Just Moved? Read This

One woman who moved from the big city to a suburban setting learns how to date like a local. Here, she shares her best advice.

By Heather Maidat

hen I moved from New York City to Los Angeles, I had no idea that going from urban to suburban would create such a dating culture shock. Of course, Los Angeles may not strike many people as “suburban,” but compared to Manhattan, it seemed, at first, like I’d moved to Dorothy’s proverbial Kansas—at least when it came to dating. Having lived like Carrie Bradshaw for the past 10 years, I thought I was a dating sophisticate. Quickly, though, I learned that in a more suburban environment, I was a mere dating novice.

Whether you’re relocating across the country or simply across
I learned that in a more suburban environment, I was a mere dating novice.
county lines, here’s a guide to dating differences that may help you to be a more savvy single than I was when I set foot in a new city.

Understanding the ask-out
When a guy would ask me out in New York City, he’d vaguely say, “We should hang out.” This may sound blasé, and it’s certainly not romantic, but I’d always liked that approach because it took the pressure off. After all, as far as I knew, it wasn’t an actual date; it was just two people going to dinner and a movie. In fact, I “hung out” with a guy named Adam for two years. The only problem was, when we mutually didn’t want to be hanging out anymore, we couldn’t figure out how to end it since we weren’t breaking up from anything.

That changed when I moved across the country and could no longer get away with being so cavalier. Three weeks after my arrival in town, I met Mike at a party and instead of saying, “We should hang out,” he asked for my number. In New York, giving out your number to a stranger is like handing over your wallet, but I did it anyway, and, to my surprise, he actually called—the next day. I was shocked. I was even more surprised when he said, “I’d like to take you out.” In Manhattan I dated constantly, but suddenly it occurred to me that in my entire adult life, I’d never actually been asked on a date. Part of me liked it, but part of me also found this straightforwardness somewhat intimidating. I fumbled, “Let me get my schedule” —which was completely empty, of course, since I was new in town. Still, I needed a minute to put the phone down to regroup.

Learning the new logistics
In New York, with everything a quick subway ride away, I’d meet my dates at our destination. But here in Los Angeles, there were so many options. Mike asked which I preferred: Did I want him to pick me up, meet him at the restaurant, or drive to his place and he’d drive from there? Hmm. Meeting there meant both of us driving and no martini, which, I have to admit, is a drastically new dating arrangement for someone coming from a culture of public transportation.

I gave him my address to swing by and then reconsidered. Do people get into near-strangers’ cars that aren’t taxis? Instead, I chose driving to his place, then him driving from there. If he turned out to be a nut job, I figured, there was only half the risk. And if he was normal, there would be some fun in going together. Still, I decided at some point I’d learn how to roll out of a moving car.

Timing it right
Mike suggested a 7:30 p.m. dinner reservation. In New York, I didn’t leave my apartment to go out before 9:30 but,
I gave him my address to swing by—and then reconsidered.
apparently, people keep earlier hours in nearly every other U.S. location because places close earlier and families have kids to wake up for. Unfortunately, I was late since I didn’t take into account that getting to Mike’s house at 7:30 meant getting ready before sunset. Not only did I neglect to calculate the traffic from my place to his and then his to the restaurant, but I also had to coordinate an outfit that was less hip-hop, more flip-flop. Apparently, if I dressed in my Manhattan dating outfits, I’d look “overdressed” or like I was “trying too hard.”

Stranger still, after dinner we were back at my car by 9:30, calling it a night. I’d just come from a place where dating is as-you-go. After activity #1, there’s a walk next door to a pub or, at the very least, a walk to continue getting to know each other. Did this mean he had a terrible time? Little did I realize that in the ’burbs (or pseudo-’burbs), it wasn’t a reflection on me. It was simply that there’s nowhere else to go.

Getting a good-night kiss… ? As the car idled, it dawned on me that dating culture-shock could also come in the form of a goodnight kiss. In an urban environment, there are six zones of spontaneity in which a kiss can occur: at the cab, in the cab, at the front door, in the vestibule, at the apartment door, or in the apartment. Here, the car passenger has to initiate either leaving or lingering. Unsure, I did both. I held the door handle to my right while turning to my left, but the seatbelt locked up, keeping me from doing anything. Mike turned off the car, walked me to mine, and we hugged goodbye.

Usually I would know to release at that first let-go-of-hug cue a date was sending. But Mike was a head taller than me so my arms were around the back of his neck, and it reminded me of being on the subway, holding on to the bar above, in close proximity to other folks. See, I was used to the company of people at all times and I hadn’t been that close to anyone in the weeks since my arrival. Soaking it in, I put my forehead on his chest. By default, he rested his chin on my head. After a few seconds, he lifted his chin back up, as if to say, “OK, hug over.” But I didn’t budge. He gave me a kiss on my head, the way you might kiss a child. Still, I held on. Then he tried an “Um…” followed by, “OK… uh… ” Finally, I let go.

Decoding the date Often after a date I’d have the cab driver to recap with, but now I was driving home with my thoughts. Then, days later, I got a letter from Mike in the mail. It was a poem he wrote called “Tall Town Girl in Flat City.” The story told what it must be like to be a stranger in a new place. He referred to me as a pioneer. I didn’t feel like a pioneer. I felt like a loser.

Mike and I stayed friends, and after a year of dating other men, I met Tom, who said, “We should hang out.” I thought I’d be relieved, but when he called and presented the driving options, I blurted, “If it’s a date, it would be fun for you to pick me up.” I’d never before admitted that the date was a date to my date. Oddly, it felt good. I considered this an indication of my adjustment period coming to an end, or more importantly, that a more secure me, regardless of location or outfit, had set in.

“Well then, I’ll pick you up,” Tom said. “When’s good?”

Frightened but excited by what I’d done, I said I’d check my schedule just so I could put the phone down to regroup. Then I told him that 7:30 would be perfect—proof that my “new girl in town” days had come to a close and I was ready to date like a native.

Heather Maidat is a screenwriter and essayist who has performed her work in Toronto, New York, and Los Angeles. Her work has been published online in The Huffington Post, Girlcomic and Freshyarn, and she has written comedy for over 10 television shows.
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