When you are 6-foot-4 and describe yourself as “lanky as hell,” a Zoom date might not be a bad way to meet someone for the first time. Grant Whitney, a 25-year-old security studies student, had never dipped his toe into virtual dating. His date, Ally Duncan, also 25 and more savvy to the world of Zoom dates, learned to go easy on the alcohol after a hilarious incident that involved a very strong homemade margarita fail. She poured herself a single gin and tonic, grabbed the chicken quesadillas she was craving from Gringos & Mariachis and logged on.

“She’s pretty,” Grant immediately thought as he spent the first few moments online trying to look friendly and make eye contact with her. He told me he’d become painfully aware of “his leer” on Zoom meetings, so he did his best to smile and not talk with his mouth full — awkward on any date, but even more off-putting over video chat. He’d made samosas the night before and didn’t want them to go to waste. Plus, if you’d spent a summer as a sous-chef, you would try to find a way to casually demonstrate your cooking prowess, too.

Ally noticed his smile right away and took it as a “good sign.” They jumped right into questioning what caused them to be matched for Date Lab and discovered a mutual love of beer and breweries, but they diverged from there, beginning with their musical tastes. Grant, a Mariah Carey fanatic, shared his top five songs of the year according to Spotify Wrapped. She appropriately roasted him when he revealed that “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” was his third most-listened-to song of 2020. Her top five included Lizzo, Taylor Swift and Rainbow Kitten Surprise, which Grant admitted was more aligned with his brother’s musical taste than with his.

They discovered that they are from very different parts of the country. Grant is from “way up north” as Ally defines it — a suburb outside Boston. After Ally revealed that she’s from Jacksonville, Fla., they got into a heated debate about whether that qualifies as being part of the panhandle. (It decidedly is not.)

Grant then asked if any part of her life was “stereotypical Florida.” Ally replied, perhaps too intuitively as a Floridian, “I don’t know anyone who has eaten someone’s face or wrestled an alligator.” Then, the medical student in the military began spinning wild Florida tales from her “classic pre-med” college research project on the strange side effects of ingesting bath salts, including “eating people’s faces off.”

You might think that this kind of first-date conversation would be a turn-off, but Grant was fascinated and impressed with Ally’s research, plus the mere accomplishment of surviving medical school — that is, until she revealed her intention to specialize in urology. At that point, all he could think about was her “looking at old guys’ d---s.” Once she explained the complexity of urology and the fact that it also deals with other organs aside from male genitalia, he felt, well, relieved.

Ally was equally impressed by Grant’s personal and professional pursuits. After learning that he aspires to work in counterterrorism when he finishes school, she had dozens of questions about his dream role, a job that Grant thinks of as “sooo D.C.” People tend to assume that he’s in the CIA or FBI, to which he replies: “One look at me and you’d be able to tell that I’m not Jason Bourne.”

While Ally and Grant are both runners, he has taken this hobby to a new level by volunteering to tandem run with blind people. A marathon runner, he told her he once was paired with a visually impaired person who was training for a race and talked him into a 10-mile run when he had initially agreed to only six. Ally told Grant, incredulously: “I didn’t know that people that nice existed.”

Two and a half hours flew by, and eventually Grant had to bring the date to a close. A group project meeting for school was starting in 15 minutes, and he needed to prepare. At least, Ally hoped that was the real reason (he confirmed to me it was). Grant asked for Ally’s number, then planned a tentative meetup with the promise: “You can see how awkward and lanky I am in person.”

Both were facing finals week, and Grant’s upcoming schedule also includes a knee procedure, which might rule out a socially distanced walk in the immediate future. He texted her that night, and they’ve maintained regular contact since.

The length of the date surprised them both, and without a frame of reference for virtual dates, Grant asked his sister for her perspective. “What the heck?” she told him. “Are you getting married?” By today’s pandemic courtship standards, a 2 1/2-hour Zoom date might be the closest Date Lab will get to a proposal.

Rate the date

Grant: 4.5 [out of 5].

Ally: 4.5.


They have continued to text but haven’t met in person yet. They are still planning to go on a date when they’re both in town and available.

Damona Hoffman is a certified dating coach and the host of the “Dates & Mates” podcast.