The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Date Lab: Can a U2 fan fall for a Justin Timberlake buff?

Austin Spivey, 24, an educational technologist, and Lars Emerson, 22, a business operations manager. (Daniele Seiss/For The Washington Post)

A heavily clouded sky was threatening rainstorms as Austin Spivey and Lars Emerson headed to their date. Across the city, cellphones buzzed with weather alerts warning of flash floods. But 24-year-old Austin and 22-year-old Lars decided to venture out to Mission, a Mexican restaurant in Dupont Circle, anyway.

“First impression? Very handsome guy,” Austin told me later. “She was very chill,” Lars recalled. “Right off the bat, she put me at ease.”

Over a pitcher of spicy margaritas, they broke the ice by talking about music. In her Date Lab profile, Austin wrote she would have “a great date. Guaranteed,” with another U2 fan, adding she was “raised on classic rock.” So when Lars told her there was one musical artist he was obsessed with, Austin said her “heart began to pound.”

Outside, the skies opened and rain fell in torrents. Inside, Lars unleashed his musical truth: “I proudly own every single Justin Timberlake album on vinyl.”

Record scratch?

In the age of OkCupid, Facebook and Google, there are infinite dating options, and faced with the monumental task of choosing, we often rely on facts that are easy to sort for: favorite band, favorite movie, the eternal dogs vs. cats debate. But do those details really matter?

Acting on a hunch, I rejected Austin’s request for a classic-rock fan. Instead, I chose Lars, whose tastes were distinctly different from hers — but whose enthusiasm was similar in intensity. And indeed, Lars and Austin agreed that their personalities matched. The way they talked about music was similar: Both have strong feelings about which albums are their idols’ best and worst. (They agreed that Timberlake’s latest work is definitely his worst.) They discussed their favorite ways to engage with the music: Austin planned to see U2 at Capital One Arena in June; Lars has his precious vinyls. He may have the music taste of a tween circa 2000, but he indulges it with the nostalgia-tinged obsession of a classic-rock fan who collects rare B-sides.

“We actually had this huge moment around the music,” Austin told me the next day. After that, their conversation flowed. They talked about movies (Austin loves horror, while Lars prefers superheroes) and their mutual love of entertaining (Austin, who is from Richmond, recently threw a Kentucky Derby party; Lars, a native of Boulder, Colo., is his friends’ designated Super Bowl host).

And as they shared a smorgasbord of tacos, fajitas and guacamole, Austin noticed that they’re also both pretty chill about food. “It was really easy to have him as a dinner date because he’s not a picky eater at all,” she recalled. “We looked at the menu and were like, ‘What do you like?’ ‘I like everything. What do you like?’ ‘Everything!’ I thought that was a very attractive quality.”

With that, Austin obliterated what I like to call the “High Fidelity” theory of dating. I’m referring, of course, to the 2000 cult movie starring John Cusack as an audiophile searching for love. “Books, records, films: These things matter,” Cusack’s character says. “What really matters is what you like, not what you are like.” But Lars and Austin proved that when what you are like is open to possibility, with a healthy dose of joie de vivre, romance is possible — though perhaps not guaranteed.

After spending close to four hours together without a pause in conversation, they hugged goodbye, then dashed through the rain in opposite directions. Both said they’d had fun, but wondered: Did the other person feel the same way?

That’s when I realized the flaw of matching people solely on temperament: Not only were their passions aligned, but so were their equivocations. Both said they were open to a second date but not totally sure. “We’ll definitely be friends,” Lars said. “I was sensing a mutual, if very positive, ambivalence,” Austin said.

That could also be a function of their being fresh out of college. Both consider themselves too young to think about marriage. Neither is entirely certain what they’re looking for in love, just yet — which is why they go on dates.

Rate the date

Lars: 4 [out of 5].

Austin: 4.


Lars and Austin have texted about their favorite ramen restaurants but have not gone out again.

Maureen O’Connor is a writer based in Brooklyn.

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