Friday, Oct. 2 at 11 a.m. ET
Friday, October 2, 2009; 12:00 PM
For over three years, Date Lab has played matchmaker to Washington-area singles, with results that have run the gamut from sweet romance to cringe-inducing disaster.
Date Lab editors Amanda McGrath and Christina Breda Antoniades were online Friday, Oct. 2 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the dates and what goes on behind the scenes.
Amanda McGrath: Hi everyone, thanks for joining us. I'm Amanda, editor of Date Lab. Christina and I are ready to dish the dirt. Let's get started.
Christina Breda Antoniades: Good morning everyone. I'm reporter Christina Breda Antoniades, and I'm looking forward to answering your questions about Date Lab.
Arlington, Va.: An unknown percentage of us prefer to date within our demographic grouping (e.g., race, ethnicity), while another percentage has no such preference. Why do some care about this, and others don't?
Christina Breda Antoniades: Good question. I think a lot of people who feel strongly about that don't even understand why that is. It may be cultural. If you grew up surrounded by people just like you who only dated people just like themselves, well, that may be what feels most comfortable to you. Also along cultural lines, some people say they feel most attracted to people who have had a similar life experience, which to them breaks down along racial or ethnic lines. And then other people think it makes no difference whatsoever.
Silver Spring, MD: I gotta say I'm definitely not a fan of the new WP style and direction. It seems like Date Lab will definitely suffer in this new version. The Date Lab from last week was much shorter than others. I thought the amount of information you gave in previous Date Labs was perfect - now it's just a blurb and we really don't see much of why they were paired together and what even happened on the date. How much shorter is the word count and do you anticipate going back to the longer version at any time? I love Date Lab - it has provided great discussion material among my friends.
Amanda McGrath: You're right -- this week's Date Lab was somewhat shorter than usual. But that won't always be the case. Proof? Check out the one in this Sunday's issue (or read it online later today).
Dayton, Ohio: I've been amazed by the number of people who had one date, claimed to enjoy it, but didn't feel any "chemistry", so never went out with the person again. What's that about? You'd think if they had a decent time, they'd at least try one more date, but it seems like so many folks want instant fireworks and if they don't get them, they move along quickly.
Amanda McGrath: Ahhhh, the mystery of chemistry. It's such a let down when we set up a couple we think will be perfect, only to find their date is without spark. But it happens. That chemistry/spark/butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling is so hard to predict -- even if a couple is perfect on paper, it's no guarantee they'll be a love match. I do wish more daters who had a friendly time would try a second date (without the specter of we're-going-to-be-in-the-newspaper hanging over them), but I also think our daters are savvy enough to trust their instincts. Sometimes you just know.
Washington DC: Have you considered doing follow ups on past dates (or have I missed such an article)?
Amanda McGrath: We haven't done it yet, but it's an idea that's been percolating in the back of our minds for awhile. So stay tuned. Any particular couples you're curious about?
Albany New York: What's your sense of what your batting average is in terms of success--say at least one date beyond the one you arrange? Do you do any better than Match.com or other services that try to match people?
Christina Breda Antoniades: Well, I think that we have a very high percentage of people who like each other, have a good time and can see why they were matched (on paper, at least). As for those I-am-madly-in-love-and-doodling-my-date's-name-on-my-dinner-napkin matches, well, those are much much harder to come by. But then again, we're not Match. There's a certain element of lab in Date Lab. It's an experiment and most people who sign up for it seem to like that aspect of it.
