40 First Dates

September 30, 2009

1. The First Of Many

Filed under: Uncategorized — 40firstdates @ 8:33 pm

There are endless ways to meet men in Los Angeles. Because no one seems to have a real job, at any given time you could be meeting Mr Right. Maybe in your groovy local coffeehouse, where he will be tapping away at his screenplay. He could be at Mulholland dog park, (described as “the best place to meet hot chicks” in Entourage). Maybe he’s playing tennis on the Poinsettia courts in West Hollywood, or cruising the Venice boardwalk on an artfully-distressed bicycle.

Since this is all about the meeting of strangers, it helps to be inviting. Friendly. I have come to realise that I am neither. My froideur precedes me, even. Once, at the Velvet Margarita on Cahuenga, a guy hitting on me suddenly stopped talking and said, “whatever happened to you, I’m really sorry. I hope you feel better soon.”

The other night, I was at a glitzy afterparty for the Emmys (it’s my job) and my fellow mag reporter, Margi said, “it’s important to give guys a sign they won’t be rejected. Smile, make the first move, reassure them. Then step back and make them come to you.”

This was a revelation! Back home, men expected the cool, distant appraisal. They loved it even. Outright friendliness and flirtiness was too direct. Plus, it just wasn’t me. Now I was expected to melt a little, be encouraging?

This brought to mind my grandmother telling me, “lovey, you will spend your life stitching a man’s bollocks back on.”

She also said, “men’s brains are in their knickers.” But then, I knew that.

During this party, I approached Stephen Moyer, Vampire Bill from True Blood. Ok it was for an interview, but as soon as I heard his Brit accent, I relaxed, flirted a little even. I knew where I was with him.

Brilliant! I would start slowly, I would go on an official date with a Brit.

Two days later, courtesy of match.com I was sitting at the bar of the Dresden in Los Feliz with Dan, a 33 year-old originally from Manchester. I picked flat shoes, a short dress with a t-shirt thrown over it (it was 90 degrees at 8pm) and was not remotely nervous. I mean I didn’t care, had nothing invested. This dating thing was easy!

We drank beers and chatted over the drone of Marty and Elayne, the 60-something cabaret act. He told me about his childhood during the ‘Madchester’ scene of the 90s, where people necked ten ‘E’s a night and he developed mild drug psychosis, where he could only lie in a darkened room. I told him about my teenage years dancing around the gay clubs of soho, sharing a house with an Ecstacy hound who became ‘afraid of the sky’. We had stuff in common.

After 20 minutes, Elayne’s version of ‘Private Dancer’ was grating, so we crossed the street to Cuba Libre. Suddenly Dan seemed a bit sad. On instinct I asked why he had moved here and there it was, the ex-girlfriend. From there we moved onto how sad he was that he had left his dog behind.

“I think I broke his heart. He died” he told me.

I felt for him. I too have a dog and an ex. But did we have to talk about this now? I liked the honesty and if I’d been attracted to him I would have thought, “oh cute, vulnerable!” just as I did when my ex told me about his awful relationship with his mother the first time we ever met. (Ladies, never date a man with mother issues. Ever).

With Dan it was just draining. He walked me to my door and with zero chemistry there I thought, “please, please do not attempt to kiss me”. Still, he hovered, uncertain.

I recalled a friend who, on a terrible dinner date, was just wondering how small the bathroom window was when the guy shimmied up next to her on the velour banquette, leaned in and said, “shall we try a little kiss then?”

I cut this pointless moment off with the ‘quick hug and bye’ combo. Relieved, he waved and said, “’til next time!”

He never called. Which was good. Nice guy. Not for me.

September 29, 2009

English people don’t date

Filed under: Uncategorized — 40firstdates @ 10:22 pm

They don’t. No one in LA believes me when I tell them. Incredulous, they ask, “so how do English people meet each other?”

I say, “you see each other around in a vague way, then, in a casual ‘accidental’ meeting, you get drunk, have sex and by 5am you’re either creeping out the door with your knickers in your handbag, or they’re asking when you can move in.”

It took me a while to come up with this answer, because it was weird to me too when I thought about it, I mean, I grew up with it, so it was something you never had to spell out. Here in the States there’s a lot of spelling out. Awkward, clunky conversations like “are you seeing other people?”, or “are we going to take this to the next level?”

This was American dating. If you haven’t spelled it out, or ‘had the talk’ you’re nowhere. In limbo. Lurching towards the grim night when one of you has to admit you care if your lover if loving anyone else.

In England, actually in the whole of Europe, once you’ve had sex, there’s a code of conduct. My British friend Tim, living in LA and waking up with a local girl for the first time one morning, told her, “so I guess you’re my girlfriend.” Admittedly this was a bit crass. But, he says, “she literally ran from the room.” Then never returned his calls.

What’s weird is that I’ve personally always had issues with the Euro system. A self-confessed commitment phobe, the serial monogamy of my previous London life had not been working for me. I always found myself locked into something way too soon and then quickly sideswiped by some awful characteristic that bugged the hell out of me, like for example, loud breathing, bad jeans or the absolute worst, a liking for Sky Sports. I didn’t always want to make that leap into coupledom, but society had left me few options. Maybe this American dating was the answer for me. I could try people on for size for months at a time, even have several of them on the go at once. But first I’d have to learn how it worked.

