It was on a smoking patio in Echo Park that an older woman named Annie shattered my illusions about finding a suitable boyfriend in my 30s.
"Tell them, 'If you don't have jack, don't call back,'" she said, while I fiddled guiltily with an American Spirit (I had "quit" two weeks earlier). I nodded, thinking I understood.
"J.A.C.," she said again, holding up three fingers. "Job, apartment or car."
Had it come to this? Was my baseline for dating in Los Angeles really a guy's possession of J.A.C.? What about being body-slammed by love?
I had been looking for almost three years, after leaving my boyfriend of 11 years. I took the cat and he took the $845 two-bedroom apartment in Silver Lake. I was 31, and single for the first time in my adult life.
"Please, just come home," he pleaded with me six months after I moved into a lonely walk-up in Echo Park. "We can get better."
But I knew that we couldn't. We were broken — had broken each other. What I needed from a relationship bore little resemblance to the needs of the 18-year-old girl he first met many years ago.
The problem for me was that the dating game had changed drastically in a decade. It frightened me to realize that the last time I had gone out on a first date was in the 20th century.
I wasn't even on Facebook, where all the twentysomethings were busy "poking" each other. Worse, I didn't have a smartphone and didn't really text, which seemed like an epic fail in a dating landscape dominated by digital communication. How was a guy going to ask me out if he couldn't text me?
For a while I spent far too much time in Eastside bars — bathing my broken heart in whiskey and getting hit on by 25-year-olds who thought I was 23 and always gaped in the most unsettling way when I said I wasn't. They were usually unemployed couch surfers with glib Chinese-character tattoos and overly pointy shoes. They didn't have J.A.C.
If I lived in
But Los Angeles was all faceless freeway and high-speed metal edge. Chance encounters weren't likely to happen here. If I wanted to bump into someone I would have to do it somewhere unromantic, like in line at Vons or mid-plow at Bikram yoga.
Friends told me to join groups where I'd meet men with similar interests. A cooking class maybe, or a book club. That feels too contrived, I told them, before secretly signing up for a free dating website. When the only guy I met on that site tried to sell me magic mushrooms, I jumped ship.
Despair set in, then acceptance. I grew to enjoy making dinner alone, obsessing over "Lost" on
The second I was at peace, I met a man — my own age! — and fell in love. I was playing bass in my band at the Down and Out bar on Spring Street downtown, and he had come to see me a few times — wondering who I was and liking how I moved onstage.
Once I moved too much and fell off. He rushed to pick me up, but I was too embarrassed to notice. Soon after that I left alone on a long-planned trip to Vietnam.
While I was gone he knocked me sideways with passionate, well-written letters. By the time I got back we were crazy about each other. He is creative, handsome, warm. I like the way his shirt cuffs hang over his slender wrists and the way he looks at me when he thinks I'm not looking.
An independent film producer, he traveled a great deal before we met, which threw the whole J.A.C. equation out of whack. But when it came to him, none of that mattered. I had been body-slammed by love.