On the night of her Date Lab date, Sara Mitchell put on jewelry and makeup for the first time in a month. She replaced the workout clothes she was wearing just 15 minutes before her date with a dress. Away went her work computer, out came her personal one. And that was that. Efficient time management: a rare perk of quarantine living.

When Sara, 30, clicked on the link to her Zoom date, Phil Mayer, 36, was staring back at her. It was relief at first sight.

“We both looked at each other and were like, ‘Okay. Baseline: They’re attractive enough that this isn’t a downer,’ ” recalled Sara. Indeed, Phil confirmed that he found Sara cute. Sara said that Phil’s brown jacket and the moody lighting of his apartment recalled “Dead Poets Society,” only it turns out he teaches math, not English.

When they signed up for Date Lab, neither Sara nor Phil had any idea they’d be spending their date staring at a screen. Yet, like everyone trying to get through this pandemic, they decided to make the best of their situation. It worked.

This is particularly impressive when the roadblocks to dating normalcy are taken into account. Though they both ordered delivery on The Post’s dime (she from Thai Eatery, he from the Georgian restaurant Supra), neither ate much. It was early (their date started at 5), but also, as Phil explained, “It seems like the rule about webcams is: Don’t eat.” Additionally, their WiFi connections threatened their interpersonal one. “Both of our Internets were getting spotty, so there were moments when I was talking and his face was not in sync with real time,” Sara explained. “You don’t have their eyes getting wider or them nodding [in response]. You’re just sort of talking.” Also, in a post-date conversation with her mother, Sara realized she had no idea how tall Phil is. (When I told her that he said he’s 6 feet tall on his application, Sara responded, “That’ll make my mom happy.”)

Rolling with it, they talked for nearly two hours regardless. Sara noted that the pandemic was a good icebreaker. “We had an idea of our jobs and how they work and what our living situation is and do we have family nearby,” she said. After all, we’re all in this together … separately. Or whatever. It soon became clear that they have a lot in common: He was raised in Southern California, and she spent time there in her 20s. They’re both veterans of the restaurant industry. They both did editing in college. “It’s not that our childhoods and careers are the same, but they have a slant rhyme to them,” Sara said. She works as a manager of a progressive political action committee and was relieved that they didn’t spend much time discussing her work. “It was nice that for two hours I was talking about ‘Aladdin’ and past jobs and things that got me here versus my day-to-day, which is the only part of my day-to-day now,” she said.

Phil also used the unique setup to his advantage. He had a whiteboard nearby where he’d listed potential discussion topics in the event that he ran out of things to talk about (they included: teaching, commenters’ evisceration of past Date Lab subjects, and the things that he misses doing in lockdown). He also shared his computer screen to show Sara a few PowerPoint presentations of fun facts, which Phil uses at the start of every class to incentivize punctuality. He calls the series Mr. Mayer’s Cool Thing of the Day, and his students love them. Sara was into what he showed her, mini-lessons centered on the ravens at the Tower of London and Soviet vending machines.

“It’s been interesting to navigate my feelings when I’m sight unseen with a person and I’m drinking water,” she told me. “And so I talked to him about this. I said, ‘Of all the dates I’ve been on in D.C., this is the most chemistry I felt.’ ” (Sara grew up in Northern Virginia and moved back to the area last year.) “He was like, ‘I’m really glad,’ which made me feel like he wanted that to be my answer.”

Phil confirmed he felt the (virtual) chemistry as well. “We were interested in everything the other was saying, or that’s the vibe I got,” he said.

So Date Lab actually worked but ... now what? Sara is unsure what an ongoing connection will look like in the age of social distancing. “If it ends up being that you’re really into someone and you have to wait two months, okay,” she said. “But if you have to wait six months, that feels like a very different level.”

But then again, Sara reasoned, “What else do we have to do?”

“Most people are significantly less busy these days,” added Phil, poised to continue using the limitations of quarantine dating to his advantage.

Rate the date

Sara: 4 [out of 5].

Phil: 4.5.


The pair had a long phone call and another virtual date but decided they were not a match.