Amanda McGrath: No idea how we stack up against other dating sites or matchmakers .... FishbowlDC used to keep track of our hit-or-miss tally, but I think they stopped doing that. And you know, I wouldn't say that lake of a second date means the first one was a failure. Date Lab is, like Christina said, and experiment, and a look at how people interact with one another. If two people get to know one another and have a good time, I'd say it's a success on at least one level.
somewhere near the Federal Center SW Metro...: I was lucky enough to be selected for a DateLab back in 2007 to La Perla. Christina, you had mentioned during our post-date interviews that my fellow DateLab participant was actually the paper's second choice for me. Could I get a do-over with the first choice? -insert winky emoticon-
Actually, I just wanted to say "thank you" for the whole experience. The date didn't end up as a charming romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and Jennifer Aniston, but I learned a valuable lesson about viewing potential dating partners more honestly and accurately from the beginning. I'd always believed that pretty much every woman was worth a second date. First date jitters, too busy at work, rough commute, insert your choice of reasons for a bad day here - I've always given women the benefit of the doubt. My DateLab date, which had seemed to have gone so well at the time, it took a couple of days of reflection for me to realize that there's no way she and I would have worked out. Why bother with the second date?
So now I've been a lot better at noticing the big flashing warning signs and claxons and 800-pound gorillas in the room. If there is some sort of issue that's an absolute deal-breaker - substance abuse, bad temper, rudeness to restaurant staff, Kate Gosselin hairstyle - I'm much quicker to pull the plug, or at least before it gets published in the paper !
Christina Breda Antoniades: Thanks for sharing your experience. And glad it wasn't a disaster! We actually do give Date Labbers a second chance from time to time, so keep an eye out for an email from us.
Florida: Anybody ever get married? Seems like they always hit it off, then drift apart.
Christina Breda Antoniades: We did have one couple that got married after meeting through Date Lab. That's in three and half years of doing Date Lab, so it doesn't happen very often. Sigh.
Amanda McGrath: .... that we know of, anyway. Married former Date Labbers, call us!
20024: Why doesn't the Date Lab make the dates more fun than just being a boring dinner date? There are lots of fun things to do in this town like dance lessons, lights out bowling, sporting events, premieres, etc. I would NEVER take a girl on a dinner date! I would rather show her the fun side of me FIRST!
Amanda McGrath: It's definitely something we're considering, but the tricky thing is getting people in a situation where BOTH of them will have fun and be comfortable, and in which they'll interact enough that they'll get to know each other. If we send them to a museum, or a DC United game, or something else, there's always the risk that one of them won't be into it, and we'll have accidentally ruined the date right from the get-go. But it is something we want to experiment with. Actually, I really want to send a couple to a cooking class. If you're single and up for it, apply now and mention it or shoot us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
TVFL: I have always found your Date Lab to be inexplicably fascinating. From how you set up the dates to the results and how the daters rate their experiences, it's never what I would expect.
Christina Breda Antoniades: Well, thanks. That's great to hear. We find it fascinating, too. And we are frequently surprised by how our dates unfold.
Amanda McGrath: We're definitely surprised much of the time. As for readers, I've heard from people who say reading Date Lab makes them want to try a blind date. I've heard from others who say it makes them incredibly happy they're married out of the dating scene.
Arlington, Va.: How much does each couple get from the WaPo for the date? Obviously, they are required to evaluate the date and have their pictures taken. Any other obligation imposed?
Christina Breda Antoniades: Well, if it's a match and they ever have children, they are contractually obligated to name their firstborn after me and/or Amanda. Even if it's a boy.
OK, not really. We give them $125 to spend at the restaurant. And they are required to take photos and do the interview with our reporter. Other than that, there's no obligation.
Amanda McGrath: Actually .... maybe we should start working that naming thing into the agreement ....
Falls Church, Va.: Several of your recent matches appear to have been excellent ones! Have you given any thought to doing a retrospective of some of the longer-term relationships that have developed? I know of one marriage that resulted from DateLab -- have there been others?
Christina Breda Antoniades: We do have plans to do a follow-up. Incidentally, we did have two Date Labbers who didn't find their Date Lab matchup to be a romantic hit but who later, totally by chance, met each other and dated. I think it started with, "hey, didn't you do Date Lab? Me too!" But I'm not sure what happened to them. Would love to hear.
