Carly Phillips is pretty fed up with dating. She’s been in the D.C. area for nearly four years, and she’s done with flakes, ghosts and guys who just want to hook up. Carly, who is an early-childhood teacher, loves kids and is looking for a long-term relationship. “I really want someone serious to start a family with and have children with,” the 29-year-old said. “I’m not getting any younger.” Her mom is a regular reader of The Washington Post and told her about Date Lab. “And so here we are,” Carly said.

Chris Koutsourades put in his application after learning about the column through … a dating app. “I was talking to some girl on Hinge,” he recalled, “and she mentioned Date Lab. I thought that seemed pretty cool.” Chris, also 29, is looking for “someone who kind of challenges” him. He says he likes “friendly banter that makes things interesting” and hopes for someone who appreciates him. And yes, he’d like kids too.

Chris recently moved from Petworth to Arlington’s Court House neighborhood. “D.C. was just really sad in covid,” he explained. “I knew a bunch of friends in Arlington. It looked like fun, and everyone had dogs and they would all go for walks together outside. I wanted that feeling of community again.” He hopes to move back to D.C. after the pandemic.

These days both Carly and Chris are well versed in Zoom first impressions. So, Carly donned a dress — “it’s teal; it’s actually really cute” — and then did her makeup and hair. “I prepared the same way I would have for a regular date.” She texted her photos to her sister-in-law to get feedback on the look.

For his part, Chris read up on earlier columns to remind himself of no-gos — “like ordering Chipotle or wearing a T-shirt” — and then consulted with his Aunt Jean, who was thrilled to finally know someone going on a Date Lab meetup. He told me she recommended that he not “treat it as a job interview” and instead “just have fun with it.” He got a haircut, then found a nice spot to set up on a rooftop patio with his bulgogi order from the Korean fast-casual joint Bonchon. He was “feeling pretty confident.”

Carly also chose beef, but hers came in the form of steak from Outback Steakhouse, with a baked potato and a Caesar salad. Both eschewed alcohol. “I was definitely nervous,” she said. “I felt kind of skeptical because ... I didn’t know what he’d look like going into it. It was a true blind date.” When they logged in, Carly’s first impression: cute. “I was pleasantly surprised,” she said. Chris thought Carly was talkative and friendly. And really cute. So far, so good, right?

They both, Carly learned, play a game called “League of Legends.” “He’s a better player than me,” she said. Chris was chagrined Carly had mentioned the game during our interview. “I didn’t want to mention it; it’s very nerdy,” he demurred, noting he doesn’t play as much as he once did.

Carly shared with Chris how her work had been shuttered all year and the pandemic reprieve allowed her to take classes. In addition, it turned out she’d once interviewed at the federal agency where Chris works.

Then, about 45 minutes into their date, Chris told Carly his phone battery was down to a mere 3 percent charge. Alas, he said, he would have to end the evening. Carly told him he could take her along to get a charger. But he thought it best that they part ways. “At that point in the date I had a feeling that this wasn’t going to turn out to be a romantic thing in the future,” he told me, “and I kind of wanted to cut it short and be straightforward with her that I didn’t see it going any further.”

Carly, taken aback by this abrupt end, pressed him on why. “He said he didn’t think he wanted to pursue this as a relationship. He wasn’t able to give me a direct answer,” she told me. They then proceeded to discuss what went wrong. He thought she wasn’t interested in learning about him. She disagreed.

According to Chris, Carly spoke more about herself and didn’t ask enough questions about him. “I tried to mention my work,” he said, but then it would “jump back to her.” “She didn’t let me talk about myself, really.” He paused. “God, Aunt Jean is going to hate me for this.”

Carly felt the conversation had indeed been one-sided. Chris, she said, just nodded a lot, so she’d kept talking to carry the evening.

Which brings us back to “League of Legends.” Chris told Carly (and me) that he has strong ideas about how to best play the game. That didn’t sit well with Carly. “I don’t need people being overly critical of how I play. I am the type that is playing for having fun,” she said. “I think we were kind of opposite.”

Rate the date

Carly: 3 [out of 5].

Chris: 3.


They exchanged numbers then texted once, to say thanks. No further contact.

Sarah Wildman is an award-winning journalist based in Maryland.