Cathy Sindos gave herself an hour to get from Rockville to her date in Silver Spring. But it was rush hour and there was an accident on the Beltway, leaving traffic almost completely stopped. “I was kind of panicked,” said Cathy, a 56-year-old project manager. She got off the highway, took a bunch of side streets and made it just a few minutes after 6 p.m.

Her date, Dan Getachew, was already waiting at Cubano’s, where they were set to meet. “When you get old you have a lot of rules,” said Dan, a 58-year-old who owns an engineering consulting firm. “Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.”

There was some miscommunication at the host stand, so Cathy, along with our photographer, ended up waiting outside the restaurant for Dan, not realizing that he was already inside. It wasn’t until Cathy went in to wash up that our photographer located Dan and introduced them.

Their first impressions were a bit off. “When he stood up, I saw that he had on jeans. I thought, oh, I got all dressed up and have on all this makeup, but he just has on jeans,” Cathy said. “And I thought, okay, so he’s approaching this much more casually than I did.” Cathy extended her hand for a shake, and then sat diagonally across from Dan at a four-seat table. She was leaving extra space as a precaution because of covid, but Dan didn’t realize that, and thought it was strange for a date. “Our hello was not comfortable,” he told me.

Let’s back up for a moment and talk about what we thought would make the two compatible. Neither had an especially detailed Date Lab application, but they work in similar fields and have rich interests outside of work that they’re planning to pursue in retirement. For Cathy, it’s getting more engaged in community politics and activism. “I want to be able to make a difference, especially in the issues we’re facing with our world’s climate,” she said.

Dan, for his part, owns a small farm where he grows pears, peppers and tomatoes. After moving to the United States from Ethiopia, he fell in love with farming while spending a few years living and working in Montana, and plans to devote himself to it full time when he retires. “It’s something that keeps me happily active and busy,” he said.

We didn’t know all of this background information at the time, but we figured there was enough for a good date. Dan, though, felt like we made a pretty big mistake from the start — and he wasn’t shy about telling us. “I thought that I would have had a verbal interview with somebody prior to trying to match me up,” he said. “Matchmaking is not a mathematical thing, it’s getting a sense of somebody, and thinking this person would match well with this other person.” How, he wanted to know, could we have set him up without interviewing him and his potential match first?

I could see his point. We sometimes, though not often, interview applicants in advance. But our matches are based on the applications, which is why they’re so important. That said, when I interviewed them after the date, they both seemed talkative, outgoing and fun — I’m pretty sure we would have sent them out anyway.

Back to the date: Dan recommended some items from the menu to try; they talked about trips they’d taken and shared what they’d learned from online dating. “I’m a self-proclaimed expert on ID-ing scammers,” Cathy said. She can tell by the profile photos: Whenever a guy’s picture features him in his car, looking like he’s driving somewhere, she knows that “this is going to be about bitcoin or something.” Though she and Dan had “a lot in common,” she said there weren’t any sparks. Overall, she had a nice time.

Dan was a little blunter. He had a fine time, he said, but it didn’t feel like a date. “If eHarmony had put us together, I would have told them their algorithm was broken,” he said. There was one more twist: Dan mentioned both to Cathy and in our interview that he’d just had a great first date with someone he met online right before going out on Date Lab.

“I was glad I didn’t get my expectations high, because I wasn’t disappointed when he said that,” Cathy said. Which is a good thing. Because when the night ended, the two said goodbye without exchanging numbers or making plans to see each other again.

Rate the date

Cathy: 3.5 [out of 5].

Dan: 3.5.

Update

No further contact.

Marin Cogan is a writer in Washington.

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