Date Lab seems to attract people who are willing to spend hours on end talking with people they are not particularly attracted to. Maybe it’s the implied surveillance, maybe it’s the blind nature of our pairings, maybe it’s an as yet unnamed phenomenon we’ve stumbled upon. Who knows! What’s more, the parties often report that these conversations are especially pleasant. It’s as though when these pairs enter their assigned restaurant, a voice-over intones: “You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of heart. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination and free food. Next stop: the friend zone!”
That’s where the evening seemed to be headed for Vani Waingortin, 24, who works at one of the embassies in town, and José Altamirano, 23, who works at a leadership-building center at a grad school. Each had lovely things to say about the other and the three hours they spent together at Darlington House in Dupont Circle. Vani, according to José, is “a pleasant, friendly woman.” José, in Vani’s words, is “very kind,” “very genuine” and “so, so sweet.”
But try as you might to rub all these kind words together, you still may not end up with a spark. At least not right away. José, in the soft-spoken and respectful way in which he answered every question about his date, tackled the issue of attraction this way: “Her body language is very friendly. Her voice, her tone was really nice. Those things were attractive. Was it love at first sight? I don’t know. For me that’s difficult to begin with.”
Vani, though, gave a straight-up, “No,” when I asked her if she was attracted to José. “He’s not usually my type of guy,” she said. She is also looking for a partner who shares her Jewish faith, and José is culturally Catholic.
If they didn’t exactly make a love connection, Vani and José’s commonalities at least facilitated a warm conversational rapport. Vani, who was born in Argentina and moved to the United States at age 17, was delighted to learn she’d been matched with a fellow Spanish speaker: José was born in Peru and moved to the States at age 5.
“I felt so much more comfortable knowing he’s Hispanic because it’s my culture and my background,” she said.
José, meanwhile, worried that his Spanish was rusty. Not five minutes in, it was clear they’d be spending the entire date speaking his native language. “I consider myself fluent in Spanish, but I went to school all my life in the United States, so it’s hard for me to be as witty and colloquial as I am in English in Spanish,” José explained.
Vani, though, reported that José’s Spanish was perfect. Moreover, not only was he a fine conversationalist, he was a “great listener.” “I talk a lot usually, but he was supporting the talk,” Vani recalled. “It wasn’t just smile and nod. He kept asking questions and he seemed interested.”
She ordered lobster risotto; he had steak. She drank a strawberry cocktail, and he had three Old Fashioneds, which gave Vani pause (“He just kept ordering alcohol. I was like, Oh, crap”) until she realized he could hold his liquor.
They talked in detail about the experience of being Latino in the United States. “Finding friends who had the same background but also being in spaces where you were the only Latino in the room was something we talked about at length,” José said.
“I only have two other friends here in the D.C. area that have those similar experiences of mine, but having someone that I completely don’t know? It felt really cool,” said Vani.
At the end of the evening, he waited with her for her Uber, and when it arrived, they hugged and kissed on the cheek (in a manner that José attributed more to their shared Latin American culture than anything else) and departed.
Neither has ruled out the prospect of seeing each other again ... or possible romantic developments. “People are more comfortable on a second date, and this time around we wouldn’t have the looming interview,” reasoned José. “Maybe a second date would be more romantic.”
José: 4 [out of 5]. Very pleasant, very nice, very friendly and genuine conversation.
Vani: 4.5. It was so nice. He’s a really great guy.
No further contact.