Of course, there are still plenty of optimists out there, like Claire Wilhelm’s mom, who encouraged her to sign up for Date Lab. “You know how moms are,” said Claire, an aerospace engineer from Minneapolis who now lives in Crystal City. “She’s always trying to find me a boyfriend.”
Claire, 27, told me that she’s been single for nearly three years and “it’s fine.” “A lot of my friends are starting to get married,” she said, “and that’s kind of a bummer.” But she’s still pretty blasé about dating and was not nervous to meet Piotr at all. “When you’ve been on the dating apps for a billion years, you’re like, ‘Here we go. I guess I’ll put lipstick on today.’ ” (When it comes to dating apps, both Piotr and Claire told me they prefer Hinge and specifically cited the app’s system of prompts. Take note, digital daters.)
Anyway, unlike Claire, Piotr said he’s always nervous before a date — so much so, in fact, that he typically takes a shot of whiskey to steel himself before heading out. “It’s scary putting yourself out there and being judged by someone,” he told me. “It’s nerve-racking.”
This time around, Piotr was worried that the restaurant where he and Claire were to meet was so far from his job that he wouldn’t be able to get there in time and decided to work from home that day. He ended up getting to Leziz Cafe and Restaurant in Dupont Circle in plenty of time and chose to sit on a bench outside so as not to be “too early.”
The good news is that Claire said Piotr did not seem at all anxious when he walked in to meet her. (She was early, too.) “If he was nervous,” she told me, “he hid it well.” Ironically, Piotr told me that he thought Claire seemed nervous, and that was a good thing. “It made me calm down a bit realizing she was in the same boat.” Alas, I’ve been writing this column long enough to know that the thing that most relaxes people on these dates is when they realize they have nothing to lose — in other words, they’re not particularly attracted to the person sitting across from them. Asked about his first impression of Claire, Piotr offered this halfhearted observation: “I wouldn’t say I immediately fell in love with her. There was nothing wrong with her.” “He was pretty cute,” Claire told me. “Maybe a little younger than I usually go for.”
They drank beers and pushed through what Piotr terms “typical getting-to-know-you conversation.” They talked about family, school, their careers. He ordered the salmon, Claire got the rib-eye, and they shared a cheese plate. She said the conversation moved along pretty well. “He seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say.” But she felt like she’d done most of the talking. “He was pretty quiet.”
“I love learning about people who are willing to share,” Piotr told me — but added that he prefers not having to talk about himself.
Things picked up when Claire mentioned that she’d been reading “The Name of the Wind,” a fantasy novel from “The Kingkiller Chronicle” series by Patrick Rothfuss. Piotr is, as he puts it, “a huge fantasy nerd.” “He was very excited to talk about that,” said Claire. He taught her how to pronounce the name of the novel’s main character, Kvothe. (It’s Ka-voth-ee.) Piotr loosened up considerably on the topic of fantasy fiction. “Probably too much for a first date,” he later told me. He needn’t have been concerned; a self-proclaimed nerd herself, Claire described him as “just the right amount of nerd.” “We had a lot in common,” she said.
“The conversation was good,” Piotr said. “But it was all on a friendly level. There was no romantic spark. I’ve gone on dates before where ... I’m sad that I’m walking away, like, ‘I wish this date wasn’t over.’ ” After a couple of hours, Piotr apologized for having to leave so soon — he had another appointment — and they left the restaurant together. They walked for a bit, hugged and then went their separate ways without exchanging contact information. “Probably not the best move on my part,” Piotr said, “but I wasn’t thinking about it.”
Claire told me she didn’t feel much of an attraction either, but “I would have maybe gone out with him again if he had asked.” In the end, she considers the date a success because “I got to talk about books I like.”
Rate the date
Claire: 4 [out of 5]. “He didn’t do anything wrong. It just didn’t happen.”
Piotr: 5. “I loved getting to know Claire. As opposed to not going on a date, it was great.”