Democracy Dies in Darkness


Date Lab: There was no spark. Still, they persisted.

May 24, 2018 at 6:00 AM

Lucy Vernasco, 25, a congressional staffer, and John Lowry, 24, a congressional staffer. (Daniele Seiss/For The Washington Post)

Lucy Vernasco and John Lowry both work in politics. They both run and enjoy being outdoors. And in their Date Lab applications, they both came across as ambitious go-getters. Lucy noted that she earned a bachelor’s degree in three years, attended grad school and landed a director-level job, all by age 25. John is a year younger but relayed his own impressive list of accomplishments: junior Olympic fencer and national championship triathlete in high school and college, president of his college class.

We sent these precocious Hill staffers to Bar Deco in Chinatown. John arrived first, straight from work, feeling a bit nervous and overdressed in a suit. “Oh, gosh,” he remembered feeling, “I haven’t done this in a while.” He had a steady girlfriend for about a year in college, but, otherwise, found it hard to know where he stood with people back then: Often, he told me, when you’re seeing someone, “you’re not sure if you’re dating or not.” Now, two years out, he’s dabbled in Tinder and other apps but is hardly an old hand at romance.

Lucy seems to find dating less daunting. As an undergrad, she even studied online dating in a media studies class. “I was interested in the ways people talk about themselves on their profiles,” she told me. She calls it the “curation of self.” In her own Date Lab profile, she chose to describe a television show based on her love life this way: “Which internet guy will date Lucy longer than a month?”

John said he saw Lucy step out of the elevator and his first impression of her was that she was attractive. She was dressed casually in denim and took notice of his beverage choice. “I’ve never met anyone who ordered a nonalcoholic beer,” she said later. (He doesn’t drink; she likes whiskey.) His second impression was — quite accurately — that she was not interested in him. “You know how when it’s Christmas,” he asked me, “and you’re waiting for your gift and you predict all these things that it could possibly be? And you open it up, and it’s a pair of socks? I felt like a pair of socks.”

Lucy told me that she thought he was cute but that she didn’t feel any romantic spark. She found knowing the date wasn’t going further than the restaurant sort of freeing and ordered garlic fries and an “ultimate burger” with pickles, bacon and Swiss cheese. Given that she is lactose intolerant, that last ingredient was the definitive negation of any possible amour.

John, meanwhile, ordered a Cuban sandwich. Between bites, they discussed their respective paths to the present. He recalled her telling “some funny stories about her crazy cat that she had to give away” after working on a campaign. They talked about different places they had lived. She has been all over the United States; he has lived in the Middle East and in Russia. “It was a friendly conversation,” she said. “Even though I didn’t feel any romantic connection. I wanted to be a good listener.”

At some point, John noticed they were the last customers on that floor and suggested they get going. They live in the same direction and ended up sharing an Uber. “Midway through the trip I asked for her number, and she plugged it into my phone,” he said. When they pulled up to her place, he made a move to get out to give her a hug, but she left quickly. He recalled her poking her head back in to say they should go for a run sometime.

Later, when I asked Lucy how the date went, she had very conscientiously prepared a list of politely worded, handwritten talking points. The first was, “I don’t see us going on another date.” The rest included such complimentary acknowledgments as: “he had an interesting childhood” and “he was a very nice person, very into his work and hobbies.” But she also found him overly serious and by the end was “looking forward to going home, putting on my pajamas and eating ice cream.”

As for John, he told me he was out of his comfort zone in a bar and spends 20 to 40 percent of his time outdoors running or training. So I asked if he thought things would have gone better if this had been on a hiking date rather than a typical sitting and eating one. “Maybe,” he said, “ but if things were decided in that first 10 seconds, I don’t think much could have gone differently.”

Rate the date

Lucy: 2.5 [out of 5]. “I don’t feel like we could find other common ground” besides politics and running.

John: 4. “No overly glaring errors, but no spark.”


A week later, John asked her about going for a run, but got no response.

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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