When you spend your free time swinging on a trapeze, going out with a stranger picked for you by The Washington Post isn't all that weird or scary; it's just a different kind of adventure.

Which is why 30-year-old Julia Quigley, who coaches circus classes, trapeze and partner balancing as a hobby (in her day job, she’s a proposal manager for a federal contractor), had no expectations for her Date Lab outing with Luis Arreola. She just did her usual get-ready-for-a-date stuff. “I have a playlist on Spotify called ‘Feeling Myself,’ ” she said, “with all the fierce female pop stars.”

Julia, a military kid who moved around a lot but grew up mostly in the D.C. area, spent much of her 20s in back-to-back relationships. This year she decided to do “lots of things that you should only do when you’re single.” Like Date Lab.

Luis, 30, has also been off the market for a while because of a long stint in France for graduate school. “I’ve been traveling for so long that I haven’t thought about [dating],” he said.

The El Paso native settled in the D.C. area last year for a job as an international program specialist with the federal government. He went into the date with low to no expectations. He really just wanted to meet new people in his new city.

Luis arrived early at Ana at District Winery in Navy Yard. Low expectations aside, he was nervous. After his Uber driver dropped him off, he walked around the neighborhood a little, then ordered a bourbon to sip at the restaurant’s bar while waiting for Julia.

Because she lived nearby, Julia walked to Ana after making a last-minute wardrobe change. “I didn’t take into account that it was unseasonably cold,” she said about her original ensemble.

The first few minutes after they met were a little weird because they had to take the required Date Lab photos. But once they got a good look at each other, they were pleased.

“I was really relieved that he was attractive,” Julia said. She also noticed that Luis was dressed well, something else she liked. Luis’s first impression? “Oh my gosh!”

They settled in at their table and checked out the menu, and Julia helped Luis order the house version of an Old-Fashioned. “I took her advice on the cocktails because I’m not really a cocktail man,” Luis said. “She knows her cocktails.”

Julia is vegetarian and Luis is not, but he had no problem choosing dishes that she could enjoy, too, such as fried Brussels sprouts with honey, and ricotta gnudi with chanterelle mushrooms and corn cream. She thought this was kind of him. Julia also observed that Luis asked their waitress her name, remembered it and thanked her at the end of the night. Julia said: “You can tell the quality of a person based on how they treat people who are subordinate to them.”

Once the ordering was done, they had a chance to talk and ask each other some questions, something Julia described as “comfortable and kind of light.” They swapped stories about their travels (she had recently been to Korea and Japan, he had just returned from Cancun) and shared details about their passions, hobbies and careers. They also talked about cultural differences.

“He’s Latino and he has spent a lot of time in Mexico,” Julia said. They discussed norms for masculinity in Mexican culture and how Luis has tried to counter that in himself. The conversation naturally segued to U.S.-Mexico border politics and how that affects Luis and his family, who live on the border.

“It was fun to get to know her,” Luis said. “We’re both pretty open about who we are; that was fantastic, that was great. The hardest part sometimes is people tend to cover who they are, so it was amazing.”

The restaurant was closing, so Luis and Julia walked to the nearby brewery Bluejacket for another drink. Then, they exchanged numbers. “We were like, we are the [Date Lab] exception! We actually do want to see each other again,” Julia said.

Luis seemed confident about a second date: “We’re going to see each other again, take it slowly and see what happens.”

Rate the date

Luis: 10 [out of 5].

Julia: 5!


No second date. Julia said: “I guess in the end, neither of us was that into the other.”

Tanya Ballard Brown is a stand-up comedian and an editor for NPR.

Please join us for our annual Date Lab Happy Hour from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Eighth and G streets NW.