After the end of a relationship that began in the early days of the pandemic, my heart was bruised but remained intact. I redownloaded the Hinge dating app and started browsing again. But somehow, swiping seemed entirely different than when I had last tried 2 ½ years ago (or was it three?). We’d all survived, but we were a little worse for wear and more guarded. I was trying to shed the walls and stay open when a man in his late 30s matched with me.
He commented right away on the picture of me that is three years old (or was it five?). I noticed that his profile said he was a photographer, so I vainly asked him what it was that made it a great photo, hoping there was some magic to it other than me being younger and probably thinner. He said it was my smile. After a little banter back and forth, we exchanged numbers, and he asked for my Instagram handle. After I told him my account was private, the conversation fizzled out. I wondered if he was trying to suss out whether I was a catfish.
I decided I needed to replace that old photo. After a night out in the same dress from the photo, I took a selfie and tried to deliver the same coy smile. I uploaded it on the app and hoped it would get as many likes or more. A couple of days later, I was surprised to hear from the photographer again. He apologized for the radio silence, telling me that it had been a rough week. Then, he complimented me on my new and improved dating profile and asked me out to dinner.
In the days leading up to our date, he became kind of an over-texter. I had never even met the guy, so I felt like all the checking in was overkill. I did appreciate, though, that two hours before our date, he confirmed by texting: “Looking forward to meeting you!”
Thirty minutes before our date, I checked the dating app one last time to make sure I’d recognize him when I saw him in real life. His face was memorable — he was bald, bearded and had pretty light eyes. However, when I went to look at the messages that we had exchanged on the app, I couldn’t find them. He had deleted the app or unmatched me.
Initially I didn’t think twice about the disappearance of his profile. I was worried that he seemed too enthusiastic given that we didn’t know much about each other. Maybe that was a red flag. Normally I like to have a phone conversation before scheduling a first date, but with the new voice prompts on Hinge, I was able to hear his smooth voice via the app, lulling me into a false sense of security.
He was also a Westsider, so I figured if nothing else I’d have a nice dinner close by and ease myself back into the world of online dating. I drove to Chulita, the hip Mexican restaurant on Rose Avenue in Venice where he had made reservations.
I gave myself more time than necessary to find parking, so I sat in my car taking deep breaths until it was 6:57 p.m., and then walked slowly down the block to the restaurant. I arrived at the host stand right at 7 p.m.
“I’m meeting someone here for a 7 p.m. reservation. I think it’s under his name.”
I told the host his name, and she looked down at the tablet in her hand. “Do you know his last name?”
“No,” I said.
His first name wasn’t the most uncommon name, but it also wasn’t the most common.
“There was a reservation, but it was canceled.”
My heart started to sink.
“Could it be under another name?” the host asked helpfully.
I gave her my name, but no luck.
“When he arrives, I can seat you two at the bar.”
I nodded. I didn’t feel the same sense of optimism she seemed to. I checked my phone. It was still only 7:03.
I think it’s usually safe to give someone a 15-minute grace period, but the whole exchange with the hostess worried me. I looked back at our text messages and noticed that my last text to him (“Just parked!”) had not been delivered. I decided to wait there five more minutes just in case.
I tried to seem calm and collected and not ravenously hungry as I waited on the street corner, hearing laughter and glasses clinking behind me at the outdoor tables. At 7:10 p.m., I gave up and walked back to my car. I didn’t dare tell the host because I was afraid I’d start to cry in front of an effortlessly cool Venice crowd.
Once in the safety of the driver’s seat, I tried calling him. It went straight to voicemail. I drove slowly by the restaurant on my way home to see if maybe he had shown up and was waiting there. Nope.
I was distraught and hungry, and Taco Bell was calling me. I started to cry while driving down Pico Boulevard, but by the time I pulled into the drive-thru line, I had calmed myself down enough to order a Crunchwrap Supreme. The cashier handed it to me with a smile as if he knew I needed a boost to my spirits. It wasn’t fancy cauliflower tacos with homemade corn tortillas, but it was delicious.
What I still can’t wrap my head around is why this guy would go through the trouble of making dinner reservations before canceling them and skipping the part where he’d let me know that he couldn’t make it. The anger and sadness of being stood up quickly dissolved to confusion and then apathy. Armed with his full name, I looked him up on social media and contemplated reaching out to ask why, but I decided to let it go. It’s been a tumultuous 2 ½ years, but I remain optimistic. I am, however, instituting a new policy: no dinner on the first date.
The author is a social worker living in Los Angeles. She is working on her first young adult novel. She’s on Instagram: @unpiaf
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