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L.A. Affairs: What I learned from the classic college hook-up culture at USC

At a time in my life where it seemed as if there was hurt around every corner, Dan brought a lightness of being.
(Joseph Daniel Fiedler / For The Times)

When I met Dan I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.

An L.A. native, I’ve waded through a sea of the city’s most promising players. I’ve had my heart marred by the son of a Middle Eastern mogul, been duped by a handful of Hollywood’s finest college dropouts and have made painstakingly boring conversation with USC Marshall School of Business’ best and brightest.

I learned that it is imperative to stay safely buckled in the L.A. love scene. Among brainless Manhattan Beach surfer boys and 22-year-old billionaires, defensive emotional driving is a must — slow down for speed bumps, no sharp turns, and for God’s sake keep your eyes on the road.

But my goal this semester at USC was to let loose and ride shotgun. So prompted by giddy sorority girls and the thrill of going out on a Thursday night, I accepted a random invitation to a fraternity date dash, threw on my schoolgirl-themed outfit and tried to throw off the caution that had become my second nature.

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The token L.A. vibes were dripping off of my date from the moment I greeted him. I tried to keep an open mind, but my life of late left no room for spontaneity or whim. My mom was in the hospital battling cancer and my family was tearing at the seams. My tolerance was low for small talk, a slew of vodka Red Bulls and a meaningless hookup.

My date was nowhere to be found on the party bus heading from In-N-Out back to the fraternity house. I felt my caution and cynicism returning. My night of riding shotgun seemed to be ending in cardiac arrest. Time of death: 9:44 p.m.

Then I glanced up. My eyes met his. I noticed his khakis and an earnest openness on his pale face. I felt an odd tug on my closed heart.

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“Hi, who are you?” The words flew out of my mouth.

“I’m Dan.”

His sincere smile screamed “East Coast.”

The bus took a sharp turn and my body slid toward his.

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He was quick and smart. His wit matched mine and his slight Boston accent was music to my ears.

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Our connection was palpable. The hours flew by as we chatted about everything — the magic of Katsuya’s corn crunch roll, the emergence of a Los Angeles NFL team, grand theories of our universe.

Dan was the defibrillator and spontaneity was revived. Time of rebirth: 10:07 p.m.

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“So I’m going to take you on a date, if you’ll let me call it that,” Dan proposed nervously as he walked me home after our unexpected night together.

I gave him a closed-mouth smile, my cautionary L.A. girl exterior. But my heart felt something novel — open, ready for a real ride.

A few days later, after brunch at Nick’s Cafe on N. Spring Street, I called my friend Siobhan to debrief. I think she could practically hear the wide-mouthed, idiot smile that had been plastered on my face.

“Bex, I’ve never heard you like this. You really like him, huh?”

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The words sank in.

“… I’m terrified.”

“Buckle up, kiddo.”

But contrary to my usual cautionary driving, I sped through KazuNori sushi dates, late-night eats at downtown L.A. cafes, walks down USC’s infamous Greek Row. We judged drunken idiots at parties, shared our future fears, laughed about the little absurdities of life.

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We had hit cruise control.

At a time in my life where it seemed as if there was hurt around every corner, Dan brought a lightness of being. It was clear that he wasn’t just another L.A. playboy to add to my list. He made fun of kale smoothies and gluten-free fads. I felt as if I had escaped the confines of the city’s shallow romantic connections.

So when I heard word that he was getting with another girl, I felt foolish and lost. I associated that behavior with my jerky past flings and locals of yore.

When I confronted him about it, he explained that he simply wasn’t ready for monogamy.

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I had deemed that exact line suspect many times before, but coming from him the words felt genuine.

Perhaps it was the Boston accent.

Scared, 20-year-old boy? Sure. Ill-intended Los Angeles player? Definitely not.

I was riding down unfamiliar roads of real human connection that I had never dared drive on with my hometown suitors, but I wasn’t going to compromise myself in order to partake in the pain and yellow lights that define hookup culture. So I walked away.

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“Ew, what a dumb boy.”

“He sucks.”

“Dude, you were totally blindsided!”

My posse of girls echoed these sentiments as they took out Thin Mints and Swedish Fish to soothe my tattered heart.

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But I didn’t feel bitter.

I felt a deep reverence toward this Boston boy.

This East Coast boy showed me that even amid life’s most terrifying road bumps, there is beauty and exhilaration of living with no seat belt, and perhaps it was merely preparation for a ride that’s even grander.

I think I will stay unbuckled for a while longer.

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The author is heading into her junior year at USC, studying political science and English. Her website is rebeccaerinkatz.com.

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.

To read the article in Spanish, click here

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