When I moved to L.A. to change my life, Jon Hamm was on my mind. Yes, he was dating someone, and yes, I’m a decade older, and no, I’m not a movie star, but I had a crush on him the size of the La Brea Tar Pits. And at 51, I was brimming with hope, determination and desire for West Coast start-over/post-menopausal adventures, career opportunities and great romance.
After 21 years as an English professor in Ithaca, N.Y., I was ready for life beyond scholarship, teaching evaluations, grading and knowing absolutely everyone in a small, cold and decidedly unglamorous town. Bedding Hamm would be a fitting “Goodbye to All That.”
I went on a lot of dates. These men and I had lunch at Cafe Gratitude, dinner at Musso & Frank and drinks at the Soho House. Along the way, emboldened by my new life, I touched Ben Affleck on the knee and kissed Ellen DeGeneres on the neck. (Those are stories for another time.)
I started out as a woman who didn’t know what it meant when someone asked, “Are you in the industry?”
“What industry?” I’d reply.
I had never heard “creative” used as a noun nor did I know that “treatment” meant anything other than a medical procedure. After dating a stuntman, a film director, the brother of a famous actress, an executive at Capitol Records and a guy who made ice sculptures for the major award shows, I became somewhat well-versed in Hollywood lingo as well as with the kind of men you meet in L.A.
I came to the unfortunate realization that my previous life as an academic made no sense to my dates nor was it even slightly interesting. Having a PhD was about as impressive as training worms to slither in a straight line. There’s very little entertainment value there. To the men I met, talking to young people about ideas and art seemed like a 19th century activity akin to embroidering in the drawing room.
We spoke different languages. Fortunately, over the last nine years, I’ve made great friends, found a good job and had plenty of sexy experiences without a man escorting me.
Just recently I glanced at Bumble and saw a handsome man who was visiting from New York. He had graduated from my alma mater with a degree in English!
We had a phone call, and not only did he ask me about the classes that I’d taught back in Ithaca but when I described one of my literature courses, he made a “hmmmmm” sound that made me want to meet him. I knew that he didn’t live here, but he did come to L.A. often for work (yes, he’s in the industry), and because I go to the East Coast on occasion, there was a possibility for some kind of relationship.
We met at the Malibu Farm bar overlooking the ocean. He looked like Peter Lawford back in the day and had that Cape Cod-ish style, relaxed but cleanly clipped. We were only meeting for a drink, but it turned into a three-hour meal with laughter and chemistry and then some delicious kissing in his car.
I was more drawn to him than anyone I’d met in L.A. Our texting the next day involved several literary references. That night, we met for dinner again — this time, in Topanga Canyon because he’d never been. My Peter Lawford was a little brusque — no touching and not much warmth. I figured he’d had a bad work day.
“So, what are we going to do after dinner?” he said.
I bridled a bit because, despite the chemistry, I wasn’t ready to sleep with him, and I guessed that he was hinting at that.
“We could walk on the beach?” I said.
“I was thinking we go to your place or my hotel.”
“I’m not quite comfortable with that …,” I told him.
He put down his fork and gave me a steely gaze. “Why not?”
I took a sip of water. I desired this person, madly. But at 61, I wasn’t about to sleep with someone I might never see again. “Every time I’ve been asked to go to a man’s place or we decide to hang out at mine, there’s an expectation of sex.”
“So, I am every other guy?” He glowered and then gestured for the waiter to bring the check. Within minutes he was getting up, leaving a table full of food. We said goodbye.
The next day I texted Peter an apology because, of course, he wasn’t every other guy. I was thinking of his intelligent eyes, hands on my face and his “hmmmmm” at my syllabus. He texted back: “I preferred to make out in private rather than a car in a parking lot. You don’t believe me. That’s on you. You made me feel dirty.”
I made him feel dirty? Either he was kidding or he was way more sensitive than I’d realized. I wrote back again apologizing for reacting to him based on past experience. He texted: “Ok. Wanna F—?” Was Peter a cad?
“A joke. Just a joke,” he wrote.
Despite our original connection, we did not speak the same language, I guess. One thing I’ve learned: Here or there, we’re all writing stories in our heads, all the time.
In my head, a man shows up with wine and a good book he’d like to discuss, and we ride off into the sunset on the Pacific Coast Highway. There’s no traffic, and no one feels pressured for sex. No one feels dirty until we do — at the same time, and El Matador beckons. And then the credits come up.
The author is a college counselor and a freelance writer. She’s finishing a memoir about moving to L.A. jobless and partnerless at 51. She’s on Instagram: @Kirstenwasson.
L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email [email protected]. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.