Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Location, Location, Location BLOW OFF

There’s this really great scene in an early Parks & Recreation episode where a Venezuelan delegation visits Pawnee. During the introductions, each member of that delegation expresses their desire for Donna who they call the “sexy black one” to everyone’s surprise. Addressing the camera, Donna confidently explains with a knowing smile that she’s not surprised at all; she’d been to South America and had done “very well there”. I laughed my ass off at that scene because, if you swap South America for Europe, that has been my story for a long, long time.

I grew up tall, black, dorky, and studious in Northern Virginia.I was the odd girl of immigrant parents from Africa (well before Africa was cool) who if you asked what she was doodling in her notebook, would reply solemnly “working on my novel.” So, as a result and despite getting my boobs before everyone else, I was left out of the dating scene in the same fashion I assume lepers are rejected. Until I was about 19, I assumed men just didn’t like me. In fact, experience proved they didn’t and I started to make my peace with that. Sounds dramatic in retrospect but up to that point, no one had so much as held my hand. And I’d only been asked out as a joke on the ever-hilarious Opposite Day and the occasional Ugly Girl Day. So, at 19, I’d already lost all hope and thought “well, men don’t like me, then I guess I’ll just do whatever I want all the time.” The second part of that remains my mantra, by the way.

But a funny thing happened on the way to lifelong Virginity. I studied abroad in London. It was a turning point in my life for many reasons and I often call it the year that I was born. London was the first place I ever lived where I actually fit. I was encouraged for the first time to be a writer. I met incredible, creative, open people. And I met men who found me attractive. The problem was, I didn’t believe them. And it would be years before I could believe a guy would ask me out and mean it as anything other than a joke. So not only did I reject every (in)decent proposal, I became angry at their advances; humiliated and in disbelief that this kind of cruelty had followed me across the ocean. Inevitably, I was still date-less and kiss-free when I returned to the US. But London planted a little hopeful seed in my heart. What if they weren’t joking? Was it possible that someone might actually want to kiss me?

I was determined to find out so when I received a coveted internship at a prestigious theatre in London after graduation, I jumped at the chance. My best friend got an internship in Parliament and we set off for the time of our lives. I embraced everything about that trip. I made out and dated like a fiend. I played catch-up. It was criminal. And intoxicating. Men of every nationality showed interest and I began to trust that they weren’t joking. I was further encouraged by my student-discounted trips to Italy Cyprus & Scotland; even in those varied countries the response to my dorkiness was lust. I couldn’t believe my luck! Just to keep my ego in check, however, whenever I encountered American men abroad, they continued to treat me with the same disdain I was used to at home. What, I wondered, made the difference?

A British cousin of mine explained that men in Europe had a broader view of what was attractive; they appreciated women in all of their varieties. She looked very similar to me and, as a British lass, had never been without a boyfriend so she was shocked to hear my stories from home. Her reasoning made sense, though, and was validated by a gentleman caller who said with a shrug "here, a beautiful woman is a beautiful woman." In the US, there’s lots of talk about types, down to body parts and hair color. Abroad, I experienced none of that nonsense. Their wider view of what’s attractive allowed me to have a dating life for the first time. In London, I was still obviously tall, black, dorky and studious but I was also considered beautiful, interesting and, well, desirable. It was a total mindfuck. What I was experiencing in real life was also reflected in their popular culture; the black or overweight or plain girl on TV also had dates, a boyfriend, a life. They weren’t relegated to playing the sassy, supportive friend of the thin, hot lead. There were no John Mayer-like rants from their male celebrities. But I had my sassy black friend act all sewn up...was it possible that I’d have a chance to play the lead in my own life? Huh.

