“This isn’t going to go well. Want to put some money on it? No chance.”
“Ah, man! Does one seem way more attractive than the other to you?”
“I dunno. I see her ink. He looks square — typical D.C. I’m betting she’s too edgy for him.”
This is a real exchange between my editor and me about pairing Lydia Thompson and Mathew Goldstein. (My editor eventually overruled me, saying she had “high hopes” for them.) My gut reaction was based solely on a quick glance at their photos. In one of Lydia’s pictures, I could see the crest of what appeared to be a large tattoo stretching down her right arm. She has both her nostril and her septum pierced. Mathew wore a button-down shirt in one photo and a suit and tie in another. Before you get to work on the hate email, yes, I cop to being superficial. Yes, I admit to judging proverbial books by their covers. That said, if my editor had just taken the bet, I’d have a few extra dollars in my pocket.
Mathew showed up at Cedar downtown to find Lydia there waiting. He immediately noticed the 24-year-old photographer’s tattoo and nose rings and the spacers in her ears. As I predicted, he wasn’t so into it. “I’m not gonna lie,” Mathew said, “I probably wouldn’t walk up to her at a bar.” But then Mathew, who is also 24 and works in communications for a health-care advocacy group, had a second thought. He wondered to himself: “Is this just me being shallow? Is this the universe trying to tell me that it’s what’s inside that counts?” He decided to meet Lydia with an open mind.
The moment Lydia saw Mathew she said she knew “he’s not my type.” She described him as “a typical D.C. career guy.” “I’m used to going on dates with guys with tattoos and piercings — a little more edgy.”
However, Lydia, who has been vegetarian for nine years, was excited by the restaurant’s extensive vegan menu. She ordered the tempeh with risotto. Mathew tried to be respectful of her dietary concerns. According to Lydia, he asked more than once: “Do you care if I order something with meat?” “I was like, seriously, just order what you want.” He settled on beef tenderloin.
As a photographer, Lydia prides herself on her ability to form intimate connections with her subjects. “Spending time in people’s homes can be really invasive,” she said. Mathew works at a nonprofit where communication is just as essential. He told me, “I can talk to most people about anything.” So they were both committed to keeping the conversation going despite having virtually nothing in common. He wanted to talk basketball — she didn’t. She likes rom-coms and mob movies — he doesn’t. She didn’t know the rapper T.I. — he can’t even remember the name of her favorite musician. Lydia recalls that they spent the majority of the meal “throwing topics at each other.”
Finally, baffled, they pulled up copies of their initial Date Lab applications to see what the matchmakers at The Washington Post could have possibly thought would make them compatible. They went through the questions one by one and came up with nothing, save this: To the question, “When are you happiest?” Lydia answered, “Around people I love,” and Mathew responded, “When my plane lands at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport,” where, presumably, the people he loves await him. “In that sense, I’m compatible with half the country,” Mathew told me.
All that said, the date lasted about 2½ hours. That’s long. I put it to Mathew that maybe that all adds up to some version of compatibility that has less to do with specific things in common and more to do with rapport. (If I wasn’t going to make any money being right, I figured I’d see if I could salvage Date Lab’s credibility.) Mathew conceded my broader point, admitting, “If it works, it works.” But this was not one of those cases. “If we went on a second date,” he said, “I don’t know what we’d talk about.” They left Cedar and walked to the Metro. “At the end of a date,” Lydia told me, “someone typically, awkwardly says, ‘Let’s do this again sometime.’ ” She remembered that instead, Mathew said, “I guess we’ll read about this in the paper.” Lydia thought that was hilarious — and was relieved.
Lydia: 3.5 [out of 5]. But that half point was because I really loved the food.
Mathew: 3. It wasn’t a bad time.
No further contact.