave me the thumbs up every time friendly guy looked away.

It’s been more than 24 years since friendly guy asked about my dating life. Chris and I married shortly after graduation, and this summer we watched our oldest child prepare to leave for college out of state. Our friends have been there to support us for our entire relationship too. They also recently sent their oldest off to college. We all hope that obtaining an education will offer our children the same opportunity we had. And I hope they will meet people who will provide a lifetime of laughter, education and love just like attending class did for me and my friends many years ago.

The author is a Los Angeles native who works in the tech industry and is a first-generation college graduate. She and her husband volunteer at CSUN. She’s (occasionally) on Instagram: @christine_ess621

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 $400 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.

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