On our first date, he had asked me to meet him at his apartment. I got out of my beat-up Nissan Altima and smoothed my top. My outfit had been carefully selected because I was going out with an L.A. director: the plaid top purchased at the real Top Shop in London, my best designer skinny jeans and small wedge sandals.
But as I walked into his home I felt intimidated, realizing my outfit was completely un-chic and totally lame.
He was only four years older than me, 26 to my 22, and yet he lived here — in this shiny new, perfectly decorated one-bedroom apartment near Beverly Boulevard. I was temporarily living at home after college.
Everything in his apartment looked expensive because it was. He was a director. He’d just returned home to L.A. after eight months in China directing a TV show. I know this because he showed me all the shirts and the tuxedo he’d had made for his tall, lanky frame by nimble Shanghai hands.
He explained that his coffee table was, actually, a door that was hundreds of years old, then took me to dinner at Cobras & Matadors for Spanish tapas. I didn’t know that this restaurant with the delicious balsamic-drenched warm grapes and goat cheese existed.
He was from the Northwest but had gone to USC, just like me. He went to study film; I earned an English degree. He had directed commercials and TV shows and hoped to write and direct his own films. When someone moves to Hollywood to chase an idea, they end up living in a different L.A. than the rest of us, but I didn’t know that at the time.
I was born in Van Nuys, grew up in Glendale, went to high school in Orange County and had spent the last four years existing in the five-mile radius bubble that was USC. My L.A. didn’t include tapas, but I was starting to learn there was more to my hometown than convenient California Pizza Kitchen locations and the confusion over Vons versus Jons.
I had a lot of firsts with him. Dan Tana’s, Greenblatt’s, Mozza, Gardens of Taxco and even Musso & Frank. We stopped by Chateau Marmont for late-night drinks among literally glittering women while I fidgeted in my ill-fitting Forever 21 shirtdress and sensible flats.
The whole thing made me feel uncomfortable, and yet my friends were jealous of our dates. “He’s trying to impress you,” they all said. But I thought these were the places he wanted to go, the places he wanted to be seen. I couldn’t figure out why he’d chosen me as his unlikely Hollywood garnish. He never asked me where I wanted to go, to which I would have gladly replied, “Chipotle and Baskin-Robbins.” Maybe, just as I found him imposing, he found me quaint.
I started calling him the Epicurean, a moniker that reeked of too many “Sex and the City” reruns. And after four months of formal dates at nice restaurants that left me with late-night indigestion, I asked him to meet me at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Studio City so that I could break up with him.
After I’d gotten one last freebie — my favorite, an English breakfast tea latte — and had returned home from a relatively painless rejection, he called my bulgy Motorola flip phone. “Maybe we should date for real,” he said.
“Why would you say that?”
“Because I think I might have just lost the chance to get to know you.”
I thought of the prosciutto melon appetizers at Mozza. I remembered the time he took me to the Hollywood Bowl to listen to jazz, only to appear embarrassed when I took off my shoes to let my feet cool on the stone seats. I recalled the way he looked at me when he introduced me to new people, like I was an interesting doll he’d found at a garage sale.
In four months he didn’t even try to get to know me, the girl who grew up on Persian food from Rafi’s in Glendale. The girl who gets uncomfortable around expensive things she can easily break. The girl who owns special-occasion denim and can’t wear heels for more than an hour.
If he gave himself the chance to get to know that girl, he probably wouldn’t have wanted her, and, perhaps, on some level he knew that.
Although we both lived in L.A., we didn’t live in the same world. But, of course, I didn’t know that at the time. I still go to some of our date destinations, not because going there says something about me but because the food is good, and I realized that everyone is too focused on their own vanity to really care what I’m wearing anyway.
Sundell is a writer living in Los Angeles. She blogs at Terrible-twenties.com.
L.A. Affairs chronicles dating and romance in contemporary Southern California. Past columns and submission guidelines are at www.latimes.com/laaffairs. If you have comments to share or a true story to tell, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.