Democracy Dies in Darkness

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Date Lab: She was able to relax, but his stress levels rose as the evening wore on

May 10, 2018 at 6:00 AM

Liv and Jasper go to Farmers and Distillers for Date Lab 5/13/18 (Daniele Seiss/Daniele Seiss)

The ideal goal of Date Lab is to introduce two people who make an amazing connection. The more basic goal is to avoid traumatizing anyone. Think of it as the Hippocratic oath of matchmaking: First, do no harm.

This was a priority with Jasper Wilson, a 24-year-old public relations grad student who moved to Washington a few months ago. Central to his application was the fact he had “only dated one person,” his ex-girlfriend, whom he met at a student newspaper party in college. The two wound up in a long-term relationship that fizzled last year. Jasper was ready to move on but was nervous about having spent so little time in the dating pool. It seemed best to ease him back in as gently as possible.

Enter Liv Burns, a 21-year-old journalist with her own limited dating history. In her Date Lab profile, Liv described it thusly: “Girl abruptly ends her five-year relationship with high school boyfriend (wish I were lying) before starting the rest of her life. Falls briefly in love with his roommate. Realizes how much she doesn’t know about the dating game.”

We sent Jasper and Liv to Farmers & Distillers, a sprawling eatery on the edge of Chinatown. It took a few minutes for them to find each other. But upon realizing Liv was his date, Jasper had a promising reaction: “Oh, she’s cute! That’s awesome.”

Liv’s first take was less promising: “He wasn’t my physical type.”

Now, the dirty little secret of Date Lab is that a lack of chemistry often takes the stress out of the night — which it did for Liv. “I immediately decided this wasn’t going to be the most romantic encounter,” she said. “I think it made it easier.”

Things were more complicated for Jasper. He said he promptly picked up on Liv’s “muted” reaction. “After that, I was like, ‘All right. Let’s bring this back down to earth.’ ” Instead, however, his stress level rose. It didn’t help that, as he was shedding his rain jacket, he got tangled up and trapped in his own sleeves. “It was less than ideal in setting the tone,” he wryly reported.

Once they were seated, Jasper was hit with “overwhelming nervousness.” He found the menu alone “kind of intimidating.” But Liv had been to the restaurant before, so he happily deferred to her. She kicked things off with dumplings and veggie tempura. He said in general, Liv conveyed a sense that she was “comfortable with herself. It was cool to see.”

The conversation was the easy part of the evening, both agreed. They talked about their college days, discovering several points in common, such as studies abroad, a love of ethnic food, and, most notably, journalism backgrounds. Jasper had tried reporting before going “to the dark side” of public relations. They swapped tales about stories they enjoyed covering. (Jasper wrote about sports; Liv has a special interest in photojournalism.) “That was the best part of the conversation,” said Liv.

Free from romantic concerns, Liv said that throughout the night, she couldn’t stop analyzing their talk through a professional lens. (Ah, Washington.) Was she asking good questions? Were his follow-ups better than hers? Was she being a good interviewee? She needn’t have worried. Jasper said she was “a good listener” and “good at putting me at ease.”

He felt there was “a lot more stuff to learn about” Liv, and he would “absolutely” be interested in a second date. That said, he ended the evening as he began it: pretty sure she wasn’t interested. Liv admitted as much. “As soon as he had asked for my number, I said, ‘I’d love to, but my schedule’s really crazy right now.’ ” She figured Jasper would take the hint. He did. “I asked something like, ‘So do you want to hang out again?’ ” said Jasper. “She artfully pivoted to, ‘I can give you my number.’ Which is not an answer, yes or no. Which I guess I appreciate on some level, but I feel like I’d be able to take a straight ‘no’ fine.”

The pair parted with a hug. Even with the enthusiasm gap, Jasper says, “I’m definitely glad I did it.” It was “an awesomely fun way” to spend a cold, rainy Tuesday night — and he was glad for the practice. “The more experiences you have, the more you’re able to kind of let that inform your actions going forward. Hopefully that means you get better results.”

Rate the date

Liv: 3 [out of 5].

Jasper: 3.

Update

Liv said they connected after the date but she told him she didn’t think it would work out.

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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