Democracy Dies in Darkness


Date Lab: She kicked things off with a kiss on the cheek

July 26, 2018 at 9:00 AM

Tom Pratchios, 45, senior web developer, and Michelle Warren, 51, acquisition management. (Daniele Seiss/Daniele Seiss)

Dating exhaustion at 51 isn’t as cute as the rom-coms. Instead of 27 dresses you get three grown kids, an ex who won’t speak to you, dates with grown men who wear “beanie caps to the opera” and other grown men who abruptly ask, “What’s your favorite sexual position?” That was Michelle Warren’s tally sheet after eight years of dating. And now:

“Is that Tom?”

Remember, Date Lab lab rats don’t get photos of each other, or bios, only first names. So that man sitting alone with the “bad-boy goatee” and the toned arms who was “absolutely physically my type” could have been Bill or Frank or Mr. Simmons waiting impatiently for Mrs. Simmons. Michelle could have spent the entire evening wishing she were with him. The hostess and fate intervened.

It was Tom Pratchios, a 45-year-old divorced father of four, who was himself suffering from “dating fatigue” when Michelle walked over and introduced herself.

“Her eyes. They really stood out. They’re very blue,” he said later. “Please don’t ask me anything more about clothes. She had a blue dress on, which really made them pop.” Pop is good.

If you are hungry for evidence that the universe repays those who endure then skip to the end. In the meantime, we pause while the Date Lab photographer shows up. Tom suggested they make scowly faces “in case the date goes that way.” Michelle kicked up her three-inch snakeskin shoes and planted a kiss on his cheek, “in case the date goes that way.”

“I’m not gonna lie,” he said. “It was forward, but it was good.”

As they moved through dinner the most ordinary occurrences landed on them like omens. That they both willingly signed up for a 32-ounce steak. That they both opted for medium-rare. That they had both been determined to watch the Caps game, but they were paying “such close attention to each other,” said Tom, that they hadn’t noticed it was playing on a television 10 feet to their left. (“And I tend to have good peripheral vision!” he said.) That they both simultaneously gave the middle finger to carrot cake.

At some point Tom brought up the Archimedean spiral, a geometrical concept that’s a little hard to explain. Tom is a web developer, and he’s working on a video game that uses the spiral’s mathematical and spiritual principles. It was a risky conversational move. Michelle, who works in acquisition management for the federal government, responded the way anyone would when forced to make space on a first date for a 3rd-century B.C. Greek: “Ooooh, I was just about to get a tattoo of Archimedes’s spiral!”

She was serious, which I took as another sign. In his profile Tom had described his dream date as a college professor with a “thing for trivia.” In the real world, I’d say getting a tattoo of an Archimedean spiral comes pretty close.

For her part, Michelle described her dream date as a “romantic.” Which can mean a whole lot of things, but luckily, for Michelle, entailed a little chivalry. At one point during dinner, she got up to go to the bathroom, and when she returned to the table, Tom stood up and then they both sat back down. She said nothing at the time but told me later that she internally swooned. “This is my first date in a really long time with a man who makes me feel like a giddy schoolgirl, makes it sometimes hard for me to find the words,” she said.

The fake kiss on the cheek before dinner was followed by a real kiss after the meal. And then another on the Metro platform. “I mean, nobody said, ‘Get a room,’ or anything, so it couldn’t have been that bad,” said Michelle.

When I called Tom the next day to ask about the date, he was picking up his youngest from the day-care center and texting with Michelle. When I talked to Michelle, I mentioned that she had not been the Date Lab scientists’ first choice for Tom, or even the second. But now that improbability had just become part of the kismet. “Sometimes,” said Michelle, “the universe works in your favor.”

Rate the date

Tom: 4.5 [out of 5].

Michelle: 4.7777. But honestly, it was a 5.


In the three days after the date Tom and Michelle saw each other at least three times, but ultimately decided to back off a long-term relationship.

Hanna Rosin is the co-host of the NPR podcast “Invisibilia.”

Related: More from Date Lab:

Related: Their attraction was immediate

Related: She thought it went well until he said, ‘Let’s keep in touch’

Related: Date Lab 2.0: Four new writers dig deeper to find out how the dates really went

Related: Apply now to Date Lab

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