Daters often seek out matches who are carbon copies of themselves: Fitness buffs swipe right on potential running buddies. Liberals announce in their dating profiles that Trump supporters should swipe left. Sometimes those with strong connections to their religious or ethnic backgrounds prefer someone whose upbringing mirrors their own.
What would happen if singles sought pairings specifically for their differences? This is a question Tunde Wey, a chef and activist, is serving up alongside dishes from his native Nigeria. Earlier this year in Pittsburgh and this month in Washington, Wey hosted matchmaking dinners where he’s paired U.S. citizens with non-naturalized immigrants with the intention of creating couples where one person might share their citizenship privilege with the other.
It’s an idea explored on the popular reality-TV show “90 Day Fiance,” soon starting its seventh season. On the show, foreign nationals have just three months to decide whether they’ll stay and marry their American partner, or go back home. Wey’s experiment, however, just lasts a few hours.
He thought it was especially important to make a stop in Washington, given the Trump administration’s antagonistic attitude toward undocumented immigrants. RapidVisa, a company that helps people get K-1 fiance visas, reports that the District, along with Alaska and Hawaii, receive the most K-1 entrants per capita.
Wey, himself an immigrant married to an American, is careful to point out that he’s more of a provocateur than a love professional. “I’m not Dr. Ruth,” he says in an interview before the dinner he hosted earlier this month at Thamee on H Street NE. “I’m not trying to find your life partner.”
But he does want singles to think about how they might use love as a political tool. “The outcome is not as important as the demonstration,” Wey says of his dinners, adding that “in a climate where immigrants have been vilified by the administration and other folks … I’m actively trying to bring folks together to be in love.”
How does it work out in practice? Just eight participants showed up to Wey’s first D.C. dinner, part of Thamee’s supper club series where chefs of color can use the kitchen and dining room for free.
The atmosphere was certainly romantic: Pairs were seated at intimate tables, under soft lighting, many drinking a signature cocktail called Love Will Bloom — Prosecco mixed with cognac, lemon juice and egg white, topped with a dried strawberry to represent the heart and chamomile to represent love’s potential. In an attempt to prompt deep conversation, each course arrived with selections from the 36 questions to fall in love, an experiment for building intimacy that was popularized by a New York Times Modern Love column. Questions such as: Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
Novel experiences like this one can be aphrodisiacs, but love is a tricky recipe to get just right. Only one pairing had sexual orientations that matched up, and that alone is not enough to make sparks fly. Two straight women who were matched with one another remarked that it was a typical D.C. situation: Come to a matchmaking event and get set up with a woman because there’s only one straight man.
“I fundamentally believe good food leads to good conversation,” says Amanda McDonald Crowley, an Australian woman who came down from New York for the event. She’s been in the United States for 14 years and was paired with a gay man, Regie Cabico, and even though it wasn’t a love match, he was still trying to talk her into moving to Washington for the career opportunities. They bonded over the food — she snapped a photo of one of his dishes and Cabico commented about how Americans rarely take the time to savor their meals, instead focusing on convenience and speed.
Despite the conviviality, the diners weren’t as open to transforming their love lives as completely as Wey might want. When Wey asked the group, after dinner, if anyone would commit to dating only immigrants for a year, the room was silent.
Correction: “90 Day Fiance" is about to start its seventh season. This story previously stated that it was about to start the sixth.