“When in Rome, do as the Romans do”
I always modeled my life around this saying any time I was in a new place. I wanted to get the most out of things and have as authentic an experience as possible. So in Turkey, I used Turkish deodorant that had 30 minutes worth of coverage before kebab starting seeping out of my pores. In Oklahoma, I stopped wearing jorts because apparently, that’s not ok there.
In DC, I signed up for Date Lab.
Date Lab is a weekly feature in the Washington Post Magazine that recounts (both in print and now in video) a blind date. My friend’s dad first mentioned it to me last November. I was asking him for advice on getting into writing on a professional level. The point he was making was to find some sort of niche or special interest that I could cater to that people would want to read. He described the concept of Date Lab and how readers in the metro area eagerly await each new story since they so rarely lead to anything substantial and because there are some super awkward encounters.
Being perpetually single, I thought what’s the worst that could happen if I filled out an application? So I did, never expecting to hear about it again. The very next week, my boss mentioned how Date Lab was her favorite part of the paper and that she looked for it every Sunday. That made me further realize how many followers Date Lab has, at least in my parents’ age category.
About a month later, I was in New York for the day with some of my coworkers on the way to our annual staff retreat. Checking my email while waiting for the subway, I saw a message from the Washington Post stating that they had someone in mind to set me up on a date with. Since when did my life become a sappy romcom? My colleagues heard my audible guffaw while reading the email and asked what was up. I could have easily changed the topic but decided to let them in on my date. But I told no one else because like any mature adult, I believe in jinxing things by discussing them. So, I tell no one about job interviews, grad school applications, and especially dates until after they are over. I guess the main reason is that I’m scared of people seeing me fail and I already overanalyze things too much myself, so I don’t need anyone else to add their perspective to the equation.
I responded to the message to let the producers of the date know that “my circumstances hadn’t changed” meaning I was still single as fuck. Although I expected them to tell me that my prospective date had bailed or worse, was now in a relationship, the process continued to move along. I had to sign a media release, which of course I didn’t read. It probably said that I have to go on the National Date Lab Registry and tell all my neighbors that I’m a registered DL alum. The Post asked me for days that I would be free because they are the ones who arrange the date. The day I came back from the staff retreat in Connecticut was my birthday and, sadly enough, I had absolutely no plans. I thought it would be too embarrassing for me to go on a blind date then and too much pressure for my date, so we decided on dinner the following Monday, the week of Christmas.
The person who scheduled the date emailed me and the other person but only used our first names. I found out his name was Riley, a pretty uncommon name for a guy. I searched in Facebook to see if anyone came up in the DC area. It turns out I have two mutual friends with a guy named Riley, who goes to Georgetown and looks like a young Jimmy Carter. I was worried that I had “unblinded” my date and that he was going to be a preppy douche.
The day of my date, I got an email asking me to answer a list of “superlatives” (my favorite music, thing I’ll never eat – stuff that you’d find in your high school yearbook). I think it was then that I realized the people who would eventually read my answers would have no context of me as a person. I doubted they would get my sarcasm, so I played it safe and answered boringly. I said that my favorite team is the Oklahoma Sooners (what?) rather than Team Little Dick (sarcasm). Though I did say that my favorite app is Candy Crush and my favorite movie is Drop Dead Gorgeous, which are both true (but sometimes, Mean Girls is my fav).
The date was for 7:30 that evening at a restaurant I would never take anyone: date, friend, or family. My mom thinks anything more expensive than Chipotle is just absurd. The Post was giving us $125, so I browsed the menu ahead of time and was aiming to do some damage because worst/best case scenario, this guy would hate me and leave early so I would get to eat for two. Things weren’t really going well for me before the date. It was raining, I hated all of my clothes, and I was running super early. I HATE being early. I like to make an entrance.
But thanks to the amazing metro system of Washington, DC (more sarcasm) I lost 20 minutes and showed up right on time. I told the hostess that I was there with the Washington Post, like I was instructed to do, and the hostess replied as awkwardly as she could have: “The uh, other person is already here”. Are you leading me to a date or a glory hole? I followed her to the table and there was a completely different Riley than the young Jimmy Carter I was expecting. He had dark hair and glasses. What a relief!
We shook hands and began breaking through the uncomfortable situation that we were in. We talked about the basics: where we work, where we’re from, why we signed up for Date Lab. He told me that he had initially applied five years ago. I had submitted the application the month before. Why had we been matched together? We picked apart our common interests to see if we could find out. We’re both tall (he’s 6’4″; I’m 6’1″). We like to travel. We have similar senses of humor. We both like to write. (He actually makes money for it though). Nothing obvious stood out as to why we were paired up, but I enjoyed talking to him nonetheless. The conversation didn’t feel forced or insincere.
Foodwise, I ordered the steak because SOMEONE ELSE WAS PAYING!
We also had a few rounds of drinks and some appetizers. The waitress was super nice. It was one of those situations where she, Riley, and I knew that this could be a super awkward situation if we let it be. The two of us were on a blind date and she was serving us and had to act like the restaurant staff weren’t taking bets on whether or not we’d “bang” later that night (stay tuned). She brought out champagne, an appetizer, and eventually dessert that was compliments of the chef. I wish the chef at Taco Bell would do the same and drop a few extra chalupas in my order.
One stipulation of the date is that we had to take at least six pictures each to document our time together. So, we received a manila envelope with two DISPOSABLE cameras. As if this situation weren’t already tricky, we had to draw further attention to ourselves by pushing the battery button and snapping some cool shots with these things:
The three inches Riley has on me must make his tolerance for alcohol much higher than mine. I was good with one maybe two drinks, but followed his lead and made it up to three or four. We stayed until the restaurant closed around 10 and realized that we had better get going. It was a Monday after all. I had planned on metro-ing home to be my frugal self, but Riley mentioned taking a taxi and I thought we could share it because my place is on the way to his. We continued talking during the cab ride, and I eventually worked up the guts to ask for his number. I texted him mine and thought that put the ball in his court to make the next move after the date. When we got to my place, I didn’t have exact change but he said that I could buy him a beer our next time out. Ok, sure, I thought. I’m down for hanging out again. We left things with a hug. Once home, I discovered that I was tipsier than I thought (which would explain my face in that photo above), so I quickly feel asleep without giving my mind the opportunity to replay and analyze every aspect of the night.
The morning after the date, a writer from the Washington Post was going to call me over the phone and ask how the date went. I also had to go into their building to do a video interview with another staff member. I still hadn’t heard anything from Riley, so when I got the phone call, I thought the date had gone well but how could I be sure that he had felt the same?
To be continued…