Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2003
By James Verini
Love in Los Angeles? You want to know about love in Los Angeles? It’s still like the mansaid, some 70 jaded years ago: “It’s a Barnum and Bailey world/ Just as phony as it can be/ But it wouldn’t be make believe/ If you believed in me.”
Granted, when the Broadway lyricists E.Y. Harburg and Billy Rose wrote “Paper Moon” with Harold Arlen in 1933, hoping the song would find its way west and into a movie and make them MGM-style rich, they may not have mentioned L.A. outright. But then they didn’t mention love outright, either, did they? Outright is not how things are done, in jazz or here. But make no mistake, they were looking west. Even back then they knew, just as we know now, that America’s dreams of love — the world’s dreams of love, really — come from one place. Right here. Los Angeles, the city of illusion, a Barnum and Bailey town, yes, but — if you believe in it — a city of romance too.
But therein lies the rub: to make love in the romance factory. To find and maintain the real thing in a city whose very currency is impossible images of love, a place where stunning young women and men — and they seem to get younger every day — sprout from the pavement like Whack-a-Moles. To be a workaday craftsman in the city ruled by Ares and Aphrodite, in the land of Bogey and Bacall, Pitt and Aniston.
“You’ll notice that no romantic comedies are set here,” says Jon Lucas, 27, a screenwriter who’s sold romantic comedy scripts by setting them in other cities. “The notion is that everybody falls in love in New York. It’s always autumn in New York. But we don’t associate this town with that. We’re willing to watch L.A. get blown up by aliens but not to watch people fall in love here.” He’s right, Paris this is not. We’re in the city that invented noir, not amour.
Steve Martin, probably our most clear-sighted ambassador, found love in “L.A. Story” (1990). But only through embracing the city’s crackpot-mystical side for a last-minute miracle: He had to cause a rainstorm with his mind, you’ll remember. And Mirabelle, the sensitive heroine of his novella “Shopgirl,” falls for a millionaire with a house in the hills but finds true love only when she moves to San Francisco. And yes, young men, of course there’s “Swingers.” But really — Heather Graham, alone, having a drink at the Derby? Come on.
“It’s a stereotype, but people do tend to judge each other more superficially here, maybe because of media and entertainment,” says Julie Ferman, an L.A.-based personal matchmaker. “We’re all in our cars, stuck in our little worlds. But people here are also more willing to give each other a chance.”
Dan, 33, an agent, unmarried, says that “L.A. is all about the unwanted intersection of personal and professional lives. You desperately try to draw lines, but they always bleed into one another…. Bosses date their underlings here. Flirtation is essential to the way I do my job.” It gets confusing. Dan, who preferred to give only his first name, tells the story of going on what he thought was a routine business-related dinner with a female executive, only to find the next day that she was referring to it as a date.
There are love casualties in this protean fray. Even as the most recent census shows family and, by extension, notions of love shifting and diversifying as never before, even as marriage grows ever less required, there are those who want the white picket fence and two-car garage and can’t find it.
“If I were living somewhere else, I’d be married,” says Kerry, 35, a commercial producer originally from Idaho. She meets most of the men she dates through work but, she says, “the industry I work in is a revolving door. My friends from Idaho have all been married for years and have kids. Sometimes I want their lives.”
When she came here 10 years ago, Kerry thought she might meet the man of her dreams. She hasn’t yet. “I have some good years — and other years when I just want to get out.” Of course, cynicism is always a flavor of the moment in L.A. Mind you: Lucas, the screenwriter, is happily married — to an attorney, no less — and Dan is dating a smart, lovely woman.
Not to obscure the point: The obstacles to love in L.A. are myriad. But so are the opportunities. And how would we know the peaks but for the valleys? Point to another place on Earth where you could meet such a vast ethnic, professional, philosophical, sexual-orientational smorgasbord of potential mates, and have so many options for taking them out. And where you would get to drive 45 minutes across four municipalities, thwarting spontaneous sinkholes, road rage and heat-stroke, to pick them up.
Name another city where you and your beloved could work 12-hour days on opposite sides of a mountain range but on your respective lunch hours simultaneously take bikram yoga classes followed by In-N-Out protein burgers followed by wheat grass shakes.
That’s love in the magic Angeleno space-time-continuum. And where else could you and your newly betrothed spend your first night in a $10,000 starter trailer or a $10-million starter mansion but have to get on a waiting list for a modest little bungalow? It’s chaos, but sublime chaos. A lot to handle. Sometimes L.A.’s famous tolerance for the unconventional must be put to use.
