washingtonpost.com
Date Lab: So Easy A Monkey Could Do It

Sandy Fernandez and Beth Chang
Washington Post Magazine Date Lab Czars
Monday, April 28, 2008 12:00 PM

Editors Sandy Fernandez and Beth Chang were online April 28 at noon ET to take your questions about Date Lab and the matchmaking skills of monkeys.

A transcript follows.

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Sandy Fernandez: Hey there! Thanks for joining Date Lab editors Beth Chang and Sandy M. Fernandez for this chat. There's been a lot of chatter about this weekend's monkey date, and of course we're happy to answer any questions you may have about Date Lab in general, so let's get started.

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Washington, D.C.: So the monkey is quite a matchmaker. Was the monkey given a pre-screened group of candidates? (I.e., so that someone looking for a middle-aged mate wouldn't be matched up with a 22 year-old?)

Beth Chang: Beth here. Thanks for joining my first Date Blab. We narrowed the field only a bit for the monkey, by age range and state. We brought Armani photos of five men and five women.

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Arlington, Va.: One thing I've always wondered about -- do you try to match couples based on what you think will be the best match, or based on what you think will produce the best article?

Sandy Fernandez: We try for the best matches, which we also think make the best articles. After all, two people who don't have ANYTHING in common won't have much to say to each other. The folks who seem like they should get along are more interesting.

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Chicago: Are you going to do more random matches?

I'm not sure if you need to hire the monkey, but it might actually work better to match people up randomly. If sparks fly, great. If they're not a great match, at least they won't have been matched up because of some random similarity a reporter noticed on their applications! I think the idea that they've been matched up for a reason raises the daters' expectations and makes it more likely they'll disappoint each other.

I suppose it'd only make sense to group people by age range before matching them up, of course.

So, where will you go from here?

Sandy Fernandez: It's interesting about the random matches: Our assumption had been that having something in common on paper would make people more likely to hit it off. Apparently we were wrong! And it's not totally surprising: Anyone who's dated knows about that "on paper" doesn't necessarily mean anything. So we have a whole line-up of guest matchers planned, just to see if the monkey's lightening will strike twice.

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Tysons Corener: It seems the monkey did a great job. Maybe you should keep Armani on staff or trying other animals? I bet D.C.'s resident animal celebrity, Tai Shan, would be willing to help.

Sandy Fernandez: The idea was to literally test the "a monkey could do it" hypothesis. And, um, yeah, the monkey could do it. I hope I'm not speaking out of turn, but I think we might have even approached other monkeys at some point, too.

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Washington, D.C.: Do couples that stay together for awhile ever check back in with you? Send thank you notes?

Sandy Fernandez: We actually check in with our growing list of former daters every once in a while--both those that had successful matches and those that didn't. Turns out some have ended up dating OTHER Date Labbers from other weeks, just like reality TV stars or something.

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Easton, Md.: Your "monkey" stunt brings to mind the elephant prognosticator used by the late, great Glenn Brenner to pick NFL games. Each week Glenn would ask a celebrity guest to pick each week's winning teams, with the winner receiving a donation to his or her favorite charity. One year the winner was a 90 year old cloistered nun! But far and away the best was his use of a trained elephant. He put the helmets of the 2 teams side by side, and the elephant would indicate his choice with his trunk. Well, the elephant completely overwhelmed the opposition, and Glenn contributed the winnings to an elephant charity. Truly we don't give animals the credit they deserve!

Beth Chang: I loved Glenn Brenner! Armani has done some football picks himself, and I believe he'll be doing more in the future.

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Annapolis, Md.: I think this is the first one ever that wasn't like "for some utterly trivial reason I can't be bothered to call this person again because it might take 5 minutes away from my oh-so-important life"

Hire the monkey!

Sandy Fernandez: I think that might be a wee bit harsh. The truth is, people tend to bond through repeated contact: Seeing each other at work, having the same group of friends. The fact that any of these people form enough of a connection to become friends or start dating feels pretty amazing to me.

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Ballston, Va.: Is Armani available to pick VP running mates?

Hillary Clinton Campaign HQ

Sandy Fernandez: Ha ha! He does seem to have the touch, right? As humiliating as it sort of is ...

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Seeing as how this was one of the more successful Date Lab dates, it really goes to show you never can tell how things will work out! My hubby and I are exhibit A of this, since we seemed to have nothing in common when we started dating and people were amazed when we became engaged. Seventeen years and 4 children later, we wouldn't chance a minute.

But I do have a question. Dunno if it's appropriate, but I've always wondered what percent of Date Lab dates make it into The Magazine? I'm asking because a friend and I wound up sitting near what seemed to be a Date Lab date where the couple were literally screaming obscenities at each other, but have yet to see that one in print. Not that we blame you for not printing it, if that's what we overheard.

