Writing sketch comedy, as I learned during my one and only class on sketch comedy writing last summer, relies on establishing the “game” of the scene. That is, a pattern of behavior that breaks from the everyday and from which the humor flows — often to the point of absurdity. If you think about it, that pretty accurately describes the dating game too.
Those two lessons collided for me one hot night last July. I was in a cramped room on the second floor of the Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center on Sunset Boulevard for the aforementioned class. And I was attempting friendly small talk across the table to the one person in all of Los Angeles who feels actual hatred for me.
Only I had no idea.
To tell the truth, I hadn’t been unhappy to see B. when I walked in — someone I’d had “a thing” with two years before. The questions tumbled out of me in a mixture of awkward surprise and genuine curiosity. “What a coincidence! Did we ever talk about doing this? How have you been? You still working in reality TV?” He echoed my surprise and immediately started a furious bout of texting, but I wouldn’t have characterized his reaction as upset. Regardless, while our teacher played us iconic sketches from “Mr. Show,” I thought about how to make sure he and I were cool working together for the next eight weeks.
After class, I made my approach as everyone gathered their things.
“Wanna walk out with me?” I asked as casually as one can. His reply was stony.
I opted to believe that he hadn’t just shut me down in front of a roomful of strangers, that he was just playing. I laughed it off, making a nervous joke, and waited outside. When B. exited, he pushed straight past me and on into the men’s room. That’s when it dawned on me: “Oh, you were serious about not wanting to talk with me?”
“Yes,” he said. And shut the door in my face.
The real gut punch happened a few minutes later via text.
“You were a hot and cold mess,” he responded to my WTF message. “I don’t say this very often, but you’re really not worth being friends with.”
We had bonded two years previously on the Los Angeles section of Reddit over day-trip tips and then in private messages over our respective, recently ended relationships. His was a divorce, mine was with a pathological liar masquerading as a boyfriend.
As our conversation evolved into texts, we opened up about ourselves with the intimacy that a certain level of anonymity affords. He recommended a low-income therapy office — the same one he attended — and left me a sweet note between the pages of an atlas in the waiting room the day of my first appointment. It was nestled against the map of New Zealand, naturally, my home country. After that, we decided to meet in person, and then every few days for the next four or five months I’d drive to his Culver City studio and we’d drink wine and watch “Orphan Black” and make out.
I told him at the start of our rendezvous that I wasn’t ready for a relationship, and he said he wasn’t either. We each discussed the scars of our previous relationships. Slowly I started healing and I think he did too. In between hikes in Baldwin Hills and nights out in downtown Culver, we’d do things like look up home listings on Zillow and daydream about buying a fixer-upper in a neighborhood where prices were still affordable. I always knew it was a fantasy, but now I wonder if B. actually believed it.
Slowly, cracks appeared and then widened. He wanted more of me than I could give, and I was having trouble keeping him at the right distance. I wanted a friend, confidant and make-out buddy. I didn’t want a boyfriend. I had been honest about that, and I became increasingly — maybe unfairly — annoyed with his efforts to win me over. He organized a snack food exchange with a couple from New Zealand, sending them American snacks and in return getting some of my favorite foods from home, and while I was genuinely appreciative, I felt uncomfortably obligated to recognize what a great boyfriend he would make.
When a seemingly meaningless argument between us escalated to the point of him asking me to leave his apartment, I did — and I hardly looked back.
We didn’t speak for several months until another package of snack food from the couple in New Zealand arrived in my mailbox. I thought it was only right to share it with B., so we met up for a drink, ate Pineapple Lumps and talked a few things out. We parted on what I thought were decent, if not good terms. That is, until I walked into my first night of sketch comedy writing some 18 months later.
I pulled out of the UCB class, obviously. B. had made it plain we couldn’t work together, so it felt like my only option. Thankfully, UCB was understanding, so I’ll try signing up again in the spring, maybe. There aren’t many ex-boyfriends of mine in this city to run into, so the chances of lightning striking twice are low. But if I were to walk in to the next class and find myself across from another ex with a grudge, I’d just have to tell him to do better — that this joke’s already been played.
The author is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles and has been published in LA Weekly, the Guardian U.S., Marie Claire Australia, Sky, Wired Insider and more. Her Twitter handle is @lyndabrendish
L.A Affairs chronicles the current dating scene in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments, or a true story to tell, email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com.
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