It was during my time in London that I crafted my plan to move to New York City. I’d been trying to leave Virginia since I was seven and knew that after this experience, I’d need a big city. I had hopes that a city as diverse, international and seemingly liberal as New York would allow me a full life. After all, Sex & The City promised it would. I allowed myself to leave London with hope about this new adventure…

…but, alas, New York equaled a return to tumbleweeds. Anyone who decides to live in New York will at some point have a very difficult time living there. And I did. But what I remember most clearly was the abyss of utter and complete loneliness I felt and the sheer joy I experienced when I got accepted into the graduate writing program of my first and only choice in, you guessed it, London. I proceeded to have what I consider to be the two most perfect years of my life. I was writing all the time, seeing shows, studying hard and finally, again, dating. After graduation, I stayed for another year, putting off the inevitable return to forced celibacy in the US. But I knew I couldn’t live in Fantasy Land forever. Seriously, I couldn’t get a visa. So back to New York I went with a renewed focus on my writing and a resolve to just be as happy as possible regardless of what greeted me there. This time around, New York treated me very well professionally and I had a dream living situation. And, eventually, I met the guy I dated for a little over a year. And he was American! Well, half American…but didn’t grow up here so not really all that American at all...but nonetheless, we dated. It wasn’t perfect. And it ended badly but I met some of my best friends through that connection and an introduction to a new city that now has a permanent place in my life.

While nearing the end of that relationship, I decided I would finally move to LA. Well-meaning East Coast friends helpfully mentioned that if I had problems dating on the East Coast, I wouldn’t have a chance with small-minded, superficial Californians who only dated blondes. Or Asians. I was neither (see: Africa). But California had been in my heart since high school and I couldn’t put off my dream of moving there any longer just because I was afraid I couldn’t get a date. So, last year, I steeled myself for another lonely spell and drove across the country telling myself “You only have to do two years there, then you’ll find a way to move back to London for good.”

Well, here’s what actually happened when I arrived. I got asked out on a date. On a few dates. In America! By American men! In Los Angeles! Without being blonde! I was stunned. Could LA be my new London? Maybe it was East Coasters who were small-minded and superficial. Maybe I’d grown up on the wrong coast my whole life. Maybe my inexplicable pull toward California was about more than my career. Could it be? I was thrown for a roller coaster-sized loop-de-loop. Do Californians secretly have the more worldly, open, European view of attractiveness that the East Coast thinks it owns?

Recently, my bestie came to town on business and confirmed what I’d suspected: “It’s almost like London here! But with more sunshine”.

Perhaps I’ve just finally found the place in my own country where I fit. Where I can have a career and, dare I dream it, a date. Maybe this is it. Here’s hoping.


  1. Great post! American boys are out of their mind and their accents are no fun. I am happy to hear that Cali may actually be more worldly than the east coast. take that manhattan!

  2. Wow! Men who appreciate real beauty, sunshine and great food? LA could actually be heaven on earth. Here's to all cities that have men who celebrate and embrace (literally) women of all sizes, shapes and colors. And may you find true love amongst all the dates.

  3. Thanks! I wonder if other readers/contributors have experienced the something similar. I knew a British woman who used to go to Italy to "get over heartbreak" because she was so popular there:)

  4. This is a beautiful post from a beautiful woman (who I just happen to know in beautiful California). Love it, love you! And, FYI, I happen to believe that every place is what you make of it. You're here and you're ready. Los Angeles is only going to shine your radiance back at you.

    Girl time and adult beverages! Soon!

  5. As a Virginia-born-and-raised woman who's lived in NYC since 1999 (EGADS), I fully connect to this post. My cynical brother has always said that women who wish to marry should never, ever live in New York because a crop of new young hotties comes to the city with the warm weather every spring. Guyfriends have likened Manhattan to a candy store. Girlfriends endure negative treatment or sacrifice their ideals/standards when faced with the possibility of ending their current relationships to "go back out there." As the cherry on top: most of my friends back in Virginia (male and female) were married (often with kids) before they turned 26.

    I hope LA is Ad Nauseam's London. I fully suspect it will be. Sometimes, too, once one's career is in full swing, the love life falls into place as well.

    Lovely, lovely post. All the best to you, Ad Nauseam.