Honolulu, HI: I've been reading Date Lab for many years as I used to live and work in the DC metro area. Is it just my imagination that the guys seem more amenable, and the women more unreceptive to a second date? Many of the women mention lack of "chemistry" or whatever it's called. (I'm a married woman, by the way.) Do you have numbers supporting/challenging my observation?
Christina Breda Antoniades: I don't think we have numbers to support (or dispute that) but, anecdotally, I think we've seen both responses from both sexes.
Amanda McGrath: I wouldn't say I've noticed that trend. I do think women have been much more willing to participate in Date Lab -- we have way more female applicants than male applicants (you hear that, single men of the D.C.-metro area?) But I haven't noticed a gender trend in who is willing to go on a second date.
Burke, Va.: What was the most disastrous date the lab set up? The nastiest write-up? I've seen some that made me cringe. Do you edit them?
Christina Breda Antoniades: We do edit them, mostly because we just don't have the space to include everything. But we don't edit out nastiness, typically, because it's part of the date, and part of dating life. Sometimes you meet people you really don't like.
I think the worst dates are the ones where one party enjoyed it and is hopeful or even sort of smitten and the other person is totally not. Those hurt, especially if the non-smitten party isn't kind about it.
Amanda McGrath: Yeah, those are the worst. We do edit the write-ups for space, and our goal is to be fair to everyone who participates.
Olney, Md.: Who picks the restaurants where they meet? One of them or one of you? Is the restaurant in on it at all?
Christina Breda Antoniades: We have a fabulous person on staff who handles picking the restaurant. The restaurant knows the daters are coming. Sometimes they'll send out a special appetizer or have the chef come out and say hello (one restaurant even set up a table with rose petals and romantic candles), but usually they treat them pretty much like any other diner.
What gives?: A quick comment: I regularly read Date Lab, and one thing has struck me lately -- it seems several couples report having a great time and lots in common. Then they never see each other again, often because of a lack of chemistry. This just floors me -- are people unaware that attractions often take time to grow? No way would I walk away from someone with whom I have lots in common and a great first date without giving it three or four more dates. But then, I am 45 and know how precious any good connection is.
Amanda McGrath: Anyone who can figure out how to induce romantic chemistry will be a very, very rich person. The mystery of the spark ...
Washington, D.C.: Are there any Date Lab babies?
Amanda McGrath: If there are, they better be named after me or Christina!
Former Datelab Guinea Pig Here: Hey Guys
I was one of the datelabbers a few years ago......They sort of seem to be repeating themselves i.e not too many second dates or they end up just being friends. Have you thought about changing the format a bit? Maybe getting the guinea pigs into a more casual, fun situation like going on a scavenger hunt or something? I think if you put an element of fun into the proceedings, maybe people will have more fun and thereby think of going out again more often. Just a thought. Your basic premise works to an extent, but it might take more than just having a few shared interests like my date and I had. Otherwise, just bring back Armani the matchmaking monkey please.
Christina Breda Antoniades: Hey, thanks for taking part in Date Lab. And thanks for the idea. We've definitely considered it over the years, and even sent one couple out to do the Post Hunt as a date. The one risk with that is that it's easy for the couples to focus on the activity rather than each other. If you're sitting right across the table from someone with only dinner in the way, you're more likely to focus solely on getting to know them. So an activity changes the dynamic. But, as you say, that might be a good thing.
New York,, N.Y.: Has there even been a match during a date lab, but not with each other, i.e. someone ran off with a waiter or someone at the next table or anything like that?
Christina Breda Antoniades: Ha! Not that I know of. But I think a few have been tempted.
Amanda McGrath: One couple a few weeks ago had a running joke that their overly attentive waiter was interested in the girl. But alas, I don't think that turned into a torrid affair.
Downtown DC: How long does it take from the time someone submits an application until they get set up on a date? It seems there are people who have started dating someone since they were set up every now and then and also people who seem to have changed since they filled out their application. What is the turn around time, on average, once someon submits an application? Do you get alot of applications?
