Just be yourself, daters are often advised. But which part of yourself? The self is infinite, but time on a first date is not. So in addition to being themselves, daters must also explain who they are — and decipher the signals, symbols and descriptions that their dates provide.

“I’m an Aquarius, so I get bored and distracted,” said 27-year-old Josh Kelley when asked about his love life. He’s a progressive political consultant by day, drag queen by night, social butterfly and generally single. “It’s an on-again, off-again relationship with trying to date and failing,” he said, explaining that he alternates between dating-app hyperactivity and total aversion. “Between working in [LGBTQ] politics and doing drag, I feel like I’ve met 90 percent of the gay people in the city and been through all of them,” Josh said with a laugh. “Where else do I go?”

Date Lab sent him to Radiator, a cocktail bar in the Mason & Rook Hotel in Logan Circle, to meet 26-year-old Nick Klauda, a Minnesotan who works in higher education. An optimist with a laid-back temperament, Nick arrived late to his date. “I was texting my friends like, ‘Of course I’m going to be late. Oh my gosh, this is so D.C., sprinting for the Metro!’ ” But Josh put him at ease. “Immediately, I got a very warm and welcoming energy from him,” said Nick.

They fell into playful rapport right away, vamping with whimsical props like a chess set for their Date Lab photo shoot. “I could tell that he was super friendly, super open, had a lot to say,” said Josh. “I believe we’re both Scorpio rising, so I think that’s why that happened.”

The October night was unseasonably warm, so they sat outside. Reviewing the menu, Nick offered: “I know this is controversial, but what do you think about the olives?” Josh hates olives. He countered: “I love deviled eggs so much, but they’re a really divisive food.” Nick hates deviled eggs. They agreed to disagree. (And not to share food.) “Some people are olive people. Some people are deviled egg people. And that’s just how it is,” said Josh.

Then Josh turned the conversation to astrology. Nick said later, “I tend to be a bit more of an astrology skeptic”; he sees it as more of “a jumping-off point” for self-description. He gave an example: “I’m a Pisces who loves to cry at happy things and talk about my feelings.” During the date, he pivoted to discussing his preferred medium for self-interpretation, therapy. Said Josh, “I really appreciated his ability to go there with me.”

They talked about their families, childhoods and coming out. But intimate as the conversation was, “it still didn’t quite have that flirty, romantic edge to it,” said Josh. Lamenting Nick’s astrological skepticism, Josh said, “I was like, ‘Yeah, well, of course! You’re the olive, I’m the deviled egg. I’m a little bit of a mystic, I’m a little bit of a baby witch, I do a lot of yoga, I read tarot cards,’ ” all of which seemed to contrast with his date. Nick does practice yoga, he told Josh, though he prefers grounded poses, while Josh said he favors inversions and standing balances.

Seizing on Josh’s “baby witch” description, Nick recalled asking Josh, “If you were in a movie, who would be your witch persona?” The question thrilled Josh. Growing animated, he announced: “I was Elphaba before she was even in ‘Wicked.’ I was literally a 7-year-old boy who for Halloween was the Wicked Witch of the West, full green face!” (His drag alter-ego, Buffy Wilde, pays homage to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)

If Nick were a witch, he said, he would be “a little bit more of a Sabrina [the Teenage Witch].” He’s not the type to be Head Witch in Charge: “I tend to be a little bit more go-with-the-flow.”

Josh speculated later that perhaps he required a fellow believer to feel swept away — not an astrology believer, necessarily, but the kind of person who dives into new ideas and big projects without hesitation. Josh explained that to date him, “you have to be my drag husband, right? Like you have to come get me ready. You have to carry my suitcase to the bar. You have to stay with me all night until we go home, and you have to carry my stuff up the stairs and undo my corset.”

By the end of the night, there was a tacit mutual sense that a relationship just wouldn’t work. When Josh is just being himself, it’s a full-makeup Elphaba experience. But when Nick is being himself, it’s quieter — even as a witch, he’s the kind who does homework. “It was great to meet him and very fun to get to know him,” Nick said of Josh. He didn’t plan to seek a second date but looks forward to catching a Buffy Wilde drag show.

Rate the date

Josh: 5 [out of 5]. He describes Nick as “10 out of 10, would recommend” for others to date.

Nick: 4.9. A perfect date with an imperfect match.


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Maureen O’Connor is a writer in New York.