At the end of the night I asked, ‘Are we dating or just hanging out?’

Monday, 29 May 2017, 11:11:01 AM. Holidays lights illuminate his need to find someone who likes the real him

Our first date —  happy hour at Perch followed by a power walk through the Broad museum right before closing —  had been a success. So, for our second date, I suggested we walk through one of L.A.’s swankier neighborhoods in search of lavish Christmas light displays.

She loved the date idea and wasn’t turned off by my semi-ironic use of the word “swanky.” We both had an awkward way of speaking. We both preferred verbose (or “prolix,” as she preferred to say) text messages over phone conversations because we liked to choose our words carefully. We both loved cats, baseball, museums, hiking and musical theater and,  apparently, we both loved Christmas lights too.

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Despite the appeal of lavish Valley light shows, we remained south of the hill and assumed there would be a reasonable amount of Christmas spirit in the Hancock Park neighborhood adjacent to Larchmont Village.

We were wrong. Christmas lights in Hancock Park are few and far between, and we walked every “far between,” her in heels, me in my lifts (which I sometimes wear to offset the difference when a date wears heels).

The sidewalk graduated upward from the street to the houses, and I kept wondering whether I should be a gentleman and walk on the street side, making her six inches taller instead of two.

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I hoped that, after passing all these empty front lawns, we’d find a Santa, a Frosty or a Rudolph that would bear witness to our first kiss, but the lack of Christmas spirit was killing the romantic vibe.

Finally, I asked if I could hold her hand. She smiled and reached out, but as we locked fingers, her heel landed in a sidewalk crack and she went flying forward. Fortunately, she had a firm enough grip on my hand to maintain her balance and stop the fall. We laughed, and I tried to snuggle up to her, but when I leaned in, she stayed put.

That’s OK, I thought. Maybe she’s just not a snuggler.

She told me she’d been wanting to check out the Larchmont, a cozy restaurant five blocks north. I should have driven, but I enjoyed walking with her and didn’t want to admit that the hidden lifts in my shoes were beginning to cause pain. Her heels, however, were not hidden, and after the third block, she admitted that her feet were sore.

We were greeted by the last person a short man wants to see while on a date with an emotionally unresponsive woman: a tall, handsome mixologist.

As we wobbled into the restaurant and took our seats at the bar, we were greeted by the last person a short man wants to see while on a date with an emotionally unresponsive woman: a tall, handsome mixologist with the perfect amount of facial hair. I tried as hard as possible to act like my date and I were a couple, because I was terrified the bartender might start flirting with her if he saw a green light.

Together, my date and I explored four of the restaurant’s boozy concoctions, which helped me feel less nervous.

When I paid the check, she told me her heels were still bothering her and asked if I would get the car. “Sorry,” she crooned. “This is the worst thing I’ve ever done, but my feet really hurt.”

I laughed, “If this is the worst thing you’ve ever done, you’re clearly a nice person. An exceptionally nice person.” I planted a kiss on her cheek and made sure the mustached mixologist saw it.

“I’ll be right back with the car,” I said with a grin.

I didn’t want to keep her waiting, but I couldn’t run in the shoes I was wearing. So I removed my shoes, held them in my left hand, and sprinted the five blocks back to the village. Once I reached my car, I put the shoes back on and rejoined my date at the Larchmont.

She told me she’d had a lovely time. I’m sure she meant it, and I probably should have just said, “Me too. Have a good night.”

But I needed closure. This evening had confused me. Our first date had been a success, but in the week between then and now, her “prolix” inclinations had dried up, and in person, she had become distant.

“I don’t know,” I grunted. “You’re weird.”

“What?”

“You’re just very hard to read. I can’t tell: Are we dating, or just hanging out?”

“I don’t know yet.”

This wasn’t good. I felt like my frustration had made me pushy, and now I was going to scare her away completely. I was right. She kissed my hand but winced when I leaned in to kiss hers.

After a while, she stopped answering my texts, and after a slightly longer while, I stopped fooling myself into thinking she would answer.

When I think the right person has come along, I try to plan the perfect date, and when the person I’m out with doesn’t feel the magic I want them to feel, I replay the whole evening in my head, wondering what I did wrong.

This Christmas date ended frustratingly, as did my short quasi-romance with this woman, but a different person would have found it magical. With the right person, I wouldn’t have felt intimidated by a handsome bartender, because I would have felt too comfortable around her to worry about the possibility of competition. The date would have ended with a real kiss, not an “I’ll never see you again” peck on the hand.

I look forward to that date, but I guess it will have to wait until next Christmas.

The author is a high school teacher living in Santa Monica.

L.A Affairs chronicles the dating scene in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments, or a true story to tell, email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com

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