After hearing about how Date Lab had been a positive experience for a friend — who happened to have another friend who also appeared in the column — Erin Deal, 24, applied on a whim “to keep the tradition” going. A few days later, our team reached out to confirm her date. Erin, who has been single through the pandemic, is excited to start meeting new people. “I’m not looking for anything particular,” she said. “I’m just interested in seeing what happens.”

Though she had few expectations, on the day of the date she felt nervous. “What if we have nothing to talk about?” she worried. While getting ready, she listened to Taylor Swift’s “1989,” which she calls her “hype predate album.” She texted her friend a photo of her outfit for approval: a cream-colored skirt and a black top. The restaurant, Unconventional Diner, was a 10-minute walk, but felt longer in the sweltering heat.

She arrived a few minutes before her date, Ellis Scherer, 23. Ellis, who recently started graduate school in D.C., moved to the area a few months ago after his college graduation. Like Erin, Ellis has been eager to meet new people. He wore khaki shorts and a golf polo shirt with his favorite pair of Nike Huaraches. “I shaved my neck so I would look more presentable,” he said.

Although the pandemic has introduced a new level of awkwardness to first dates, for Erin and Ellis, it also offered an icebreaker. While getting photographed, they talked about the coronavirus vaccines (both got the Moderna shots), which segued naturally into conversation about Dolly Parton, whose donation to coronavirus research was used, in part, to fund vaccine development.

“He was very easy to talk to, and we started talking and joking way faster than I expected to,” Erin said. From that moment onward, “we kind of didn’t stop.” They did pause to order. Erin got a Lebanese rice dish, while Ellis chose butternut squash curry. They split a side of pan-fried Brussels sprouts and each ordered a glass of wine. For dessert, they split a cafe latte mocha brownie.

They soon hit a lot of basic first-date questions about work, hobbies and family, quickly bonding over being older siblings in large families. “I’m very close with my family,” said Erin, adding that it’s important that “anyone I’m dating knows that my family will know about them.” She told Ellis a story about a first date in college that she had mentioned to her mother in advance. Before the date was over, she received a text from her aunt asking how it was going. Ellis laughed. “Family for me is a big thing, and so I definitely look for that trait in others,” he told me.

The most animated part of the conversation, though, was about conspiracy theories. “We both took classes on conspiracy theories in college,” Erin said. “We talked about those, and what ones we are entertained by.” Among the theories covered: the secret underground bunker in Denver International Airport (Ellis’s favorite) and the circumstances around Jeffrey Epstein’s death. “I love talking about conspiracy theories,” Ellis said. “How [people] talk about them is very telling about someone’s personality.”

Overall, “the conversation didn’t feel forced, it felt pretty natural,” Ellis said. “I very much felt from her that she was a super positive person. … That’s how I approach life as well.” After about two hours, when the sun began to set, Erin decided to call it a night. Ellis offered to walk her home, but instead they parted ways at the Metro, where he caught a train home. Despite the fluency of the date, the goodbye was a bit awkward. They exchanged numbers, but Erin had trouble reading the vibe. “I wasn’t sure if I should hug him,” Erin said. (There was no hug, but they did wave.) “I think we got along, but the extent of what it is, is still undecided.”

Part of the confusion may have stemmed from the fact that, in the weeks between applying for the column and his date with Erin, Ellis had started seeing someone. “We are keeping things casual and taking it slow,” he said, explaining that the woman knew about Date Lab and was “totally cool with it.” (He did not, however, tell Erin.) “I thought Erin was someone I could be good friends with,” he added. “It’s just the feeling that I was left with.”

Rate the date

Erin: 4.7 [out of 5].

Ellis: 5.

Update

They’ve texted since the date, but there are no plans to meet up again.

Prachi Gupta is a writer in New York.

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