When I moved to Los Angeles from the East Coast, my life was in transition. I had been working on a dissertation about the cultural history of Los Angeles and decided to leave academia to write for television. And I had recently ended a long-term relationship. With few friends and a new career here, I was looking for social connection.
Online dating was a great introduction to Southern California. Within a month, I was living in Echo Park and going on four dates a week. It didn’t take long for me to learn there was something called “geographic desirability” — and it was often the only compatibility factor that really mattered.
When one Santa Monica man found out I lived on the Eastside, he said, “We might as well live in different states. Good luck!”
Not having a traditional job commute meant I was initially unaware of the problem traffic posed for one’s social life. I hadn’t yet discovered there are certain times you can — and can’t — drive across town, and certain days you end up staying home entirely because you missed the calmest window on the 101 or the 405 or the 2, 10, 5 and 134. One trip across town can take up an entire day, and you’ll spend the evening recovering on your couch just because you left the Eastside 20 minutes too late.
After a month of saying yes to any location because I had free time and barely knew anyone here, I limited my dating range: Echo Park to North Hollywood. Even Culver City didn’t make the cut.
Geographically, Culver City should be only 25 minutes away, but emotionally, it’s an hour and a half.
The longer I lived in Los Angeles, the more I came to appreciate the space between people. You can be anonymous here. In D.C., where I’m from, I couldn’t walk two blocks without running into someone I knew. It was so cramped, no matter where I worked or lived, it felt like a group house. Or worse, a group text.
The sprawl of Los Angeles was refreshing. You could go years without speaking to your neighbors. You could reinvent yourself. That was part of its allure. But it was not without consequences. Sure, the sprawl limited the awkward run-ins, but it was also lonely. The year I moved here, I went out with more than 100 men and learned my way around the city, including all the good parking lots to cry in.
As I got busier and more discerning, I dated less. I moved out of Echo Park and sublet a beautiful bungalow near the Silver Lake Reservoir, replete with citrus trees and a hot tub in the backyard. (That sublet seduced me into making my relocation to L.A. permanent.) I made friends. My career was blossoming. I became too busy to notice what wasn’t happening, because of all the things that were. I’d all but stopped dating.
Then, a man asked me out.
To my face.
In a bar.
It’s simply not done. These days, asking someone for a date in public is confrontational. Too direct. It’s almost rude. Like leaving a voicemail.
So, there we were: two adults who met in the wild. No computer interface. Free-range dating.
He suggested a first date at the Dresden. He lived on the Westside but was willing to make a trek to his old neighborhood. (When it comes to traffic, someone must always compromise. Usually, it’s the more interested party.)
When I arrived at the bar, he embraced me warmly. Then, over his shoulder, I saw the last person I slept with sitting two stools away. With one of my girlfriends. Cue stomach drop. Everyone talks about the Los Angeles sprawl, but nobody talks about its density.
Where’s the sprawl when I need it?
After I hugged my date, I excused myself to greet my “friends” so it wouldn’t be awkward later. Her knee was resting against his thigh. It looked like their first meet-up — the one where you touch an arm or a back or an elbow to let him/her know you’re interested. (We’d had our first date here too. It was his routine. And, apparently, mine.)
After I returned to my date, I was tempted to text my girlfriend: “Don’t do it! Run!” I was also tempted to text my ex: “What are you doing? She’s my friend!” But I said nothing because it wasn’t my business and I didn’t want him back. We’d gotten together only a few times before the relationship ran its course. He wasn’t good at a lot of things, and she was about to find that out.
Instead, I focused on the new guy and the way he looked at me. He was attentive and curious. I felt chemistry I hadn’t felt in years. Over the past couple of years, I’d had the occasional date or hookup but hadn’t prioritized a relationship in the absence of it not coming together on its own. I stopped caring. And you know what they say: That’s when it happens.
The new guy had tattoos and confidence. And he was a better kisser than the ex. I found out an hour into the date. He tried to kiss me sooner, but I told him I didn’t want to do it in front of my “friends.” (How was I supposed to have my first kiss with someone new next to the last person I had sex with?)
After my “friends” left, we made out at the bar, the way you do when chemistry trumps manners. He looked at me like a moon goddess, like he was memorizing the distance between my eyes, the space between my nose and chin, the asymmetry of my lips, where the wrinkles spoke and where they whispered. He asked me questions about myself! He wanted to be there. He wanted to be there with me.
Los Angeles is a city of misfires, but real connection is possible too. Some dates are worth the drive.
We saw each other again that weekend. That time, I drove to the Westside.
Did it work out? God, no. He lived in Venice.
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