A year into the pandemic — after a series of Zoom dates that led nowhere — 30-year-old Brigitte Thieme-Burdette decided to apply to Date Lab. She had grown up in Virginia reading the column and figured: Why not? “I’m looking for the real deal,” said Brigitte, who lives in Sterling.

Still, she didn’t go into the date expecting to meet her soul mate. “I didn’t really have high expectations. It’s more like throwing spaghetti at the wall,” she said. But she did hope it would be better than some of her previous Zoom dates. “I once had a Zoom date where the guy had his TV on and I could see it flickering in his face,” she said. “I want someone who is here with me and who is going to truly take their time.”

To prepare for this date, she took a shower, styled her hair and makeup, and wore a wine-colored pussybow blouse and black yoga pants. “I made sure I looked especially good, and that I had my lighting right so that I’m not just a whole bag of shadows,” she said. She had ordered tapas from Barcelona Wine Bar in Reston — as many as the Date Lab budget would allow for — and drank seltzer water from her SodaStream. “I went for a couple of things that I normally haven’t ordered, since I’m not paying for it,” she said, including shishito peppers (she found them too spicy) and olive oil cake (she liked).

When her date, Luke Haynes, 33, logged on, Brigitte immediately thought, “Oh, he’s pretty good-looking.” Luke, who lives in Arlington, thought the same of her. “I went into the date pretty apathetic,” he admitted, but when he saw Brigitte, “I immediately got nervous. It was a pretty exciting feeling to get to meet someone brand new for the first time, especially now.”

Despite the mutual attraction, the initial moments were awkward. “It was like, okay, what do we do now?” said Brigitte. She has nailed down a strategy for what makes a successful Zoom date. The key, she said, is to “make it interesting” so that it doesn’t feel like a job interview or business meeting. “There has to be a different kind of effort put in,” she explained. With Luke, she broke the ice with a show-and-tell of her meal. “I started to open up a few of the things and just show him what I got,” said Brigitte.

Luke’s dinner, however, was not nearly as conducive to the icebreaker. He got a burrito from Chipotle. To drink, he had water and bourbon. It later dawned on him that his date might have perceived his dinner selection as a statement about his dating style. “I unfortunately wasn’t taking the date as seriously as I should have,” he said. “I know that if I was on a date with someone, Chipotle would not be my first restaurant.” But Brigitte was amused. “I had fun ragging on him for that,” she said. After her show-and-tell, he jokingly did a similar thing with his burrito.

From there, the conversation flowed smoothly. Well, mostly. “His Internet connection was a little funky,” Brigitte recalled, “so his image was a little bit lagging and a little bit choppy. It kind of made our rhythm a little off.” There were a few moments when Luke interrupted her or talked for long stretches without engaging her, but Brigitte chalked it up to nerves and the potential lag time in their Internet connection.

Technical issues aside, the two quickly found that they shared a background in theater and acting — for Brigitte, that’s not always a plus. “I don’t really date other actors,” she admitted, noting that in the past, boyfriends who share her profession have been competitive or condescending. Despite her wariness of actors, she appreciated that Luke had other interests. “One thing that stood out to me was that he mentioned that he doesn’t want to come home and just talk about acting all the time,” she said. Brigitte teaches acting to children, while Luke works at a nonprofit and maintains theater as a hobby.

Like Brigitte, Luke is looking to date someone with interests beyond their job. “She’s a pretty well-rounded individual, and I think I am, too,” he said. Both also focus on healthful eating and are active: Luke runs regularly, while Brigitte enjoys yoga and biking.

“It felt like time moved by so quickly,” Luke said. “It felt like the conversation just went and went and went.” After two hours, they decided to call it a night, but stayed on for 20 minutes more, chatting and taking screenshots in various poses. That’s when Luke gave Brigitte his phone number, and she texted him as they chatted. “It was a pretty awesome date,” Luke said.

But for Brigitte, something felt a little off. Was it a function of the technology and the glitchy Internet? Or was something else amiss? While they had enough in common, “I didn’t walk away from the date feeling like I was comfortable being my full self,” she said.

Still, when Luke texted her the next day and asked her out again — this time for an in-person date — she said yes. “I can only get so much information from a Zoom date,” said Brigitte. She wanted to find out, sooner rather than later, whether there might be a spark between them. “I saw the possibility from the first.”

Rate the date

Luke: 4.5 [out of 5].

Brigitte: 3.5.


Luke and Brigitte went on a second date the same week but ultimately decided to part ways.

Prachi Gupta is a writer in New York.