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L.A. Affairs: How do I keep getting duped into sneak-a-dates?

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“Let’s hang out. We can get grilled cheese if that’s what you really want.”
(Gwenda Kaczor / For The Times)

I have always been comfortable with the fact that most of my friends are guys. I work in animation, a dude-heavy industry, and I’m used to being treated like a bro.

One night, one of my guy friends from work — let’s call him Z — asked what I was up to that coming Thursday. That Thursday was Feb. 14, which for my entire life had been Singles’ Pride Day. I’m not one for romantics, and I’d never been one for “celebrating” Valentine’s Day. Flowers don’t do anything for me, neither do Hallmark cards. I told him I would probably make some grilled cheese and indulge in the true meaning of love: melted cheese.

He said “Whatttt? Grilled cheese??? Let’s hang out. We can get grilled cheese if that’s what you really want.”

It was.

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When Thursday rolled around, he insisted on picking me up. He said he’d researched the best place for grilled cheese in L.A. and said he’d keep the destination secret until we arrived. No need for formalities, I thought, why the secrets? But I salivated during the drive, wondering whether it would involve L.A.’s noted grilled cheese master, chef Eric Greenspan, and contemplating whether I was in the mood for gouda or brie. I couldn’t wait.

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When we got there, I saw that we were not heading to Greenspan’s casual order-at-the-counter spot, as I’d expected. Instead, we arrived at a swanky hotel on Wilshire. Whhhaaaaaaatttttt? This must be some kind of mistake, I thought. It was a fancy schmancy fine-dining establishment — on a rooftop.

To get there, we crammed into a tiny elevator and headed to the top floor. When we stepped out, I saw rose petals scattered everywhere.

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Z explained that the grilled cheese stand was closed that night, so he’d taken us to Greenspan’s other restaurant. “We’ll just have to get grilled cheese here,” he shrugged.

The host took us to a candlelit table with a view of the lights of Los Angeles and explained that dinner that evening included a special prix fixe menu to celebrate Valentine’s Day — and there was in fact no grilled cheese on it.

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We awkwardly chuckled at the mix-up, and of feeling so out of place. (We schlubs were dramatically underdressed. I was in Converse sneakers so old they had holes. He was wearing his uniform trucker hat, which I have never seen him without.)

In the end, we decided to stay. He said that since this had been his idea, he’d pay for the ridiculousness. That was fine by me. At that point, I was starving and needed to eat. Despite the unusually romantic setting, Z sported his typical carefree, stoner vibe, so it otherwise felt like a normal night — two buds chatting about animation.

After the meal, he drove me home. And then, at a stop sign, out of nowhere, he leaned over and laid one on me. Completely shocked, I thought, “Whoa, that’s my face. I don’t want your face on my face!” but I couldn’t exactly say that, so I said, “Whoaaaa you’re driving.” Cause that was the first thing to pop into my head. You know, blame it on vehicle safety?

I got home convinced the entire evening was a simple accident. We accidentally made our way to a prix fixe rose-themed Valentine’s dinner all in the name of a quest for grilled cheese. As for the kiss? Perhaps the romanticism of the dinner environment rubbed off on him, and Valentine’s Day makes people lonely, so he went for it?

The next night, I was out with a mutual friend who started to dish that she suspected Z had a secret crush on someone. (My internal reaction? What a relief! I’m off the hook! He likes someone else!) She said he apparently went out with the girl on Valentine’s Day. (Good for him! Wait ... when did he have time to see her? And why didn’t he take that girl out on Valentine’s Day and instead hang out with me, his boring old work pal who … )

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And that’s when I finally realized that the candlelit rooftop dinner was a Valentine’s Day date.

I had so much to process.

What kind of convoluted bait-and-switch scheme was that? Was he intentionally dangling the promise of grilled cheese right in front of me while plotting a fancy rooftop date? He deceived me all night with his casual, bud vibe and his trucker hat. (Isn’t that a rule somewhere? Trucker hat = Not a date?)

I also realized I’d been scammed exactly like this with other guys whom I believed to be completely platonic friends. Each and every “Let’s grab a bite” and “I happen to have an extra concert ticket” invite flashed before my eyes.

There was the friend who got to the movie theater early to buy our tickets and Sour Patch Kids. The friend who invited me to an abstract dance show but secretly prepaid for my ticket and a Panera sandwich. And then, bam, surprise, those were allllll dates in their eyes.

How do I keep getting duped into sneak-a-dates?

Maybe my bae-dar is off, but if you typically treat me like a bro, how am I supposed to tell the difference?

What ever happened to formal invitations or merely being direct?

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Guys: Slyly handing over your debit card to the Panera cashier to buy my sandwich does not constitute a date. And saying “Let’s hang this Thursday” doesn’t exactly clue me in to your intentions.

I guess this is a lesson that you see what you want to see, because that evening for me was a “grilled cheese with a fellow animation nerd in a trucker hat Thursday night invite.” I somehow completely missed the “rooftop and rose petal candlelight dinner and a kiss in the car on Valentine’s Day invite.”

Sadly, the murky texting and DM-ing communication style of my generation persists.

However, I’m confident I can at least sense a sneak-a-date coming my way long before I end up on another romantic rooftop Valentine’s Day dinner date.

The author is an animation editor and co-creator of the animated web series Gremlin Girl. She is on Instagram at @gremlingirlseries.

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for love in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments or a true story to tell, email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com.

MORE L.A. LOVE STORIES …

I’m black. He’s white. Here’s what happened

I went on a bunch of blind dates with total losers

I was sleeping alone in a stranger’s bed — and falling for him

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