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The Science of the First Date

Friday, February 4, 2011; 2:01 AM

More than 45,000 first dates were proposed last year on HowAboutWe.com - dates to get lobster rolls, play table tennis, stroll through hip neighborhoods and sip cocktails at trendy speak-easies. But the one proposal that drew an unheard-of 70 responses? A man who suggested a date to get manicures.

Dinner and a movie, it appears, is so last decade.

Founded by childhood friends Aaron Schildkrout, 31, and Brian Schechter, 32, the online dating site eschews elaborate profiles and questionnaires, asking members instead to suggest dates in the hopes that someone out there wants to go.

The site entered the Washington market last month and has amassed 1,600 local users to date (average age: 31). And local women are already displaying a competitive streak: More than D.C. men, they're proposing dates to go running, shoot pool and play skeeball, In general, more kayaking, hiking and biking dates are pitched here than in other cities. And we all want to go to the Gibson, Estadio and Tryst.

As we sought to build a better date, we cornered Schechter last month at HowAboutWe's first D.C. event at Busboys and Poets to find out what the numbers show.

What kind of date gets the most clicks?

The most popular ones are the ones that involve some kind of drinking and some kind of activity, like a game of checkers. People really like pretend dates: We had one date that was "How about we go to night court, and afterward get a drink and talk about how we would have judged each one," and "How about we pretend to be tourists for a day."

What dates do men accept? What kinds do women accept?

One big thing is the photo; men and women really do care about "What does this person look like?" It's the dates that are specific that get the responses; it's "going to a cafe" vs. naming the cafe, "playing a game" vs. naming "playing Jenga." Women tend to be more descriptive and have more adjectives.

I think part of the issue in online dating and dating in general is that people are attracted to people who are confident. I guess you have to really think that you're great for people to think that you're great.

How do you make that come through in the process of proposing a date?

I have this thing about conveying confidence by being natural, saying something you actually want to do and allowing for the nuance of your character to come forth. That could be the type of restaurants you want to go to, the activity you choose, whether it's hiking or kayaking. If people really do that, you feel like something about the person is getting revealed in a really quick snapshot.

- Lavanya Ramanathan

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