I was looking for a boyfriend. I ignored the red flags

The night I met Buff Ben, I was coming from a Hinge date. The night had started auspiciously. My date was a fellow screenwriter who had worn a Hawaiian shirt, smiled and asked a few good questions. Then he had dropped the act of polite curiosity and begun reciting his accomplishments aloud. Not wanting to betray oncoming tears of self-pity and envy (unlike him, I had not a credit to my name), I stared at the booth divider until the check came. Then I ordered a ride to Shatto 39 Lanes in Koreatown.

A hand placed a pair of bowling shoes into mine, and I looked up to see my kickball teammate, Ben. Exactly 10 years older than I, Ben had distant hazel eyes, an avuncular face and bulging biceps that sent a jolt of simultaneous familiarity and excitement through me — it was as if I had hit my funny bone hard against a table.

We flirted the rest of the night. I swooned when he leaned into me, snapping a greasy fry into my mouth. “I’m a salt queen,” he whispered.

As the night went on, he pouted adorably every time he didn’t get a strike. Eventually he ended up winning the game.

Sure of reciprocation, I asked him to dinner the next night. He agreed but had one caveat. “Do you mean it as a date?” he texted. “If so, I’m too old for you. I’ll tell you my right-wing opinions so you get over me quicker.” Caught in the vertiginous thrill of three dots bouncing in response, I ignored the red flag. We met the following night at a Chinese restaurant in Silver Lake.

Across bowls of rice and steamed greens, I studied his face, which had struck me as alluring and playful the night before. Long eyelashes lent his eyes a feminine sparkle, a counterpoint to his manly chin. I compared it to my own visual lexicon of roundness: cleft chin, tight curls, bumpy nose. We both looked Jewish, I thought, but in different and perhaps opposing ways: Heat Miser vs. Snow Miser, hot vs. cold, curly vs. straight. (He’s Jewish on both sides, and I’m half-Jewish.) He also was tall and imposing, and I was short and amusing.

At a lull in the conversation, Ben asked where I went to college.

“Princeton,” I answered. “What about you?”

“Harvard,” Ben said.

“Did you like it?” I asked.

“No, I hated it!” Ben smiled ruefully as he recounted his loneliness there: the time he had crushed openly on a fellow actor in a play before turning bitter when his advances were spurned. Also, there was that time he answered a Craigslist ad to lick an elderly man’s feet for cash.

He briefly caught me up on his life thus far. He had tried to make it as a screenwriter and teamed up with a famous actor, and, filled with pride, refused an early opportunity. He flashed a bitter grin. “I realized unless you have some hidden diversity or a parent in the industry, you’ll never make it.” He had pivoted to journalism and garnered a blue check on Instagram for his original column in an L.A. publication.

Although I’d been in Los Angeles only a month, this wasn’t my first rodeo for such displays. Nearly every date I had been on had involved some version of the “I was once you, kiddo” speech. In contrast to their usual effect, Ben’s made me want him even more. I shared my stories of loneliness at Princeton, hoping their relation to his stories would make Ben feel less alone. “I’m on your side,” I wanted to shout. “Together, we could support each other’s dreams, hopes, selves.”

He smiled and asked to know more about me, as I had done for him. I felt elated, carried away on the current of refuge in another.

We got the check and walked to our cars in silence under a surprising canopy of stars. I leaned in to kiss him. He recoiled. My stomach dropped.

“I’m sorry. I don’t date guys … who look like you,” he stammered, in a bashfully amused sing-song, as if I had asked him to autograph my underwear.

“What do you mean?”

He chuckled. “I only date fit guys,” he said, as though this were so obvious it didn’t merit explanation.

I scanned his prominent pecs and tense arms. I asked him how he got so fit. He recited his workout regimen to me.

I typed his words furiously into my notes app. Then he put his hands on my stomach. “You have a good base,” he said. “I looked like you once. Then I started working out.”

“What did that get you?” I asked, hoping impossibly that we could reverse time to the part before he had body-shamed me.

“Well, a certain caliber of guy started noticing me,” he said in an authoritative tone.

We walked to his car. Clearly the night was over. “And I almost got a boyfriend out of it,” he said before shutting his car door. “Bye. I had a good time.”

And this was another way we were similar, I thought as he drove away. Here were two lonely intellectuals, two once-precocious children who were addicted to the feeling of “almost.” I changed Ben’s contact in my phone to “Buff Ben.” He had almost achieved a romantic rejection of me without profoundly hurting my feelings. I had almost gone on an incredible date with someone I actually liked.

The author is a screenwriter of teen dance dramas. He lives with his seven housemates and a very cute cat in Los Angeles. He’s on Instagram: @keiserwilhelm

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 $400 for a published essay. Email [email protected]. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *