I didn't like my adolescence in Los Angeles.
Girls left zip-lock bags of cocaine in the bathroom and side-eyed me for not wearing a Juicy Couture jumpsuit. I fled to the Midwest for college, where I believed people were kind and kept their gray hairs.
So I was skeptical when, 10 years later and living in San Francisco, my boyfriend told me he was moving to L.A. to pursue a creative career.
I decided to give long distance a chance. I loved how he sang Frank Sinatra songs when we woke up, and how he turned his day into funny stories for me, and how my head fit perfectly under his chin when we hugged.
Resolving to keep an open mind about L.A., I figured I'd known it as a child but never as an adult. I'd known the Westside, but not the Eastside. Could I learn to like L.A. for the one I loved?
We packed his apartment in boxes, wrapped his guitars in bubble wrap and loaded his surfboard onto the truck.
On the plane to visit him, I worried. I worried I wouldn't be as pretty or thin as his neighbors, that public transit would be just as bad as I remembered and that, most of all, our relationship would feel different in a city in which I felt out of place.
But when we drove up to his West Hollywood apartment, I was surprised to see how many trees were on his block. I was surprised we could walk to brunch and to the grocery store and to a neighborhood bar filled with normal-looking people. I was calmed by how good the sun felt after weeks of San Francisco fog.
Over my monthly visits to L.A., I shared the familiar with him. On my childhood street I showed him the speed bump my dad cemented in the middle of the night. At Brent's Deli we ate the Reuben sandwich beloved by my grandparents. And at the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, I grabbed his arm when the man with the snake walked by, probably the same snake that scared me a decade ago.
We also found pieces of L.A. that were new to me. Downtown at Cicada, he twirled me across the dance floor in a red satin dress. Mint juleps in hand, we took in the big band and chandeliers. He crooned along with Sinatra into my ear.
And then there were our trips to the beach. We brought books and coconut water and camped out at the same lifeguard station where I used to boogie board as a kid. A selfie taken at the moment the waves hit our feet captured grins as wide as the ocean behind us.
After one of these beach weekends, I sent a text to my brother. He replied, "It sounds like you want to move back."
Did I? Certain rituals felt like home. We stopped to notice every tree on his block — the ones with the gnarly roots, the ones with the purple blossoms, the ones trimmed into the shape of lollipops. We said "hi" to the life-size sculpture of a horse on Santa Monica Boulevard. We had our favorite spots in his apartment, him tapping away on the computer and me reading on the deck.
And with him, the artifice of L.A. didn't bother me like it used to. One morning at brunch, an Escalade dropped off a woman in a white jumpsuit framing loud cleavage. I joked that I needed a boob job; he joked that he needed an eyebrow wax. We both didn't feel like we belonged, which cemented the idea that we belonged together.
Swayed by love, it became easier to discount my favorite things about San Francisco — the candy-colored houses, the close-set neighborhoods — and validate criticisms of how the city was selling out to tech. I thought about the cost of rent and property in San Francisco; about how both were more affordable in L.A.
As I started more seriously considering L.A., the distance began straining our relationship. Visits were never long enough, and there was pressure for each visit to be perfect. We started fighting more. Ascribing the fighting to our circumstances, I figured it would pass.
I was wrong. Eight months into our long-distance experiment, he Skyped to say we were too different. I canceled my next flight to Bob Hope Airport, put tissues next to my bed and filled my 300-square-foot studio with tears.
I remembered all the times he picked me up from the airport; how he'd pull into his driveway, take my duffel out of his trunk and say, "Welcome home."
With him at my side, I no longer felt out of place in L.A.
But with love, geography isn't the only problem.
Medress is the author and illustrator of the children's book "Quaid McQueen, Trash Machine."
L.A. Affairs chronicles the current dating scene in and around Los Angeles. We pay $300 a column. If you have comments or a true story to tell, email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com.
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