If summer 2019 has proved anything to me, it’s that L.A.’s single men are plagued with a terminal defect. To co-opt a turn-of-the-millennium term: tool-ness. This phenomenon is well-documented, a smug confirmation of a broader East Coast bias: that West Coast dudes are culturally devoid, tracksuit-wearing influencers with nothing to say beyond how much money they have and whatever their slogan-ed tees happen to espouse.
I myself stand juxtaposed between these two extremes: I’m from Texas, where being from the East Coast makes you a Yankee intellectual and being from California makes you a drop-out surfer. Nasty tropes certainly, but I think secretly we’re jealous.
I’ve gained a great affection for the Golden State in my four-ish years of residing here, and I wish my experiences could dispel some of these stereotypes — that I’ve been charmed by the likes of literate museum-going types who don sweaters (despite the Southern California inferno).
But I can’t lie, my experiences have left me fuming that L.A. men are showboaty good-for-nothings. This summer is not the first I’ve felt dejected dating in what a recent Tinder match called “a city of beautiful people,” but when I returned to the city after a brief leave of absence, the tool-ery was even starker and quite startling.
My accidental survey of datable men began during a trip to Germany earlier this year. In Berlin, out of boredom and genuine intrigue, I resorted to my phone and perused guys in the area. There were the same kind of bros that I regularly come across in Los Angeles. But among these were a lot of seemingly down-to-earth cuties who wanted to meet a nice girl, have a lager or two, and maybe get naked if so lucky.
My first foray into German nice-boys was with a PhD student studying philosophy, emphasis on Kant, crashing with his friends, away from university for the weekend. He had a gentle yet sincere earnestness and corrected me whenever I made a joke or comment at my own expense. When we kissed, he kept calling me sweet, sweet — a literal translation of the German word for cute. Travel jitters and person-other-than-my-ex anxiety slowed the action. And he was only in town briefly. It seemed best to put a pin in it.
Another date was with a boy with British ties. Not a true German nice-boy but of a European sensibility, ostensibly an artist leaving the nest of his small hometown. We went to a bar in the former Soviet sector that was dark, red and moody. Though a casual encounter, we discussed at length our families and respective childhood traumas. A conversation that would be like pulling teeth with an Angeleno boy instead came naturally and with an air of ease. Later we visited his loft in the former Stasi headquarters, a space well-received by the artist community. We sipped on his homemade birch wine and listened to the absurd Serge Gainsbourg song “Lemon Incest” as we laughed into the night.
Ultimately these experiences could be summed up as instances of relational tourism, but I left Berlin certain there was a solid quantity of decent men, genuine with their feelings and capable of upholding their end of the conversation.
I returned to L.A. hoping to maintain this first-date fortune.
My first date back was with a French American dude from the Valley. He’d been having drinks with a friend earlier in the evening, but we made plans to convene after. When I arrived at Cafe Stella, I was surprised to see him with company, a friend from college whom he said he happened to run into (Strike 1). I made the most of it and ordered a drink at the bar. When I turned around, I saw him talking up a gaggle of girls. Then an awkward three-way conversation ensued between me, him and “college friend.” We took a Lyft to another spot.
At the second joint I went outside for a smoke. While his friend stayed inside, date followed and took the thing from my hand, puffing without permission. He then proceeded with a self-help spiel, essentially telling me to overcome my self-doubt, despite my never expressing this, and “just go for it” (Strike 2). He spent a disconcerting time bragging about his work, mainly discussing a female art director who was only 17. Sure, a good work ethic at a young age is admirable, but given his seeming obsession with this young woman, I got the heebie-jeebies (And he’s outttt). I ordered a ride in secret once he went inside. Not a single text or call from him. The next day I was blocked.
Date No. 2 upon returning to L.A. was much more mild in his tool-ery. I chose a spot that turned out to be near his old apartment. This meant proximity to his old stomping grounds. All was going well until he spotted a woman with whom there was obvious history. Cut to their awkward reunion with sexual tension as I sat speechless, like a bird overhead had just taken a dump on my face. For the sake of propriety we had another round. He made a point of saying goodbye to this woman before he drove me home.
Date No. 3 took the cake. We agreed to grab dinner and see “Midsommar” in Los Feliz. We also agreed upon a time. I hustled from Pasadena and made it just in time. But I was left waiting in the sticky booth of an OG Italian restaurant for half an hour. When he finally arrived, there was no effort to greet with a hug or even a handshake. (As someone with a secondary love language in physical touch, I was not impressed.)
In an enormous booth of just two, he sat on the opposite end. I kept up the niceties and talked as I eagerly waited to pay my share of the bill. (We were too late to catch the movie.) He rejected my offer to split and insisted on paying, which I took to be a nice gesture. Hey, give him the benefit of the doubt.
He tried to get me to join him on a post-dinner stroll, which seemed to imply a precursor to “going home” with him, but I didn’t want to lead him on given the lack of spark on my end. Our parting was brief yet cordial; maybe he really meant well.
Later, enjoying the peace of the ride home, I received a text: “Venmo is @_____”. I was FLOORED. He was charging me for half the meal. Apparently, in some male handbooks it is still acceptable to view dating in terms of cavemen sex transactions. I buy food, you give me sex.
In the Tool Olympics, this was the winning gold.
What knowledge has all this tool-ery left me with? That I should move to Europe? Or that I ought to beat L.A. tools at their own game? I’m willing to play the I’m going to the bathroom and getting-the-hell-out-of-there game if needed. Or perhaps that is too considerate; I should take to getting friendly with bartenders and calling up my ex to swing by mid-date. Maybe I should be Venmo-requesting — for tool-ery emotional damages.
The author is a student at the University of Southern California. She is on instagram @pushing_violets.jpg
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