December 6, 2001
Let's say it's Friday night and I want to see the guy I've been dating for four months or so. Let's call him Romeo.
I leave Koreatown full of romantic anticipation. I'm listening to some old-school disco on the car radio. I turn it up. I'm thinking maybe we'll see a movie, grab a burrito, sit on his couch drinking Scotch and making up stupid nicknames for each other.
La Brea is a little clogged. I see road construction lights ahead and a closed lane. Four lights go by, and I'm still on the same street. I turn down the radio.
They say women forget the pain of childbirth so they'll want to have another child. Similarly, I forget just how long it takes to get to the 10 West from Hollywood. I forget just how awful Friday night traffic is so I can leave my house again the next Friday night. Road amnesia protects me from becoming the type of shut-in that gets into fights with some guy named Sassytrousers14 on an Internet message board dedicated to world cheeses.
It all comes back to me as I sit in my car on the freeway, trapped like a hostage. The festive music is jarring now. I switch to NPR and take to sighing.
I get off the freeway only to find the streets of Santa Monica bustling. Marauding gangs seem to be wandering by foot all around the Third Street Promenade.
I look for parking, circling and circling until the sound of NPR becomes like a knife in my brain, and I turn it off. Finally, I decide to park in a nearby hotel lot, risking a tow.
I'm meeting a friend the next morning for Pilates in Laurel Canyon, and I suddenly realize I've forgotten my workout clothes. Life is a complicated fiasco, and it's all Romeo's fault.
By the time I get to his door, I'm not happy, and I'm not even neutral. I'm starting the evening in a goodwill deficit. One wrong move and the resentment bomb I've built over months of this crazy commute will detonate.
Location is a huge relationship issue in this vast city with no feasible public transportation. It must be taken into account. Can a couple separated by freeways and 45 minutes survive? Allow me to submit that urban sprawl isn't just bad for the environment, it's brutal on dating.
Take Romeo and me. We're star-crossed lovers from two different area codes, perhaps doomed. He can't just cruise by on foot and scale my balcony in the moonlight. He's got to sit in traffic just like I do, mumbling, "It is the 10 East, and Juliet is the sun."
Every date brings questions: Whose apartment will it be? (My friend Anne says it should always be the one with the nicest sheets.) How often do you see each other when the convenience barriers are so plentiful? Is someone keeping score of who commutes the most?
What's more, the dating timeline is thrown off by distance. You end up spending entire weekends together just to avoid a few extra trips across town. The whole thing intensifies unnaturally.
And don't be seduced by the fantasy of the midpoint. You say, "Let's meet in the middle," and it sounds like a good idea, but there's never anything in the middle. Beware the sort of compromise that leads to nights driving around Culver City looking for signs of life.
It seems petty, the problem of a few extra miles and some traffic, but believe me, the issue becomes epic. If I start slacking on my Santa Monica duty, Romeo is convinced the relationship means nothing to me.
It's not just a drive anymore. It's a vehicle for proving I'm not his selfish ex-girlfriend who couldn't be bothered to spend the night at his place. It's a battleground where feelings get hurt and parking tickets multiply. It's coming home to a surly cat who has registered his disapproval of my absence by leaving me the gift of feline waste on my pillow.
If it's meant to be, all of this shouldn't matter, right? It's just difficult to gauge whether someone is your destiny in a fog of nuisance-filled voyages.
There's a Yiddish saying, "If a man is destined to drown, he will drown even in a spoonful of water." I guess the converse of that axiom would be, "If a couple is meant to swim, they will do so even in a bucket full of bother." I believe that.
If you're trying to have a relationship across the 405 or the 101, maybe waking up to rush hour is a sort of love crucible. If you can walk through that and not blame each other, you might be on to something.