More than a year into the pandemic, most of us regard Zoom encounters with preemptive dread. But Chanel Wells and Adrian Sutton came ready to have fun.

Adrian had never heard of Date Lab until a co-worker encouraged him to sign up. The 29-year-old project coordinator noted in his application that he doesn’t kiss on the first date, which made him a good candidate for a Zoom setup. “I’m not really a fan of kissing,” he told me. “You have to be really the right one, or have really good lips. Or I have to be really, really drunk on U Street.” To prepare for his date, Adrian did two shots of Don Julio and lit a candle for ambiance. He logged on wearing a hoodie and sweatpants.

Chanel, a 33-year-old paralegal, also decided to apply after hearing about the column from a co-worker. She came to the date ready to make a new friend without putting too much pressure on herself. “If you like someone you shouldn’t just push it,” she said. “You’ve got to take the time. A lot of people don’t want to do the work, they just want to ghost you and then get on the apps. That’s not what I’m down for. I’m down for fun and getting to know someone and letting things flow from there.”

To prepare, Chanel put on some music, had a Red Bull and lit some candles. She did her hair and makeup and put on a black dress. “I wanted everything to be like I was going on a real date,” she said.

Chanel planned icebreakers so they could get to know each other more easily. “I had some questions in mind, some games in mind that I Googled,” she said, “just so it could not be like, ‘What’s your occupation? And what does your mother do?’ ”

It seemed to work. “We started with two truths and a lie,
and we found out we were bad liars,” Adrian said. They moved on to asking each other questions and answering them simultaneously. They learned each other’s dream vacation destinations — Tokyo for him, Cape Town, South Africa, for her — which evolved into a conversation about the best way to handle a long-haul flight (he’d break it up with a stop and some sightseeing in-between, which sounded like a good idea to her).

While getting to know each other, they discovered some commonalities and coincidences. Adrian ordered dinner from Busboys and Poets, which Chanel had considered. She settled on sushi from the Hamilton, one of Adrian’s favorite spots. And Chanel was delighted to learn that they were both voracious consumers of true-crime documentaries. “I was like, you can’t be serious!” she said. “I didn’t mean for it to come out this way, but I was like, ‘Oh my God, who’s your favorite serial killer?’ ”

They had so much fun they decided to take shots together. He had his Don Julio; she had a bottle of Lemon Drop. They decided to do a toast. “He said, ‘To endless possibilities’ — I like that,” Chanel told me. After about two hours, Adrian was getting tired, so they exchanged numbers and ended the call.

I spoke to Chanel and Adrian the day after their date, and both seemed to have had a great time. “I didn’t expect him to be so down-to-earth. I felt at ease. We were talking like we knew each other,” Chanel said. Adrian said the same: “It was like I was talking to somebody who I already knew.”

Which is why I was surprised when, shortly after giving the date a high rating, Adrian’s tone shifted. “This is me being honest: We had too much in common for us to be significant others, in my eyes,” he said. “Not to say that we couldn’t hang out again … but I could probably match her with somebody in my network.” I asked him to elaborate. “If we always like the same stuff, we could never show each other new things,” he responded.

Maybe that was a perfectly reasonable explanation, but I still felt confused. I went back through my notes from our interview to see if I had missed anything. He had mentioned how his last long-term relationship ended in 2019, a few months before the pandemic began. “I feel like I deserve to be single for a little bit,” he said. So maybe the timing wasn’t right. Or maybe they really did just have too much in common.

When I followed up with Chanel a week after the date, she said that they’d texted once or twice but that she didn’t expect them to get together again. When I asked her how she was feeling about it, she texted, “I’m doing good. It comes with meeting new people.” As she told me in our interview, she wasn’t rushing to get into a relationship, either. It was one more thing they had in common.

Rate the date

Chanel: 5 [out of 5].

Adrian: 4.


They’ve texted a couple of times but haven’t made plans to meet again.

Marin Cogan is a writer in Washington.