Christina Breda Antoniades: The turnaround time varies a lot. There have been times when we've set up people who submitted two years prior to the date, and then sometimes we find them a match within days of them applying.
And, regarding the people who have started dating someone else, you really need to be single if you're going on a Date Lab date. You'd think they would mention it to us as we're setting up the date, but sometimes they don't. I think it's highly likely that the person they're dating won't be too pleased when read about their BF/GF on a date with someone else. But I guess some people are just willing to take that risk.
Amanda McGrath: Well, not to mention it's incredibly unfair to the person you're set up with. Fortunately it doesn't happen often.
One Marriage in 3 1/2 Years: That's probably not bad, actually: one marriage out of 225 blind dates...
Christina Breda Antoniades: Thanks. Probably the couple in question would agree.
Fort Washington, Md.: One of the more memorable date labs for me was the guy that texted all evening. Is there any follow-up or are there second attempts for dates that fall flat? WIth other potential partners, of course!
Christina Breda Antoniades: We do plan to give some of our daters a second chance. Stay tuned!
Amanda McGrath: In fact, if you've been in Date Lab and you're game to give us another chance, send us an e-mail (email@example.com)
Falls Church, VA: Can you give us a quick run down on the process on how you accept applications and decide on pair ups? Ever have a date go completely 'south' and end before the normal 'end' of a dinner date?
Amanda McGrath: We've got a database of all our applicants that we dig through to find matches. If you've seen the Date Lab questionnaire, you know it's pretty extensive. We take all of those answers into account, so be as honest as possible when you apply. We also take into account the sense of humor or personality coming through your answers -- if both of you have similarly silly or serious answers, it can be a hint that you'd be a match. We take age into account -- we rarely set up daters who are more than 3 years apart.
20004: A coworker submitted her questionnaire and was never selected, how do we get her to the top of the pile? She would be perfect!
Christina Breda Antoniades: Hmmm, what makes her perfect?
Washington, DC: Have you ever matched a gay/lesbian or older couple? Why or why not?
Christina Breda Antoniades:
We have matched gay couples in the past. We'd like to do more. The problem is that you need a pretty big pool of people to select from in order to get a truly good match. We want matches where the two people really have something in common, other than orientation. So, spread the word, we'd love to have more applicants of all types.
Amanda McGrath: Seriously. We have some great gay and lesbian applicants, but not enough to comb through to find good matches. Tell your friends!
Washington DC: Great timing! Not-so-hypothetically, if you called me 10 days ago and I just got the message, is it too late? And if I've started seeing someone since I filled out the questionnaire, is the more honorable thing to bow out, or to still go? I'm so confused!
Christina Breda Antoniades: Ah, timing is everything, isn't it? But in this case, the answer to number 1 is "no." It's not too late. The second question is a little trickier. The honorable thing to do is to bow out, no question. Unless you stop dating person number 1 first. Not that I'm telling you to break up. Ach, we need Carolyn Hax here.
Greenbelt, MD: What are the major criteria involved in matching the Date Lab participants? Do you really seek to "make a match" or to put two people together and see what what kind of evening they have together?
Amanda McGrath: We get this question a lot, and yes, we're seeking to make a match everytime. We never set up a couple that we know is going to bomb, and we sideline any applicants that immediately strike us as jerks. We figure if you're brave enough to a) go one a blind date and b) let someone write about it in a major newspaper, you deserve a date that's going to be fun. They don't always work out -- and sometimes they fail spectacularly -- but we are always doing our best to find people who will like each other.
Amanda McGrath: Also, it's not an exact science. If a couple is a perfect match, except that he says he likes blondes and she's brunette, sometimes it'll turn out it doesn't really matter. And sometimes it will turn out to be a dealbreaker.
Who Gets the $125?: Do you give the money to the guy or the woman, assuming the date is of the hetero variety? Or does the restaurant handle the tab and no money changes hands between the WaPo and the daters?
