L.A. Affairs is our weekly column about the current dating scene in and around Los Angeles -- and finding romance in a wired world. If you've got a story to tell, we want to hear it. We pay $300 per published column. Past columns and submission guidelines are at latimes.com/laaffairs
As I boarded the flight from JFK to LAX, on my way to a TV talk show internship during my final semester of college, I felt like Miley Cyrus during the first verse of "Party in the U.S.A." I'd never lived outside Connecticut. My expectations were uncertain; my trepidation, palpable.
The subsequent four months were a whirlwind, and I decided to stay in the L.A. area after the internship. Unfortunately, the show had no opening for me, so I wasn't hired there … or anywhere else, once the internship ended. I had officially entered, along with so many others of the millennial generation, the dreaded status of "recently graduated, have a lot to offer as an employee, but have not landed a job yet." Not a great place to be.
And not a great place to attract women, either. I had dated around, in part through the website Date My School (only university and college students and alumni can belong, and its slogan is "educated people, educated dates"). But after the internship ended, I stopped logging on, certain that any attempts to land a relationship with zero job, zero car, zero stability, and one Y chromosome would prove a fool's errand.
Fortunately, I still was receiving email notifications from the dating site; otherwise I would have missed her message that mid-July day. A rising senior sociology major with long black hair and deep brown eyes had reached out with a simple yet personable greeting. "Hey, I'm Rebecca. I just moved back to L.A. Would love to talk to you."
So we talked. First online and then for hours upon meeting in person, inside Cinco, a dimly lighted restaurant on Manchester Avenue. We bonded over spicy chips and guacamole on a chilly-for-summer night. The first words the native Southern Californian said after greeting and hugging me were, "Wow, it's freezing outside." The temperature hovered around 60 degrees. In New England the year before, my brother David and I had shoveled three feet of snow off our driveway in one day. But I have to admit that her notions about weather were kind of charming.
Rebecca and I stayed up long into the night. After exchanging phone numbers at the end, I later sent a text message in hopes of planning a second date, to which she replied "Hey!!!!"
"Four exclamation points," I responded. "Not bad!"
"Yeah," she wrote, "I'm excited."
"Me too," I replied, "but judging by exclamation points, apparently only 25% as much as you are."
The woman I had been seeing previously would have probably misinterpreted such a comment as literal instead of a joke. She would have replied with something like, "And what exactly are you implying by that?" or "A relationship should be built on mutual admiration, you know."
Instead, Rebecca answered "!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
This one was a keeper.
Eventually, we were seeing each other as often as possible. Ambling through the shops at Universal CityWalk. Promising each other that "you can always stand under my umbrella-ella-ella-ella" during a Rihanna-Eminem concert at the Rose Bowl (tickets I'd purchased months earlier when the price was not an objection). Staring out at the Pacific Ocean from the San Clemente Pier, neither of us saying a word because the silence was enough, the sun transitioning to painterly yellows and oranges as it dipped below the horizon.
L.A. can chew you up and spit you out. For months I felt myself a stranger in a strange land, with everybody and everything I had ever known or loved 3,000 miles away. The lyric from "Theme from 'New York, New York,'" — "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere" — could apply equally, if not more so, to L.A. Rebecca entered my life right at the moment when I believed I couldn't make it here.
By accepting me at this point in my life, Rebecca showed that she valued factors other than status. She wanted me for me. At a time in my life when all potential employers were saying no, when it felt like the whole world was telling me no, at least one person in my life was telling me yes.
Ultimately, we didn't last. These things usually don't. The grand finale came inside a Starbucks in, of all places, Beverly Hills — an irony not lost on me. She had to leave for her senior year the following week, and we both doubted our little adventure could survive that.
But Rebecca showed me that the path out of bad times does not merely depend on improving one's material state. She showed me that the bad times can be overcome by human connection. I could have succumbed to depression. Instead I will always recall our time together with exuberance.
In his post-college life, Jesse Rifkin is a writer and a journalist.