During a recent conversation over drinks in a beer-soaked West Hollywood dive bar, a friend turned the conversation to the topic of dating. Comparing men in Los Angeles to men in the rest of the country, Susie* wondered aloud if our local boys seem a little more...guarded. Is there a slight reluctance to get serious, she asked, a hesitance to dive headfirst into romantic relationships, an unwillingness to love recklessly?
I'll admit that at first pass, the notion of "L.A. men" caused a few unfortunate stereotypes to march through my mind: industry guys in tastefully colored button-downs and expensive jeans, hands forever clutching iPhones as they gaze into the ether of the rest of the room. Hipsters with dot-com-era glasses and tattoos on muscular forearms, lingering in dark bars in Eagle Rock or waiting for $5 lattes in Silver Lake.
It would be convenient if these ideas provided any truth or insight into the minds of L.A. males. But they're about as useful as any sweeping generalization -- that is to say, not useful at all. More than that, though, defining L.A. men is also about defining L.A. women. It's a question about who we all become when we get here, what the city has to offer and what it means to be uprooted.
Here in the Southland, Northeast intellectualism is mingled with Midwest kindness and Southern manners, as people from all over the country leave home to pursue their passion. But when we're faced with each other, these characteristics get misunderstood, and when they're misunderstood, they stand to be abandoned.
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The old trope of Angelenos not wanting to commit because we're constantly seeking the next best thing plays a role in how we relate to each other. But underlying it is the fact that real connection is hugely difficult in a place where there are no prescribed norms, no agreed upon values, no cultural standards to adhere to. The very thing that draws us to the city in the first place -- how it sprawls with endless possibility, melds cultures and individuals -- makes it pose equal, if not greater, chance for rejection as it does for success.
So it follows that we build up walls. Small, kind gestures get lost, like a warm-hearted thank you or holding doors open or even listening and engaging with abandon. We play games in order to save face, and since our next prospect might be right around the corner, there's no love lost if the games don't work out. There's safety in barriers, even if it means less chance for real closeness.
What it means is that if we do want intimacy, risks need to be taken. Real risks. Not the risk of sending a screenplay to an agent; the risk of having your heart broken. And even in Los Angeles, where we chase dreams that could be dashed in a matter of moments, a broken heart is often a much more frightening prospect.
*name has been changed