Sandy Fernandez: Ooooh, do tell more! What were they saying? What did they look like? We publish most of our dates. And we would never kill one for having too much drama. So really, who were these people?

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Anonymous: Kudos! Fantastic video!.....Armani in action....I loved it!... Forget the DC panda bears. Amani's a rock star!

Beth Chang: I have to say I'm not much of a monkey person, but even I found Armani rather enchanting.

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Woodbridge, Va.: I know the magazine must go to print pretty early. Do you have a more recent update on the couple from this weekend? Have they gone out again, and if so, how did it go?

Sandy Fernandez: We do go to print a few weeks ahead, and unfortunately I haven't gotten an update since. I did hear that Matt was very, very quiet when told about the monkey, though he swore he found it funny. And to be fair, the writer thought he was a pretty quiet guy altogether.

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Sandy Fernandez: About the "you never can tell" thing--because Matt and Ginger's types were so different from, well, Matt & Ginger, I really did not have high hopes for them as a couple. I wouldn't have put them together. So maybe overthinking is bad for matching.

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Beth Chang: To Gaithersburg: My husband and I, too, are very different; no one ever would have matched us up. But we've been married 18 years (mostly to his credit, for putting up with me). Surprise matches, and the ones you're sure will work out but don't, are what make Date Lab so much fun ...

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Self Absorbed or Humble: Some of the candidates seem to love themselves and the attention they get from Date Lab. Others seem like they are very skeptical about the whole situation. Do these people volunteer themselves, or are they volunteered by family/friends?

Sandy Fernandez: We only accept questionnaires from the Daters themselves. We email them directly and they have to sign a legal release. No one gets dragooned into it--though I do think a few have second thoughts along the way.

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Penn Quarter: What percentage of people who submit an application to Date Lab get chosen to participate? How long does it take to get contacted back and set up on the date?

Sandy Fernandez: It varies widely. Some people get contacted right away, because something they wrote reminded us of another questionnaire we have on hand. Others may wait months, because we don't think we have anyone quite right. Of course, after Monkeygate, maybe we'll just go for it!

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A Monkey can do it: a lot better than the people have been doing. I wonder where is the logic in some of these matches. I read the weekly column and I have also e-mailed and just shake my head as to what made you think these two people were matches. What criteria do you use other than sex and age?

Beth Chang: Keep in mind that there's a three-page questionnaire that folks have filled out and be assured that we've seen something in there that indicates to us that these folks could be a match: jobs, backgrounds, hobbies or interests, senses of humor, love of dogs... joking.

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Alexandria, Va.: why can't you guys do a summary follow-up column (even just one-sentence on each) for us so we know what happened with all the couples since their column ran? It would be nice to know if that first couple ever got married, whether the second date ones progressed, etc. Hearing nothing after getting all the details is a real bummer.

Sandy Fernandez: We are planning to do a story about Date Lab in the near future that will report back on what's happened with some of our couples. Even if they never saw each other again, some of them have fun follow-ups.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I have to agree with Annapolis. I feel I see many people in Date Lab who give their date a 4, but then they never connect again. I think 4 out of 5 isn't bad!! When you ask the daters to rate the date, do you find that some people have a vastly different take on what their "4" means as opposed to the other party's "4"?

Sandy Fernandez: We go back to many, many people and say, "Um, you said you found your date totally unattractive and borderline offensive, yet with a 5 being defined as 'We ran away to Vegas last night,' you gave the date a 4. Can you explain that?" It's a little frustrating, but understandable.

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Frederick, Maryland: I got a charge out of this week's Date Lab results. But the column in general makes me wonder about the people who participate. Some--a lot, actually--have the most arbitrary standards for what they find attractive and unattractive. Do these people -want- to meet others, or are they waiting for the day when you can create your own android to your specifications?

Sandy Fernandez: I think we have to remember that this is a blind date. With absolutely no history to go on, people grasp for what they have, which is pretty shallow: Looks, food knowledge. The very same person who dismisses a blind date because he's not a big reader might feel differently about some other non-reader that they got to know over a period of time. I mean, there's a reason blind dates aren't known for their high success rate (whether we're setting them up or not).

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Washington, D.C.: As a former date labber, please more random matches! My date was largely doomed because of the fact we were in the same field and had nothing else in common. He may have been a nice guy, but it was a painful couple of hours, at least for me. I do admit it is hard, most of my friends who are happy in their relationships are compatible for reasons that may not be detectable via a questionnaire.

Beth Chang: Sorry to hear you had a bum date. And it is a challenge to match up folks based on a questionnaire! Any suggestions out there for different questions we could include that you think might help indicate compatiblity?

