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Saturday, December 10, 2022

The 31st Date Was a Charm

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If Gabi Conti learned anything from the exercise in extreme dating she undertook as a writer for Cosmopolitan magazine in 2019, it was to cut through the pleasantries. So when Daren Johnson, whom she met on Bumble that year, failed to live up to her expectations about how a person should conduct himself on a first date, she didn’t hesitate to tell him.

At the West Hollywood, Calif., bar Employees Only on Sept. 5, 2019, “I noticed he wasn’t asking me anything about myself,” Ms. Conti said. “So after we had one round of drinks I excused myself to the bathroom and said, ‘If you don’t start asking me things to let me know you’re interested in me, I’m leaving.’”

Ms. Conti, 34, is the author of “Twenty Guys You Date in Your Twenties” and a celebrity news host at Hollywire. The magazine assignment she had completed before meeting Mr. Johnson, 33, was “30 Dates in Three Days.” In one weekend, she arranged hourlong meet-ups with 30 single men. None of them stuck.

Instead, “my tolerance for bad behavior on dates got really low,” she said. She was prepared to add Mr. Johnson to her romantic losing streak until her announcement about his lack of curiosity snapped him to attention.

Mr. Johnson, then an investment banker at the firm Intrepid, is now an entrepreneur; this year, he started Hollywood Classic Cars, a company that rents vintage cars. When he met Ms. Conti, he was running on two hours’ sleep and an empty stomach. “At the time I was so career focused that I was barely paying attention to dating,” he said. “I rushed to meet her from work and was stuck in traffic and was in rough shape. I needed to find my composure.”

[Click here to binge read this week’s featured couples.]

Credit…Robert Norman Photography

Ms. Conti’s directness helped with that. “I was surprised that she told me what she wanted, and I found it attractive,” he said. “I was like, ‘I’m happy to ask you questions.’” By the end of the date, they had left the bar to play darts, and kiss, late into the evening. Within weeks, they had a theme song: John Mayer’s “Love on the Weekend.”

“Every weekend we would hang out,” Ms. Conti said, either at his place near Beverly Hills or hers in Hollywood. Once they rang in 2020, another of Ms. Conti’s Cosmopolitan assignments found them spending more time together. “It was a ‘New Year, New You’ type story where we did a detox together,” she said. His apartment became meal prep headquarters. By March, she had moved in.

With spring, and the pandemic, came forced hunkering. Mr. Johnson worked on developing his business. Ms. Conti put together a true crime podcast, “Am I Dating a Serial Killer?,” that is now in the start-up phase. The couple also played a lot of gin rummy. “It was our pastime,” Ms. Conti said. “We got really good at it.”

On Dec. 19, 2020, Mr. Johnson asked Ms. Conti to walk with him to Pan Pacific Park in Los Angeles for a game of cards over prosecco. When they found a spot to set up their game, Mr. Johnson dropped to one knee and presented her with the Christmas gift she had asked for: an engagement ring.

On a suit of twos for rummy, he had printed the words, “Will you marry me?”

On Oct. 9, Ms. Conti and Mr. Johnson were married at Green’s Farms Church, in Ms. Conti’s hometown Westport, Conn., by the Rev. Jeffrey Rider, a Congregationalist minister. They kept the guest list to an intimate 28, all of whom were vaccinated except the 3-year-old flower girl. The groom’s parents, who came in from Columbus, Ind., where Mr. Johnson grew up, got to meet the bride’s parents for the first time.

Ms. Conti’s many adventures in the dating pool led her to focus on the things that matter. “Looking back, I think it’s nuts that I wasted so much time trying to decode guys’ texts, or worrying about the ones who ghosted me,” she said. “From the moment I met Daren, he made my life better. I didn’t realize that finding love doesn’t need to be stressful.”

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