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Date Lab: They had positive vibes from the get-go

David Oliver, left, is 29 and an entertainment reporter. He is looking for someone who can listen and make him laugh. Mark Russell is 30 and a registered nurse. He is seeking an open-minded and confident man. (Daniele Seiss/For The Washington Post)
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Straight people get to practice dating in their teens, but I went to a conservative Christian private school and I wasn’t out as a teen,” said Mark Russell, 30. “I came out at 19, and the first six years were kind of chaotic.” The registered nurse described dating in college as a time of getting his heart broken and finding his identity as a gay man. He’s now looking for someone who enjoys D.C.’s nightlife with a no-holds-barred attitude. “The D.C. gay community is more closed-minded than you’d think for a minority population,” said the North Carolina native.

We set him up with David Oliver, 29, an entertainment reporter who hails from New Jersey. “I had been on a few dates with women, but obviously it wasn’t going to work out because I am gay,” he said with a laugh as he described his dating life to me before coming out at 22. David has been in a serious relationship, but in recent years he’s had a series of “situationships” — “things that could’ve become boyfriends but never really materialized,” he said. In future relationships he wants to listen to his gut, which he hasn’t always done, leading to wasting time with the wrong guy. “If I feel like I can’t be authentic, or if I’m changing what I’m thinking for someone else, that’s a bad sign.” He likes tall, confident men who are comfortable with themselves.

David was the first to arrive for the date at Gypsy Kitchen on 14th Street NW. “I’m notoriously punctual. I got there at 5:55, and Mark got there at 6:05. Within those 10 minutes, my brain went to: What if I get stood up and the Date Lab is all about me gorging out on food and drink all by myself?”

Mark told me he was “freaking out” about being late because of a bus delay: “I wanted to make a good impression on a first date!” The wait didn’t seem to affect David’s first thoughts of Mark: “He was cute. His vibe felt nice. I was immediately comfortable.”

The feeling was mutual. “I immediately liked his style,” Mark said. “He was confident, cute and exuded a comfortable feeling. He made me feel calm.”

They were seated at a secluded table by the front window, which David found to be “VIP-like” and “a good way to get to know each other.” Over cocktails, they discovered they had similar family backgrounds. David felt a kinship because they both had siblings and parents who are medical professionals. “It felt good to not have to worry about whether he trusted science or not.”

While noshing on small plates of hummus, lamb and gambas, they chatted about their love of Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga, the cities they’d lived in and their jobs. David was intrigued by Mark’s “intense work” with substance-use patients. He also appreciated that Mark was curious about his job, and David enjoyed explaining his beat: “It felt good to share this thing that is very important to me,” he told me. Mark, who has many journalist friends, said he felt at ease with David the entire evening. “I feel like journalists are open-minded and less judgmental than the regular population.”

Mark is open with his family about his dating life, so he paid attention to the stories David shared about his family. “I’ve dated guys before who don’t talk to their family because they didn’t accept them after they came out. A lot of people in my community make their own family if their [biological] family doesn’t accept them,” Mark said. He was happy to hear that David has a good relationship with his family after coming out and that he spends holidays with them. “It’s nice to see a happy outcome for a gay kid. It makes me think that the whole ‘meet the parents’ thing is possible,” Mark said.

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As they ordered another round of drinks and shared a slice of cheesecake for dessert, they talked about D.C. nightlife. Mark was thrilled that David was a fan of Uproar, Mark’s favorite gay bar. “He’s not a prude!”

However, David had concerns: “He seemed to be more party adventurous than me and stays out a bit later. I’m fine going to a bar and leaving at midnight or 1, but not later than that. I wondered if that would be a problem going forward.”

They left the restaurant at 8 p.m., took a stroll around the neighborhood, exchanged numbers and ended the evening on a goodbye hug.

Rate the date

Mark: 5 [out of 5]. “We really hit it off. He’s open-minded, confident and handsome. Hopefully we’ll get together again soon.”

David: 4. “I’d like to go out again to see if there’s a connection we can build together. ... He was super nice, but not sure if there’s a romantic spark.”


The pair texted and made plans to go out again. However, they ultimately decided not to meet up. “He and I both discussed amicably that we didn’t find each other romantically compatible,” Mark said. David thought Mark was “definitely a good, cute guy.” But this time, he’s “just trusting my gut.”

Vijai Nathan is a writer and comedian in Washington.

More from Date Lab:

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

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