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Western NY: It's interesting how the date labbers never seem to list qualities that I think of right off the bat...integrity, quiet strength, healthy optimism coupled with practical expectations and preparation, blah blah blah.

You know, the dry stuff.

Sandy Fernandez: I think some people have trouble listing really what they want. They may not know. Or they may be filling the questionnaire out on a lark. But you know, as a matcher, I can't match up integrity, and can only go on what people tell me about their own optimism or quiet strength. Now ask me for a brunette firefighter, and that I can do.

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Central Virginia: Have there been any other Date Labs where both people scored the date a 5? I think in order to truly compare Armani's matches with those of other, he needs to make several more. (I'm rooting for him).

Beth Chang: At least one recent one comes to mind. Anwar and Ayesha ...

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Baltimore: God, I hope they get married. What a great "how we met" story.

Sandy Fernandez: Yeah, right?!

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Arlington, Va.: I have a question about attractiveness. Does Date Lab ever not pair people up because they think the guy or the girl carries themselves in a slovenly or unattractive manner. I know online dating some men are very specific about "no fatties" and women might not want to date a balding man.

I'm just wondering how a general preference for "beautiful people" plays in the mix.

Sandy Fernandez: We're all susceptible to beauty, including the Date Lab editors. And I will tell you that I'd rather not send out anyone--male or female--if I think it's just a set-up to get bashed. But I have been surprised at how often weight comes up for men. And, conversely, how much women notice height. Again: It's a blind date. It's superficial by definition.

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How do you do it: What are the criteria used for deciding who should be matched. How many men and how many women do you have in the kitty to choose from? What makes you decide these two are matches? What are the first things you look at? Have you ever had former people take a second shot?

Beth Chang: We have more men than women, so guys please get your applications in! Everyone who makes matches does it differently, which is part of what makes it interesting...

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Farragut: A 5 is defined as 'We ran away to Vegas last night,'?! What are 1-4 defined as?

Sandy Fernandez: It's pretty loose, but we sometimes give folks guidelines to avoid grade inflation. Each writer makes them up, but 1 is something along the lines of, "I'd rather eat dirt than see that person again," 3 might be "It was ok, but between her and my favorite TV show, I'd probably stay home" and etc on up.

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McLean, VA: Are you planning on having the GEICO Caveman as a guest matchmaker?

So easy a caveman can do it?

Beth Chang: Great idea. Maybe he'll be interested now that the sitcom is in trouble... Keep his profile up.

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Arlington, Va.: Have you considered launching a mini "Match"-type site and letting daters choose from profiles of other would-be date lab entrants? Maybe give daters a chance at directing their own fate?

Sandy Fernandez: Nah--that would take away the total randomness that is Date Lab. Besides, there are plenty of online dating sites for those who want to use them. Many of our Daters do both, actually.

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Questions for the questionaire:: Maybe you could ask, "On a scale of 1-5, how arrogant are you?" You all seem to draw the most arrogant people as would-be daters! And I can't think of a bigger turn-off!!

Sandy Fernandez: We have thought about asking people if they're picky. But are people really aware of how picky they are? Isn't that like asking someone if they were popular in high school? Everyone says they weren't, but someone had to be, right?

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Arlington, Va.: Have any of the Date Labbers married? If so, have you all received any wedding invites?

Beth Chang: I believe one couple got engaged...

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re: attractiveness & weight: From your response I'm now thinking that women who are larger-sized should be disencouraged from applying because Date Lab men won't want to meet them. And I'm not even talking the dangerously obese just anyone over a size 9.

Sandy Fernandez: I think you're being a little reductive about what people find attaractive. We've had men who say they like a larger lady. We've sent them out. As I recall, the last time the woman was the one who wasn't feelin' it.

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Baltimore: You all are taking a lot of heat here. I don't think Date Lab is supposed to be the same thing as a dating service. It's supposed to be a funny thing to read in the front of the magazine that doesn't mean anything. Kind of like Weingarten in the back of the magazine.

Sandy Fernandez: You know, I do find it touching that people are so romantic. Even from a column in a newspaper--a date set up by strangers for strangers, with little real chance of success, let's face it--they expect and even demand real love. And you know, the amazing thing is sometimes it happens. And sometimes, as into each dating life, a little rain must fall.

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Alexandria, Va.: Have you had any daters pull out because they've found True Love elsewhere before you got around to matching them up?

Beth Chang: Yes, that happens. Some are bummed and quite curious about who we finally found for them. But if they're serious about their new relationship, they ask to be removed from the database.

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Sandy Fernandez: Hey, folks, it's hit that target hour, so we have to run. But remember to look us up every Sunday in the magazine, and if you want to apply to Date Lab, go to http://datelab.washpost.com/. Thanks!

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