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Date Lab: She knew his cousin from Chicago

Amina Azmat is 25 and a strategist for a charitable foundation. She’s looking for someone who appreciates culture and has an eye for beauty. Bara Elshaer is 27 and a public health data scientist. He is seeking a practicing Muslim who is open-minded and cares about continuous learning and personal growth. (Daniele Seiss/For Washington Post)

Bara Elshaer was nervous. The 27-year-old public health data scientist had never been on a blind date. He bought a new sweater in the hope that his date would think he was well dressed. When Amina Azmat, 25, walked into Ragtime in Arlington, she did notice Bara’s sweater, but focused on how he wasn’t wearing jeans, taking it as a sign that things were off to a good start. Well, better than other Date Labs that she’d read. Bara thought she looked “organized and fashionable.”

As they took photos, Bara started making small talk to break the ice: “Where are you from?” Amina answered, “Chicago.” Bara followed up with a casual and unassuming “Do you know my cousin?” When he said his cousin’s name, her eyes widened and then she asked for a picture. She did, in fact, know his cousin. Amina’s best friend had married him over the summer and recently moved from Chicago to the D.C. area. This coincidence was just the beginning of many.

Once they were seated and the waiter approached, Amina asked if they had a fruity cocktail that was nonalcoholic because she doesn’t drink. Bara is also a nondrinker. Nothing on the menu filled the bill so they both ordered sodas instead.

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Amina admitted she had a hard time focusing at first after discovering their mutual connection. They ordered calamari to share and began to unravel other ways their lives had intersected. First, they discovered that they both attended two of the same wedding-related events this past summer (yes, the cousin’s). Amina, who is a dancer, explained to me that at the parties for traditional Muslim weddings, the bride and groom enter with their respective families. Amina choreographed a dance for the bride’s entrance, which Bara remembered well — and had taken a video of on his phone. They scanned through the footage and there she was.

They then steered the conversation into careers. Bara learned that Amina is a strategist for a charitable organization. “We both have a passion for global health and international development,” Bara later told me. Amina was impressed that they’d each done some field work: Bara did health research in Ghana; Amina worked with Syrian refugees in Jordan. Now Bara sticks closer to home. In fact, he lives with his parents. “Culturally, that’s the norm,” Amina later told me. “You live with your family until you get married or have to leave for work.” Bara also lives with his younger brother. Amina quickly figured out she had met Bara’s brother at her friend’s house one week earlier.

Already feeling like old friends, they talked about their hobbies. Bara, who is in a book club, brought up its most recent read — which he also listed as his favorite book in his application — “Living With Genuine Tawhid.” They both described it to me as a faith book about mindful living. Considering that Amina listed her type as “someone who has a purpose and is … intentional about living a life that is aligned with their desires and values,” you can score one point for Date Lab matchmaking.

Bara asked Amina, “What’s something in pop culture that bothers you right now?” A little confused by the question, Amina asked for an example, and he brought up a podcast he’d recently heard about homelessness. A spirited conversation about public policy, the prison system and other intense topics ensued as they both ate their steak.

After dinner, the waiter inquired about dessert and they each chose a dish to share. Amina ordered a coffee to cap the meal. Bara declined an after-dinner drink and told her that he doesn’t like coffee. She proudly declared that her family takes their coffee, chai and tea time very seriously. She said with a smile, “Your cousin thinks I’m a coffee addict.”

He told her his family had plans to hike together the coming weekend. Coincidentally, she’d been invited to go hiking with her best friend and Bara’s cousin on Saturday. Bara pieced it together: His cousin had asked if he could bring a friend along. It was Amina! Their second “date” was already scheduled.

They settled the check and walked to their cars together. Discovering they’d parked on opposite sides made for a somewhat awkward goodbye in the middle of the street. According to Bara, “the vibe felt friendly.” He said he likes to keep things formal at first, and, because he was going to see her on Saturday, he didn’t ask for her number. Amina told me she had a similar thought: “He has interesting hobbies and I think that’s cool. I’m interested to see how Saturday goes.”

Rate the date

Bara: 4 [out of 5].

Amina: 3.5.


They’ve seen each other a couple of times since the date, and the vibe remains friendly. No plans to meet up for another date.

Damona Hoffman is a certified dating coach and host of the “Dates & Mates” podcast.

More from Date Lab:

She was so nervous she left her apartment in slippers

She let him drive her home, which is ‘much more intimate than a kiss’

Date Lab 2.0: Four new writers dig deeper to find out how the dates really went

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