So far I wasn’t doing well at all. For one thing, I never want to go to dinner with a guy I don’t fancy who’s going to think it’s ok to squeeze my leg or worse. I don’t enjoy small talk and boring people. I normally avoid going for drinks unless I have an instant chemistry with the guy and that happens, well, almost never. Call me fussy. I don’t care.

I’ve had a few dalliances in LA for sure, and even forced myself to accept some genuine dates. It’s amazing to me what these guys think is OK. Like the guy who was dating me, my friend, her friend and his girlfriend at the same time. Or the guy who insisted I bring my girlfriend with me on our second date. Or the one who called me Jessica (not my name). And that was just me. I heard stories from friends that blew me away, like the girl who was waiting outside a club bathroom laughing with everyone else in line at the sex noises coming from the stall. She laughed right up until her boyfriend fell out of the door with his pants around his ankles attached to a blonde.

On the flipside, there have been the overkeen and creepy.

It’s acceptable to speak to strangers here in LA, to ask them out even. I love this for the random meeting of potential friends, but until recently had given stranger dating requests the brush off. Then, inspired by this new open-mindedness to the dating culture, I was vaguely nice to a man I met at Trader Joe’s supermarket. He waited until long after he’d got my number to lecherously say the words, “I’d rather be spending my Saturday night with you.” I, who had been buying cheap champagne by the cartload (a favorite occupation) squealed out of there with a mere two bottles under each arm.

At the checkout, a random other man tapped me on the shoulder.

“You handled that really well”, he told me. “Congratulations on your new stalker!”

He was right. Trader Joe’s guy texted. And called. And texted and called. I never responded to any of it, but that didn’t deter him. Oh no.

And what about the guy I worked alongside for half a day in Vancouver? Three months later he still texts and calls. It should be flattering, but it’s just depressing. Sometimes, I wonder whether to respond, “how is your wife?” and then I decide not to stoke the fire.

My American friends are amused by my confusion. My British friends are incandescent with rage! They cannot believe that men who, biologically, like to shall we say ‘put it about’, get carte blanche to do so and can continue to do so until you threaten them with your hotter, buffer other guy, or sheepishly, uber-coolly tell them you might like them. A bit.

I’d encountered players in Europe before, but if they dicked you around, you just kicked them to the kerb – there were rules. In Los Angeles, a guy could feasibly leave a key under the mat for a girl while he had dinner with someone else (true story). The girls played around plenty too, though. Legions of women I met who told me they loved their boyfriends saw nothing so terrible about making out with a couple of randoms after too many vodka tonics. I think, to be fair, Los Angeles is an extreme example of US culture. I’m pretty sure relationships in, say, Indiana or Kansas are a little more straightforward.

But here I was, in LA, trying to become a local. What to do? I knew I could never play second fiddle with a guy I actually liked and keep a coquettish smile on my face. Hell I wasn’t even remotely coquettish. Rude, spiky, distant, yes. Cute, no. So how was I ever going to date in this town? Maybe I’d have to only date guys I wasn’t into – it seemed sort of pointless.

But then, I also had license to date anyone and everyone. The American rules might be thrilling really. But what about sex? Did people wait until they’d picked one person out of several? Did they discuss this in advance? My eyebrow girl Stevie says she dates “loads of guys” but she never has sex with any of them until she knows they won’t dick her over.

Well, this was definitely a reversal of the ways of back home. I mean, I don’t know any British friends who even waited a week to check out the goods. It helps that like I said, you’d probably seen them around before, as is the British way. But here in the US, you went out with an almost-stranger, politely ate dinner and drank your cocktails, knowing what the subtext was, but then you went home. Alone. For weeks on end! And woe betide the woman who had the hots for a guy, and went with it, because you were just a slut and would never have the guy’s respect. Right?

This was a game and I didn’t get the rules. I once read an account by a British guy of dating in New York (I think it was Toby Young of ‘How to Lose Friends and Alienate People’, a book I hated and a movie I hated a lot more.)

He said that American dating essentially came down to “auditioning people for sex.”

Indeed the concept of meeting up with someone I barely knew to see if we did it for each other was awful when I was used to the West Side Story of eyes meeting across a sea of mutual friends, the furtive, abstract conversations, the dancing around, never once asking overtly. Then just going with whatever you felt like doing, no judgement.

But now, after much avoidance, living in Los Angeles, it’s time to go native. So, I’m embarking on this mission: Learn to date, American-style. I, who before moving here, had never once been on a date, had back-to-back boyfriends, I was going to go out with people I barely knew, or had never met. Lots and lots of them.

Then a friend said, “it’s easy to go on a first date, but getting and wanting a second date is the hard part.”

So, in view of that, I thought, “bollocks to second dates.” So I have to go on 40 first dates. I can accept second dates, but they don’t count towards the 40.

Now I was going to be sitting there, auditioning some guy, I would need questions and a checklist to do this right. I wasn’t ready. I always just knew when I liked someone. Doesn’t everybody? Did we have to do it this way? What could I possibly need to ask?

So a friend helped me prepare. “What are must-haves?” she asked.

Height (I am 5’8″), nice teeth (I hadn’t left London for nothing), nice hair, gets my humour, got his shit together, sense of style, open-minded, does some exercise.

“Nice-to-haves?”

Creative, ambitious, has travelled, well-educated, gets along with his family, reads loads of books, has great friends, does not play computer games, likes shopping (my last boyfriend loved shopping. It was a miraculous mutual pleasure I dream of repeating).

So I was all set. 40 dates, 40 guys. At least it’s an excuse to buy some new clothes. Got to look my best for auditions.

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