L.A. Affairs: Who knew the Whole Foods checkout line is better than Tinder?
I remember all too well how I met Mike. I was standing in line at Whole Foods in Sherman Oaks, dressed in short shorts and a Dodgers tee. After coming straight from a weekend in Temecula followed by a Dodgers game, I knew if I went home first I wouldn’t make it back out for groceries. I caught the last game of the season and was riding high after the win. It was October, and L.A. County required masks indoors, so I had a matching Dodgers mask, looking like a true die-hard fan.
While waiting in line, I heard someone behind me talking. I glanced back, and his voice stopped. I loaded my week’s worth of groceries onto the conveyor belt. I heard this voice again. I turned around, hard.
“Are you talking to me?” I asked, confused.
He was the good match except for one thing: He lived outside my acceptable mileage range. To me, the Valley was a land of trailer parks, billboards and bad takeout.
“I’m talking to my friend.” He pointed at the AirPods hidden in his ears. Then he gave me a second look, checking me out just as hard as I turned around. “Do you want me to be talking to you?”
Of course, he couldn’t see my smile behind my mask, but it was there. He had found every reason to talk to me.
“Are you a Dodgers fan, or are you just wearing the shirt?” Mike asked. I told him I had come from the game and I recalled the final score. He seemed impressed.
“You got a lot of groceries. What are you making for dinner?” He fired off questions and comments without hesitation. I hadn’t met someone this quick in, well, I couldn’t remember how long. I found it refreshing.
I kept up the banter with a comeback for everything he threw my way. I laughed when he remarked that the $100 bill I was paying with needed to be checked extra hard because I was hitting up every grocery store on Ventura Boulevard. It was a mouth-open, full-belly laugh. Even the cashier couldn’t help but smile at our casual flirting. We had everyone looking. At least that’s what he later told me. He reveled in the attention. It wasn’t in a cocky, look-at-me type of way, but he knew he was making people laugh and lightening the mood.
“Wait for me right over there. Don’t leave yet.” He pointed to a spot near the escalator to the garage. I was taken by his confidence. Intrigued by this man with the quick wit, I waited.
L.A. dating is a numbers game. You’ll never believe the men I met in one month.
We took off our masks. We exchanged names, phone numbers and ages in the parking lot. (I was 36, white and a screenwriter who had lived in L.A. for 15 years. Mike was 41, Black and a business investor, but I’ve never seen him in a suit and tie. He was fit and went to the gym almost every day. In addition, he was attractive because his vibe was attractive. His walk said, “I’m cool as hell” — and he’d tell you that too.)
“What are you doing now?”
“Going home and unloading my groceries.” I didn’t have a smooth comeback.
“Let’s go get a drink.” He wasn’t wasting any time. I liked that. I told him it wouldn’t take me very long to meet him. He had already taken the situation from 0 to 100, so there wasn’t a need to further impress him.
After I got home, I quickly unloaded my groceries, touched up my makeup and put on a fresh T-shirt. I texted him to let him know I was ready. He was running a bit behind and needed an extra 30 minutes. This gave me time to think.
Months before this, I’d vowed to my friends that I was determined to meet someone in person. After not dating for three years and having a previous six-year relationship that had ended in a bad breakup, I was set on meeting someone the same way I’d met everyone else — in person. However, according to my closest friend, Amy, “That’s not how it’s done these days.” I only partly believed that. And I’m sure I wanted to prove her wrong.
What attracts people to one another beyond looks is their vibe. It’s a very L.A. thing to say, but the high-vibe energy we put out, in this case, the confidence, brings people in to us. In a city where everyone is trying to put their best foot forward, it certainly applies to dating.
I have always considered myself a confident person in some areas and in others, not so much. I’ve always been confident with who I am as a friend, a sister and an aunt, but when it comes to romance, these last few years made me unsure of who I was in the dating world.
I was into a man 16 years my senior who often lived in a different ZIP code for the years that we dated. I lived in Hollywood, and most of our conversations happened over Gmail.
After the heartbreak I endured from my long relationship, one in which I was engaged for the latter six months, I knew I needed those years to heal, seek therapy and enjoy my life as a new single woman.
I arrived early to our meeting spot, the Thirsty Merchant in Valley Village. I waited on the curb away from the streetlight — a now fitting reminder that I wasn’t ready to be seen then.
“I can’t find parking. Get in and come look with me,” Mike said to me from his truck. Although I was getting into a stranger’s vehicle at the time, I still wasn’t scared.
We found a spot, and after we got inside the bar, we ordered food and drinks. Later, we made our way to the patio. He sat next to me on a picnic bench. That’s something I usually associate with committed couples, not people who’ve just met. But it was comfortable, and the conversation was easy. He pulled me closer to him as we talked. I didn’t flinch. Did I somehow catch his self-assured charisma?
The laughs and banter continued. As we were leaving, Mike told me to get on his back and he would give me a piggyback ride to my car, which made me laugh. “What are we? Sixteen?” I got on his back, and when we arrived at my car, I slid off, and that’s when he kissed me.
Now we’re in a “situation,” as he calls it. It’s a serious casual thing that I don’t quite know how to define. We talk daily and hang out a few times a week, but Mike isn’t my boyfriend. Maybe I’m addicted to the dopamine, the hard laughs and the long talks. Or maybe it’s his infectious confidence that’s rubbing off on me.
The author is a screenwriter with an MFA from the American Film Institute. She lives in Studio City. She’s on Instagram: @NatZimmerman.
L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.
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