L.A. Mating Cry: IMDb Me!

A 31-year-old male TV writer who lives in Silver Lake was sitting at the crowded, dingy 101 Coffee Shop-named for the freeway, and one of the many places Jon Favreau apparently ruined by putting in Swingers -talking about the special challenges of dating in Los Angeles. As with so much here, it all comes down to the driving.

“In New York, you can take the subway together, or a taxi,” he said. “Here you have to figure out, are you going to take the same car? Or caravan? It politicizes the saying-goodbye thing. It’s harder to make a move in the car. You have these seatbelts. Seriously. I feel for the girl, too. If a guy makes some move on them in the car, it’s harder to do an evasive thing …. And then again, everyone also has their apartment-and a pretty nice apartment-so inviting people over is less politicized. I’ve met girls at their houses on the second date, and that wouldn’t happen in New York. In New York, that would mean you were going to have sex with them.”

Welcome to romance, L.A. style, where the men are passive and the women are shallow; where prospects routinely tell you to “IMDb them” (referring to the Internet Movie Database, which lists people’s production credits); and where the perils and payoffs of those increasingly popular online personals are thrown into particularly stark relief.

Expatriates say they miss the chance encounters, the serendipity of Manhattan life. “There are no encounters here, unless they’re car accidents,” is how one put it.

“In Hollywood, it’s so insular; I’m only going to meet people in my business,” said a 36-year-old female TV writer who lives in West Hollywood, justifying her foray into Internet dating. “Now I’ve gotten to meet public-policy lawyers; there’s a guy who’s doing educational research. They’re smart and funny and interesting and their first question isn’t, ‘Who are you represented by?'”

(She admitted that when she inputted search parameters onto J-Date-popular on L.A.’s West Side; Nerve dominates the East-up popped a picture of the executive she had a pitch meeting with the next day.)

“L.A. forces you to do Internet dating, because everyone’s apart from everyone else,” said Amy Alkon, 40, a redheaded syndicated columnist who moved to Venice after many years in New York and has tried both Match and Matchmaker.com. “People aren’t as guarded in New York. In L.A., if you ask people what they do, they act as if you want to rob their house. Here, everybody acts like they’re a movie star, like, ‘Why do you want to talk to me?’ Like you want something from them. It’s a disease.”

She’s currently going out with a man who does research for the author Elmore Leonard; she met the fellow at an Apple computer store, after a long and flamboyant search that included placing a $2,200 display ad in the L.A. Times. “L.A. men are less troubled-unless they’re troubled New York Jews who have just moved to Los Angeles-and that’s in the uncomplimentary, uncomplicated sense,” she said. “They’re not complicated because they haven’t had a thought, other than what’s on TV, in 20 years.”

Guys return the compliment, perhaps even more forcefully.

“I find that you can talk about more things outside of yourself with New York women,” said a 35-year-old screenwriter who moved from the Upper West Side to the Miracle Mile. “You can talk about the newspaper. Here, it doesn’t seem like anybody reads it. I was at a party one time and I made a comment about something I’d read in the paper, and a woman turned to me and said, ‘Did you just move out here?’ And I said yes. And she said, ‘You won’t be reading the paper much longer.’ That really shocked me.

“The online profiles I see here don’t seem to show much personality,” he added miserably. “They’re like, ‘I like to walk on the beach, I like dinners, I like red wine, my family’s really important to me …. ‘”

“Here’s what the women are here,” said Tony Optican, 36, vice president of development at the Sci-Fi Channel, who was born in New York, attended Andover and Penn, and now lives in Brentwood. “They’re incredibly gorgeous, they’re beautiful on a superficial level, and when you dig down deep, it’s very much like the city of Los Angeles-it’s superficial. There’s not a lot of quality and depth to the women that I’ve met.”

Indeed, beauty here is so rife, so ubiquitous, so cheap – one could argue it benefits a woman to be slightly one-off.

A male illustrator “on the cusp of 33″ who lives in Echo Park gave a brief taxonomy of the L.A. types he’s encountered online. “The aspiring actress, the aspiring writer, the ‘my occupation is a mystery,’ or ‘my occupation is some wry comment on the film industry to act as a fig leaf for, if I do have a position in the film industry, it’s rather more mundane,'” he said with some weariness. “Obviously appearance matters everywhere, but the rules of the game are very specific here. It just is a vapid culture that is largely obsessed with the glittering bauble that is our modern entertainment culture. I mean, this is the seat of it. Go to New York and people are equally interested in what happened on Everybody Loves Raymond last night”-insert light skeptical cough here-“but I think there are other things that they’re interested in. And here, the other thing they’re interested in is Ray Romano’s contract negotiation.”

Mr. Optican said that he makes a point of dating outside the industry.

“I would never be so bold to say just because someone works in the entertainment business, they can’t be a good person,” he said. “I mean, I work in the entertainment business. But it’s still a red flag for me.”

Actresses, especially, need not apply.

“At the age of 30, I made the decision never to date anyone with a head shot ever again,” he said. “I’ve dated actresses who are waitresses, and those whose make $5 million a movie, and there’s no difference except one has more disposable income.” When it was pointed out to him that most people who use Internet personals have a head shot, he said that he’s discovered some of the prettiest girls don’t put theirs up, for fear of being stalked. And that you can always tell the actresses because under occupation they write, “Tell you later.”

Mr. Optican prefers to take his quarry to hotel bars because the guaranteed presence of celebrities serves as a sort of litmus test. “I unthinkingly went to the Four Seasons two days before the Oscars, to meet a girl,” he said. “She seemed like a nice girl, but I swear to God she didn’t look at me more than once during the conversation because her head was spinning around like The Exorcist , looking at movie stars.”

Eating his retro lunch of Cobb salad washed down with an Arnold Palmer iced-tea-lemonade mix, the Silver Lake TV writer disputed the conventional wisdom that chicks here are shallow.

“A lot of New York women are shallow,” he said. “In New York, the media world is full of Condé Nast editors working at magazines I think are worthless, working at that world. Here, people in the entertainment world are at least making culture. They’re telling stories-maybe not for the greatest audience, but at least they’re involved in the making of some sort of product.”

He didn’t have so much luck when he went “off- piste ” from entertainment channels. “I got an e-mail from a woman whose screen name was Mrs. Dalloway, so I wrote back and said, ‘Thank you for taking time off from your busy day of party planning,’ and she wrote back saying, ‘What are you talking about party planning, I’m a special-education teacher!'” he said. “That should’ve been a tip to me that this person and I would have nothing in common, but I ended up meeting her at a Starbucks for an hour, and it was fine, we had a perfectly nice chat, but I felt like I had hit some nadir, that I was sitting in a Starbucks in Pasadena talking to this woman who wasn’t that bright.”

But his outlook was positive.

“Right now, I’m unemployed,” he said. “I can talk to a girl in L.A. and they know that TV writers are unemployed sometimes. In New York, that would make me look like a schlub. If I were unemployed in New York for even a short amount of time-part of it is that it’s more expensive to live there, but I also feel that I would just be written off. I wouldn’t even be able to have a dating experience.”