Think of dating as a door that won't open. You push, you pull. Is there something you're missing? You stand there on the sidewalk in your navy floral-print button-down, glancing around self-consciously. Then you realize it's the wrong door.

That isn’t a metaphor so much as the actual beginning of Danny Nett’s Date Lab experience. We sent Danny, a 24-year-old engagement editor at a news organization, to Sakerum, a sushi restaurant on 14th Street NW. The door thing was a little awkward, but Danny wasn’t daunted. He was feeling good, having spent part of the afternoon hyping himself up by listening to Ariana Grande and then arriving at the restaurant in a Lyft with time to spare. “First time I’d ever been early for anything in my life,” he told me.

Sam Abney, a 25-year-old membership manager at a local theater, arrived right on time — which, for him, was late. Sam believes punctuality is a sign of respect, and he was relieved to find that Danny, having solved the door, was already inside. Both men noted, with approval, each other’s shirts (Danny’s had flowers; Sam’s had flamingos) and hairstyles (both wear theirs short on the sides, with a swooping coif on the top). After an awkward photo shoot, the pair faced a new set of (metaphorical!) doors as the date began.

They quickly found a key. “Like any good gays in D.C., we broke the ice with talking about our predictions for ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars,’ ” says Sam, referring to the reality-TV elimination show where drag queens compete in lip-sync contests. Danny and Sam had different favorites, but they were on the same page about who shouldn’t win: Trinity, the only white contestant left. “Drag Race” has faced criticism in the past for how it has handled matters of race and representation, and Danny and Sam agreed that the show didn’t need to crown another white queen.

Dating is its own kind of elimination game, and Danny suggested that they swap tales of guys they had sent packing. Sam told a story about one guy who, over text, falsely accused Sam of giving him a sexually transmitted infection, then blocked Sam’s number before Sam could text to say that his test had come back negative and that the guy should probably keep working through his address book for the culprit.

Danny thought that story was kind of a bummer. He had been angling for something a little lighter. “Not that that’s a huge thing,” Danny told me later, “it just kind of felt like misreading the social cue.” In fairness to Sam, Danny countered with a story of having to awkwardly console a guy who couldn’t stop crying over his cat, which had died years earlier after falling down the stairs. Which is kind of funny … but also pretty dark!

What kind of date story would this turn out to be? Danny and Sam enjoyed the wagyu beef, which came to the table on a giant slab of pink Himalayan salt. They enjoyed the dessert sake. They enjoyed Blaine, their server, whom both men lavished with praise during their interviews. (“A treat,” Sam called her. “I’d love to hang out with her,” said Danny.)

They were more reserved in their assessments of each other. Sam liked that Danny was passionate about his work but raised an eyebrow when he said he was habitually late. Danny liked talking to Sam, but couldn’t follow when Sam quoted from a Disney film. Neither of them could remember which one — Danny because he doesn’t know Disney movies (“I’m deeply not into theater or musicals,” he said), Sam because he quotes Disney so regularly he loses track.

Still, when they finished at Sakerum, neither felt like the date should end just yet. So they headed south to Dirty Goose, a bar on U Street. After they ordered a second round, Sam joined Danny on a couch near the window, and they kissed. Sam thought it was good. Danny thought it was ... fine. “I wasn’t uncomfortable or anything,” he says, “but I didn’t have an instant spark.” It was past midnight on a Wednesday, and the bar began to close down. They called a pair of Lyfts and said good night.

On the way home, in anticipation of our interview, Danny jotted down some notes on his phone. The date wasn’t bad, by any means, but for whatever reason the moments of disconnect were the ones that floated to the top of his memory. “Truthfully,” Danny told me, “the whole experience, and thinking over it, I kind of felt like another guy I have talked with recently ... is a little bit more promising.”

Pulling on the wrong door can be awkward, but sometimes it helps you step back and recognize the door you do want to open.

Rate the date

Danny: 3 [out of 5].

Sam: 4.


They texted a bit, mostly to discuss “Drag Race,” but never made plans.

Steve Kolowich is a Post Style editor.