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.
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.