Typically, unless a date turns out to be one of those want-to-rip-each-other’s-throats-out-within-the-first-five-minutes sort of affairs, most Date Labbers have something upbeat to report back about one another: quick wit. Nice smile. Generous tipper. Didn’t sweat much. But after his dinner with Emily Swain, the most positive thing Ben Wheeler offered up about her was that, since they’re both into soccer, “it was interesting to hear her talk about” the U.S. women’s team.
We sent Ben, a health-care research consultant, and Emily, who works in retail, out to Tiger Fork, the Hong Kong-influenced Chinese restaurant in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington. Emily arrived a few minutes early; Ben was right on time.
I figured it was a bad sign that, when I asked Ben for his immediate reaction upon meeting Emily, he responded with a long, “Ummm” — followed by an even longer pause. When he finally spoke, he said: “I was thrown for a loop. She was sitting at the bar ahead of time, and I go over to give her a hug, and she just thrust her hand into my chest and is like, ‘Oh, I’m Emily.’ So it wasn’t as smooth an entrance as I’d hoped for.”
It wasn’t until they sat down to talk, Ben said, that he could form “an initial impression.” However, he did not elaborate on what that impression was. His non-answer answer stands in stark contrast to Emily’s quick response to the same question. “I definitely thought he was attractive,” she told me. “I could tell he’d be really easy to talk to. He was definitely my type. We had a lot in common.”
The pair eased into their getting-to-know-you chitchat over cocktails. Tiger Fork specializes in elixirs that incorporate aspects of traditional Chinese medicine. Emily ordered one to help reduce anxiety (“So it was perfect for this!” she said with a laugh), while Ben went with one to combat fatigue.
The conversation topics were pretty standard for two 23-year-olds not long out of college. They talked about his college trip to Vietnam (taken with buddies, on a dare) and her summer studies in Rome; soccer; their families (hers lives in Northern Virginia, and they’re all close; his is in Seattle, and he doesn’t make it back to visit all that often); their college majors (global studies for her, international affairs for him); movies; their views on fraternity and sorority life (mixed); and, of course, work. “He works at the same company my roommate works for,” Emily said. “So it was great we had that common connection.”
About halfway through dinner — shared plates of wontons, fried rice and beef noodles — the pair discovered a mutual appreciation for the novel “House of Leaves.” It was this realization that sealed the deal for Emily, who considered it the most significant of their “lots of little connections.” She said: “I had thought there was immediate chemistry. But when I really was like, ‘This is a really interesting guy!’ was when I found out we both liked ‘House of Leaves.’ ”
Ben agrees that the novel is a challenging, unconventional book. (It has footnotes within footnotes.) But he was less struck by the connection: “It didn’t really feel like there was a lot in common. We had read the same book, and we’re both kind of interested in soccer.” On those topics, though, he thought that “maybe we were just interested in those things in different ways.”
Indeed, far from feeling like the evening flowed, Ben said he “felt like I was having to work pretty hard.” Even his go-to story about his fourth-grade appearance on “Jeopardy!” didn’t seem to make much of an impression. Was Emily too reserved? “Maybe just not very exuberant,” he said.
The night ended with a walk to the Metro, a swift hug and no exchange of information. This was Emily’s only regret of the night, since she was open to a second date. Ben, however, was not.
Faced with such a gap between their perspectives, I went back to them later to ask for their thoughts on the other person’s analysis. Ben offered that he saw their common interests as “coincidences,” and “didn’t chalk them up to any kind of real chemistry.”
His description of the date, meanwhile, surprised Emily, but she said the experience was still worth it. “First dates (and especially blind dates) are difficult — you really don’t know someone’s story and what they want from the situation,” she emailed. “Got to take the risk even if it doesn’t work out.”
Emily: Definitely 4 [out of 5].
No further contact.