Charlie Vinopal doesn't want Washington Post readers to think he's, like, some crazy mama's boy — although it was his mother who persuaded him to sign up for Date Lab. The 23-year-old was back home in Illinois for Thanksgiving when she told him about it; she reads this column regularly. "I guess she's a fan of mine," he told me. "She thought I'd be a good catch." Although he quickly added, "I wasn't looking for advice from my mother." Charlie had come out of his longest-ever relationship — a year — around the end of 2016 and was still feeling a little skittish about diving back into dating. Nevertheless, he filled out the application while watching "Monday Night Football" with his family and was matched up with a date within two days. His mom was right; I suppose there's a high demand for "super white" — his words, not mine — 20-something men with Midwestern values.
Shelbie Bostedt's reason for signing up with Date Lab was less traditional and more meta. "I thought it would be a quirky story to put in my Bumble profile," she explained. I guess it couldn't be worse than another bathroom selfie or one of those pictures of women randomly posing with a handful of children. Shelbie, 24, is a native of Chicago and had moved to the District just a couple of months ago to work as a journalist. She filled out her Date Lab questionnaire in the newsroom with her co-workers.
Charlie and Shelbie agreed to go out the first week in December. Shelbie was the first to arrive at Bistro Bistro, a colorful French restaurant near Dupont Circle. She ordered a glass of wine to calm her nerves. "I've never been on a blind date before," she said. "Usually, I'm able to Facebook-stalk everyone."
Shelbie wasn't the only one out of their element. Despite her enthusiasm, Charlie's mom had apparently not described this process in detail. Charlie was a bit put off by the formal logistics of the date — namely, sitting down to eat with silverware and tablecloths and whatnot. "A dinner date is not something I've done ever," he said. "But it was a free meal, so I'm not going to say no to that." Oh, millennials!
When they met, Charlie immediately noticed the postage-stamp-sized tattoo on Shelbie's wrist — a blue-and-green musical note that was, for Charlie, a red flag. He likes women who are "kind of normal — not too edgy with piercings all over or tattoos." He told me that he'd be willing to make an exception under the right circumstances, but it wasn't only Shelbie's ink that bothered Charlie. He likes to talk about politics and sports on dates, but "not anything that gets too personal." Shelbie went there almost immediately. "She talked a lot about her dog, her family, her upbringing, her path to D.C.," said Charlie. "I learned a lot about her. She had a lot to say. I wasn't going to tell her to stop talking. I thought that would be kind of rude." There go those Midwestern values.
I obviously talked to Shelbie for this column and found her to be terribly charming and funny. But she admitted that she gets a little extra chatty when she's nervous — and she's nervous a lot. "I have terrible stage fright in every area of my life," she told me. "I get nervous calling customer service lines." See? Funny.
"My thought process was: I don't know anything about him, but I know about me." So she talked about her family, her work, how much she hates calamari, which she ordered anyway, and Ginger, her poodle mix who was staying with co-workers that night. Charlie said he found Shelbie interesting and multilayered, but he was dismayed by how much she was willing to share. Also, he felt like she didn't give him the guidance he needed during the conversation. "She'd say, 'Tell me about you,' but wouldn't give me any specifics to talk about." Shelbie said it turned her off that Charlie didn't seem to know what he wanted to do with his life.
Even though Charlie thoughtfully picked the calamari out of Shelbie's pasta like a character from a rom-com, the two were not a very good match. There was ultimately no spark of attraction. Shelbie also told me that, as a journalist and a generally neurotic person, she kept wondering how the date was going to play in print. That's a very good question. I wonder what Charlie's mom will think.
Charlie: 2.5 [out of 5]. "It was not like time was flying."
Shelbie: 3. "We could hang out as friends, but that probably won't happen."
No further contact.