Consider Emmy Cortes and her husband, Ken. They met at UC Irvine 11 years ago and have been married for seven years. Emmy, 31, runs a marketing company and lives and works in Santa Monica. Ken, 32, is an anesthesiologist who works in downtown L.A. and lives in Silver Lake. “For us it’s all about the commute,” says Emmy.
They’re both committed to their careers, and they both hate long commutes. They see each other on average twice a week, talk on the phone every day — “anywhere from five to 20 minutes” — and while she occasionally sleeps in Silver Lake, Ken, who really hates commuting, never sleeps in Santa Monica. “Most people say, ‘My God, Emmy, he’s a doctor. Why are you working?’ But I want to have my own life, and for us having a loving relationship and our lives means living apart. But all the time we spend together is quality time. I’d say we have more quality time than most couples because we schedule it.” They do their taxes together, as well.
Alas, to be a patient S.O. — that’s Significant Other in industry speak — when the wedding notices in Variety describe spouses who don’t work in entertainment as, simply, “non-pro.” When No. 3 in L.A. Brides Magazine’s top 10 pre-wedding tips is: “Get Botoxed.” And when the flagrantly imbecilic “Just Married” has grossed $50.6 million.
“It’s harder for the average person here, they won’t do as well as they would in Cincinnati,” says Kirpal, a holistic psychopharmacologist who treats love problems at Objets D’ Art & Spirit in West Hollywood.
The most common complaint from her female clients? Men in L.A. hate to commit. For this Kirpal prescribes “Commitment” oil, to be worn on the next date. Other popular oils are “Lust” and “True Love” (for when you absolutely, positively must find true love), and the aromatic candle line includes “Marriage” — as in, I want to get married — and, if that’s worked, “Happy Together.” The most common complaint Kirpal gets from her few male clients, by the way? Women seem to be after their money.
But we find a way, don’t we? The city always finds a way. Through banter and compromise, through the slow attrition of ideals but also through hope and the adding on of years, the city finds a way to love. L.A.’s most famous quality and biggest export, after all, is sunny optimism. Joan Didion excepted, Angelenos tend to have a deeply rooted faith in the good times ahead. This is where people come to chase their dreams. “We are in Joy’s metropolis,” as Aldous Huxley wrote of his adopted home. Perhaps the key difference to love in L.A., where those dreams don’t come easy, is sacrifice. We sacrifice more to make love work here.
“There is no easy way to get to your goals here,” says Cathleen Summers, a successful film producer (“Stakeout,” “Dogfight”). “There are very few measurable quantifiers for what you want, and everybody wants to make it on their own.” But Summers has been successful in love and work, having lived with producer Pat Crowley for 20 years. How have they managed? To put it simply, by turning down work, even projects they knew would likely prove big hits. “I’m a workaholic,” she says. “But I’ll take certain projects, or not take them, so that we can be together. And so does he.”
Or take Tony Girabaldi. Tony, 46, and his partner have lived together for four years. They’ve made concessions to some traditional mores — having had their union blessed in a church — but Tony says they’ve had to work hard not to subscribe to others. “This is a young town, and the center of the body-beautiful culture. If you’re over 40 and gay, you’re just not noticed. It’s easy to buy into the ‘I have to find someone younger’ thing.”
They have learned not to buy into it and to use L.A.’s acceptance of all things different to their advantage. Tony is a teacher and naturally reserved in manner, and his partner, 20 years Tony’s senior, is a lighting designer with a large circle of friends. There are not many places other than L.A. where they would have so much as met, never mind fallen in love.
Then there’s the master, the man who knew everything. I am speaking of course of Fellini. He lived in Rome, true, but like Harburg and Rose, he knew. Remember at the end of his masterpiece “8 1/2,” the consummate movie about movies and love, how director Guido (Marcello Mastroianni), a philanderer but also a mensch, has a marvelous epiphany on the crumbling set of his film? Amid the chaos and misery, the universe suddenly makes sense. “It’s so easy to love,” Guido realizes. “You just have to love.”
Of course, it’s not easy. It’s hard. But somehow we all know exactly what Guido means at that moment.
So, love. Love, you ask? Love in Los Angeles? It’s like the man says, some 70 years ago: It only a paper moon/Hanging over a cardboard sea/But it wouldn’t be make believe/ If you believed in…
Well, you get the picture.