Some disenchanted evening

I spotted him through the crowd on a busy Thursday evening at Finn McCool's Irish Pub in Santa Monica. He was tall and good-looking. Even better, he was accompanied by two friends, the perfect counterpoint for my own trio, which included my cousin and high school friend, all of us eager to socialize.

I ordered a beer from the bartender to be sent his way, a move I had executed exactly once before, and only with some serious encouragement from a much bolder wing woman.

Soon the six of us had bellied up to the bar, engaged in introductory conversation. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the man who had caught my attention, Josh, and I had a bit of shared family history.

He explained that he owned a produce distribution company, and he had just returned from the Central Valley, where he conducted a warehouse inspection. Not an obviously sexy story, but my grandfather and uncles are produce men, and I figured that anyone who can talk fruits and veggies is nothing if not grounded.

A half hour later, the pub had grown crowded, and my new acquaintance and I had to holler at one another to be heard. I suggested we step outside. He agreed.

In my mind we would take a seat on a bench under a tree, carry on our conversation and enjoy a beautiful spring evening while waiting for our respective companions to wrap up inside.

"Should we get a cab?" Josh asked, just steps outside the door.

I shouldn't have been surprised — at 28, I've done plenty of dating and bar hopping in my native Los Angeles and elsewhere. But I was.

How was it possible for two individuals of the same generation, raised in the same geographic location, with similar levels of education and parallel family backgrounds to so dramatically misinterpret one another's flirtations?

I wanted Josh to ask me for my phone number and take me out to dinner. Josh wanted to take me back to his friend's apartment and hook up.

It is a dating climate impossible to explain to my parents, who celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary last month, or to my three older brothers who have 25 years of marriage and seven children among them. It is tricky to discuss even with my 18-year-old sister, who has plenty of her own dating tribulations ahead of her.

There is a part of me that admires the most sexually liberated of my peers. I've considered whether I shouldn't add a few nameless notches to my bedpost if only for the adventure of it. And really, no one has ever died regretting a life of too much love making, have they?

Still, be it the eight years of Catholic education, anxiety about unwanted pregnancy and disease or the sheer terror of being seen naked by a stranger, I've never really been able to see it through.

And so, with an impenetrable wall of disillusionment between us, Josh and I stepped into a now very long line to reenter the pub with the intent of rejoining our friends and, in my case, to get my hands on a stiff drink.

Self-help book titles began flowing through my brain: "How to Flirt Just Enough to Get a Date but Not Enough to Imply You Will Hook Up" and "I Like You, but No I Won't Star in Your Home Video Before Meeting Your Mother." I figured I might have a bestseller on my hands.

I don't fault him. Women are a finicky bunch. Some of us are offended if men don't hit on us; others are offended if they do. I suspected Josh had heard the word "yes" plenty of times in the past, and he had no reason to know I would be any different. I simmered in self-induced mortification, kicking myself for my own naivete.

We did exchange phone numbers, and later a few half-hearted text messages. At one point he invited me to visit him in San Diego. He said we could spend the day at the beach. A nice offer, I suppose. If only it didn't require translation.

Megan O'Neil is a Los Angeles-based journalist and graduate student at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

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