McKenzie Smith, 24, client relations for a start-up, and Blake Neff, 27, cable news scriptwriter. (Daniele Seiss/For The Washington Post)

Some Date Labbers call for a bit more care than others when being matched. Take Blake Neff. A South Dakota native, the 27-year-old cable news writer is ambivalent about all things Washington. “I would not necessarily oppose this city’s destruction by nuclear fireball, even if I am in it at the time,” he wrote in his Date Lab profile. He dates rarely and, as an “old-fashioned” soul, is appalled by many of the sport’s modern conventions, such as dating apps and casual hook-ups.

Blake’s sense of humor is quirky (thus the D.C.-could-use-a-good-nuking joke), and he can come across as a wee bit defensive. Then there’s his ideological worldview: In this hypercharged political climate, Blake is a proud Trump voter. For some Washington gals, this would be a one-drink-and-I’m-outta-here evening ender. For others, it could serve as human catnip. To avoid having the date end in a public brawl, a matchmaker must proceed with caution.

Enter McKenzie Smith. The 24-year-old Georgia native works in client relations for a green-energy tech start-up. Big on family and faith, she identifies as a “traditional conservative” and “die-hard Southerner.” In her profile, she expressed a love of politics, history and Russian literature. She cited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the contemporary politician she’d most like to get to know and Richard Nixon as the historical one. “Ambitious” and “future-oriented,” she has a fondness for intelligent “frat boy types.”


Who am I to argue with the Date Lab gods? These two were clearly a match made in heaven, or at least in the hallowed hallways of cable news. So off we sent them to Bobby Van’s steakhouse on 15th Street NW. The evening began with a slight hiccup. Blake was running late, so McKenzie went to chill out in the bar with a cocktail. When Blake arrived, one of the first statements out of his mouth was that he regards alcohol as “poison.” McKenzie’s first thought: “Yikes!”

Did I mention that Neff listed “honest” as the adjective that best describes him? He was definitely not kidding about this — which led to a few more head-slapping moments, such as his informing the very blond McKenzie that he fancies brunettes. Still, the evening settled into a mostly comfortable groove. The two swapped tales of family, college, movies, travel, politics (prompting a few tense moments, Blake reported) and, of course, why each had given Date Lab a go. McKenzie’s Virginia-based grandparents are longtime fans of the column and had been nudging her to apply. Blake knows a guy who had suffered an epic Date Lab meltdown, and the possibility of an equally searing disaster tickled his dark sense of humor.

Blake was impressed at how “genuinely well-read” McKenzie was and that she had opted not to go to grad school after deciding it didn’t make financial sense. (Washingtonians’ constant bragging about their “B.S. master’s degrees” makes him nuts.) McKenzie was indeed fascinated by Blake’s job as well as his Dartmouth education and the fact that he showed up to their date lugging a book about Catherine the Great.

Having gotten off to a late start, Blake and McKenzie wound up shutting down the restaurant. Afterward, they decided to stroll the mostly empty streets near the White House, then, when McKenzie’s heels began to pinch, planted themselves on a park bench. The night ended with a parting hug as McKenzie grabbed a Lyft home.

Weirdly, neither McKenzie nor Blake could say for certain how the evening went. Blake feared McKenzie didn’t get his sense of humor. (She laughed some, but not a ton.) He also suspected she was sending a signal with her remark that she’s not sure she’s looking for a relationship right now. His thought: “If I were Brad Pitt, you would be.”

For her part, McKenzie expressed anxiety that Blake would feel moved to “trash” her in his post-date debriefing, and she acknowledged a lack of initial sizzle: “I’m not sure on either side there was physical chemistry.” Blake is keeping his expectations low. As he told me, “Things could totally blow up going forward.”

Rate the date

Blake: 4 [out of 5].

McKenzie: 4.

Update

No second date.