Age gaps always bothered me until I met M.
They meant daddy issues, psychological issues, financial issues: I didn't have any of those.
Shortly after I turned 21 I went to a bar in downtown Los Angeles called El Dorado. I had never been to that bar before (not like I’d been to many), but my friend wanted to meet me there.
I arrived early, so I waited at the bar, alone.
A man — M. — came up to me and asked, “Is this seat taken?” I said no. “It is now,” he said. He and his friend, a bubbly young woman from overseas, joined me.
He asked what I did for a living. I told him I was in my last year at USC. He told me he went to UCLA years ago. I wondered how old he was. He didn’t look a day over 25.
When my friend showed up, the four of us hung out and drank a bit until I had to leave. I added my new friends on Facebook.
Three weeks later M. and I went on a date. He was late. I sat in the lobby of the Freehand hotel, wondering why I even agreed to do this on a Monday night.
When he arrived, we took the elevator to the top floor, which led us to the gorgeous rooftop bar with a beach vibe, Broken Shaker, and its unique cocktails, pool and view of downtown.
He bought us drinks and we chatted about a variety of topics including religion, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and music.
I analyzed him the whole night. He was composed, confident and detached. His Facebook page said he was an ER doctor. I did math in my head. Between school, residency and fellowship, he must be at least 28 or 30 years old.
I told him I’d gotten my first tattoo a few days earlier, a human heart with flowers blooming from it. I held my breath as he traced its outline on my right shoulder with his fingers.
I wondered if he operated on hearts all the time, and broke them as well.
As we sat at the bar overlooking the Los Angeles skyline, he pointed at a building. “That’s my place. Wanna come by?”
It was only a few minutes’ walk. It was so perfect that I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a casual routine that he’d done with multiple women. Drinks at a cool rooftop bar. L.A. skyline. His place after.
His place turned out to be one of the most upscale apartment buildings in downtown. He had a small collection of wines and two pianos. Everything was a little empty and messy, as if he never really spent time there or had just moved in.
He poured some wine for me and I sat next to him on the piano bench.
I played the melody of “Für Elise.” He laughed at how poorly I did it. He was patient as he slowly played the harmony on the left hand as I played the right. It felt so damn romantic, straight out of a fairy tale.
We went out onto the balcony (of course he would have a freaking balcony) and talked as we drank more wine and took in the view. He asked me about school, about what classes I was taking, and what I wanted to do after graduation. Despite being much older and established, he didn’t talk down to me or about himself extensively, as so many men do. He had a genuine interest and a patient ear. We kissed right there on the balcony and I felt my head spin in disbelief at how amazing it felt.
The eager and enthusiastic texts I’d send him after that night were often returned with short and terse replies. After some time, he stopped replying completely.
I tried to think about what I did wrong. Maybe I was too young, too intense, too forward.
I idealized him and projected into the future. Maybe after five years the age difference wouldn’t be too bad. Jay-Z and Beyoncé are 12 years apart and Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds are 10 years apart, after all.
I went on a string of first dates to stop thinking about him. Nobody could compare. I joked about getting in an accident so I could wake up in the ER with him taking care of me. He’d realize after my near-death experience that I’d been perfect for him all along.
I knew deep inside that it was impossible to mourn the loss of someone I barely knew and call that love or heartbreak. I also realized my own dating rules were off. It’s perfectly fine to date older or younger. If we focus on whether something will work out, or what society says you should look for in a person — an age, ethnicity, height or profession — we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. Analyzing what I did wrong won’t get me anywhere. We’re not going to marry every person we date, and there are so many amazing people, places and stories in this city yet to be explored.
Months after he stopped replying to me, I went to see “Hamilton” at the Pantages Theatre. During intermission I went to the restroom, and as I was walking back to the lobby I spotted him. M. was standing by the stairs, sharing a drink with another woman.
We locked eyes. I froze. He casually smiled at me. I walked away in a hurry.
L.A. Affairs chronicles the current dating scene in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments or a true story to tell, email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com.
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