This week's date got me thinking a lot about shared vs. complementary. While the former doesn't exactly constitute romantic chemistry, it certainly helps kick things off. Not too long ago, Date Lab put two people together based almost entirely on the fact that they both like to run — a commonality that I'm sure sparked many a connection between early humans being pursued by saber-tooths but which nowadays feels less special. Complementary traits and desires, while more elusive, are, by their very definition, more powerful.
Mike Kelly, a marketing consultant, and Trent Buatte, a self-professed "international law nerd," had plenty in common, at least on the surface. One initial point of overlap: By the time they'd signed up for Date Lab, both had run the gamut of online dating and were suffering from what Trent calls "app fatigue."
We sent them to El Centro D.F. on 14th Street NW. Mike arrived first and settled at the bar with a glass of wine. (Though he'd been to the restaurant before, he somehow managed to be overdressed. "I wanted to look nice in the newspaper," he told me.) When Trent showed up, their next meaningful point of commonality became readily apparent. They were height appropriate — and I am not overstating the importance of this. Both had put "tall" on their Date Lab wish list, and, still, up until he walked in and saw Mike standing at a respectable 6-foot-2, the 6-3 Trent was anxiously wondering, "Is The Washington Post's definition of tall different than mine?" They eventually sat down. Mike removed his sports jacket. And "10 minutes of talking and one margarita" later, Trent said, the conversation was flowing fairly fluidly. Their waiter had to come back a few times before they'd stopped chatting long enough to consider their orders. (Tacos for Trent. Queso with chorizo for Mike.)
Probably the most significant thing that Mike and Trent share is that they're both from the Midwest. The Midwest, as Mike reminded me, is quite a big place, so it's not like a guy from Detroit and another from Kansas City are necessarily going to connect on all fronts. But what Mike and Trent truly bonded over was the need to get away from their respective places of birth. "Growing up gay in the Midwest wasn't a super welcoming atmosphere most of the time," said Mike, the Detroiter. Trent says he came east to escape the homogeneity of his home town, "seeking diversity of people and opinions." And so they spent a lot of time at dinner talking about the time they'd each spent abroad. Trent, in particular, has traveled and lived extensively in Europe — Luxembourg, Belgium, Berlin — which impressed Mike. "It's cool to have experiences outside of your little bubble," Mike said. For his part, he recalled for Trent the time he spent living in France during his college years.
Mike and Trent even came to a consensus on what they didn't want to talk about, albeit tacitly. "I usually like to avoid the 'what do you do' question," Mike said. "I don't think anyone's job is the most interesting thing about them." Trent agreed that, in Washington, where people seem to be particularly "passionate about what we do," date night conversations can be a bit "job-centric." "I try to avoid that."
So, maybe now you're thinking, "These two seem very similar — from their mutual wanderlust to their peccadilloes regarding small talk. Are they also complementary?" And, it turns out, they are: Mike, you see, is an extrovert; the noticeably soft-spoken and reserved Trent is not. After leaving El Centro, they went for a drink at a bar down the street — definitely a good sign. When that was over, and they were standing outside on the sidewalk, things got a little trickier. Though Mike had already decided he wanted to see Trent again, he couldn't tell if the feeling was mutual. "I was definitely interested," said Mike, "but it was hard to read whether or not he was." Trent was interested, but he was also "pretty nervous." Instead of making his desires known explicitly, "I did what I typically do, which is a really awkward hug."
While Trent held back, however, Mike said exactly what he wanted. "It was not the typical 'I'll call you,' " Trent remembers. "He put a time frame on it. I think he said Thursday."
Trent: 4.5 [out of 5]. "We had a similar thought process."
Mike: 4. "Definitely a good date. Really solid."
Mike and Trent have been on two more dates since that night … and counting.