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I tried to read the signals: Was he flirting? Or just networking with me?

I tried to read the signals: Was he flirting? Or just networking with me?
He was certainly agreeing with me a lot, and smiling... (Johanna Goodman / For The Times)

I was at my friend Jane’s place in West Hollywood, where she was hosting a table read for one of her cool friend’s television pilots. She’d assembled a group of hungry, motivated creative types and I, another aspiring TV writer, was hoping to make the acquaintance of someone several rungs ahead of me on the Hollywood ladder.

Enter L., who had just quit his development job to pursue writing full-time. He had representation and had been “taking meetings.” We talked writing, our dream jobs and our how-did-I-get-to-L.A. stories. I described the sketch comedy web series I’d created. “That’s awesome,” he exclaimed and he put both hands up as if to elicit a high-10. Who doesn’t want to high-10 a stranger? So I did it and he took the moment that my hands hit his to interlace his fingers with mine. There was some prolonged hand-to-hand contact that I was not anticipating, and then I was left wondering … was he flirting with me? (I’m not sure I’d know. Here’s a brief history of my dating experience: I have almost none.)

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He was certainly agreeing with me a lot, and smiling. He was pretty cute with his mid-’90s alternative-rocker hair (my favorite kind), dirty blond and slightly longer than chin-length (like Johnny Rzeznik in ’96). He said he wanted to read my scripts, and I said I wanted the feedback. We exchanged contact info and made plans to get together. I almost couldn’t believe my luck. I just came to network, but I thought I might get even more out of it. L. could introduce me to a manager. Or, even better, I might fall for him.

After a few days of flirty texting, L. and I made plans to meet in West Hollywood at Laurel Hardware. I arrived early and ordered a drink so that by the time he arrived, my awkwardness and nervousness would be minimal. I had been almost positive this was a date a few days ago, but then self-doubt crept in. As I waited alone surrounded by people my age who looked like they knew what they were doing, I wondered if I’d read this whole thing wrong.

He arrived and we got a table. And boy, the conversation was flowing. He definitely seemed interested in me. The waitress came by several times to get our order, but after a half-hour passed we still hadn’t glanced at the menu. He described his one-hour drama and his feature set in New York City, and I humbly gushed about my comedy pilot. Then he turned the conversation to relationships.

He said his most recent relationship lasted seven years. Then he moved out to L.A. from the East Coast and things fell apart. That was four years ago, and he had been single, or dating, ever since. “Oh, me too!” I exclaimed drunkenly (the waitress had come by again and despite my comfortable tipsiness, I ordered another gin and tonic to go along with my appetizer). I continued, “I haven’t been on a third date in four years,” which is not at all the same as a long-term relationship, but that was all I could think of to contribute to the conversation.

He was silent for a minute. He nodded his head a few times before sipping his Stella as if he was carefully mulling over my drunken … confession?

The check came and we split it. (Ugh. Never a good sign.) We walked down Santa Monica Boulevard together half a block before we discovered we were going the wrong way. I thought we were walking to his car, which was in the other direction and he thought we were walking to my car, which wasn’t there because I Uber’d (was he really going to let me drive in my clearly altered state?) He chuckled as we turned around, guiding my inebriated body with his arm. The contact was brief, but it felt nice and I basked in it. This is a funny story we’ll tell people when they ask us about our first date, I thought.

My basking was interrupted by his scoffing, “I can’t believe that you were walking me to my car!”

“You’re just so pretty,” I joked, “I wanted to make sure you made it to your car safely.”

I thought I was being hilarious. He didn’t, nor did he respond by saying that I’m pretty. He waited with me for my Uber and we hugged goodbye. I slowly pulled away and looked him in the eyes, awaiting my kiss. But he continued to pull away from me and the car. The night was over.

Where did I go wrong?

A few days later, despite the fact that we hadn’t made plans again, I sent him my pilot and feature as he had insisted that he wanted to read them. He sent me his pilot and feature and I read them quickly. I wrote back that I really liked his stuff and would love to get together to talk about it. He said that he’d only read my pilot but that he “really dug it” and needed a few more days to get through my feature. I took this as a positive sign. If he didn’t want to see me again, he wouldn’t be responding, right?

But another week passed without hearing from him. It was clear he didn’t want to see me in a romantic capacity, but didn’t he want my feedback on his script? I definitely wanted notes on mine. Maybe he’d give great notes. Maybe he’d give my pilot to his agent ...

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Two weeks went by and I knew he was never going to follow up. Did I really go through all of this for nothing? I gave it one last shot. I texted, “How about next week? Does Tuesday work for you?” He wrote back, “Probably, but my friend might have an improv show, so I’ll let you know.” He never did “let me know.”

I wanted to be the confident girl who could get romantically rejected, shake it off and pursue the professional connection. But more important, I wanted to be the cool girl who could take a hint and recognize disinterest. I never reached out again and he never reached out to me, either.

Professionally, I didn’t need his feedback or validation. And romantically, besides the hair, he wasn’t that cute anyway.

The author is a writer in Los Angeles. You can find her on Instagram @clareshmare.

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for love 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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