Christina Breda Antoniades: No money changes hands between WaPo and the daters. So at least we don't have to navigate that little minefield.
Amanda McGrath: We take care of the bill right through the restaurant. We've had some cases where the daters have gone over the budget limit. It's always interesting to see how they sort out who'll pay the overage.
Washington, DC: In reading Date Lab over the years, I've been struck by how many people (both men and women) immediately size up the other's physical appearance with some comment like "I normally go for brunettes" or "he's not as tall as guys I normally date" or "he/she's not my type." It seems like people have prohibitively specific ideas of what their "type" is. Is this really so important as an indicator of chemistry, or are people closing themselves off to potential matches?
Christina Breda Antoniades: I know, I know, it's frustrating. Some people do have prohibitively specific ideas of what their type is. And often they'll say, "I know it shouldn't matter, but it does." What can we say? To them, it matters.
Then again, we also have had a lot of daters who really don't have a type. They're more focused on personality or interests than on looks. And maybe they have an easier time finding a match than the people with a stricter view of type. You'd think they would, anyhow.
Amanda McGrath: Part of me gets frustrated when it seems looks are the issue and the date is dead from the beginning. But the other part of me knows that it's a rare person who truly doesn't care what his or her date looks like. I do think it matters more in blind dates than other kinds of dates that happen more organically in real life.
Dupont Circle, D.C.: So how come NO COUPLES have hit it off since that one duo got engaged when you first began the project? The follow up report each week always seems to go something like, "Kim and Steven texted about meeting up again, but both were too busy."
Amanda McGrath: Hey what do you mean no couples have hit it off? I think it all depends on your perspective .... if a date is only considered a success if the couple ultimately gets hitched, well, then our stats aren't so hot. But I think we've had a lot of couples who do end up going out on second and third dates, or have a good time, or learn something new about what they do or don't want in a relationship, to me, that's a success.
Arlington, Va.: My friends and I have long wondered HOW you match people. Do you break down all the questionnaire essays into different personality traits and assign variables to humor type and recreational interests and whatnot, and then run everything through algorithms to find the best match from within your database?
Or is it more of a "throw two darts at the wall of Date Lab applicants" process?
(Also, you recently matched me with someone but she never responded to your emails! How often does that happen? And will you try again with me?) :)
Christina Breda Antoniades: Matt, we never throw darts. That's so 2008. We have an iPhone app that does it for us. No, just kidding. Um, ours is a very human process, meaning that we slog through the database and really try to compare people on key points, like their interests, hobbies and activities, what they say they want in a partner and how their outlooks seem to match up. Sometimes it's hard to tell which elements people value most, since that varies by person. But we do try.
Also, sometimes people do drop off the face of the earth and we have to start over. It's not totally unheard of and it definitely has nothing to do with you (since your date didn't have any info on you). We will try again, we promise!
Amanda McGrath: Wait, maybe you were matched with our chatter who hypothetically got a call!
Baltimore: So, I applied to DateLab even though I'm way up here in the Land of Misfit Toys because I love reading it so much. Do you ever consider matching up people that are out of the traditional city-limits area?
Christina Breda Antoniades: Baltimore, we love Baltimore. One of us happens to live in Baltimore. It definitely doesn't rule you out for Date Lab. We just have a smaller pool to choose from. But we'll try to get Charm City in on the action as soon as we can.
Amanda McGrath: OK, we're closing up shop and getting back to the matching. Thanks for joining us today -- feel free to share your thoughts any time by e-mailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to participate, sign up online. And don't forget to Fan us on Facebook! We post links there when the new story comes out, and run call-outs for specific kinds of daters and other newsy bits.
Christina Breda Antoniades: And now we have to go. Thanks everyone for joining us this morning.
Amanda McGrath: Oh, and p.s. -- we've got a pretty rockin' string of Date Labs coming up. I'm excited about them. Keep reading ...
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