I'll be the first to admit that, when it comes to these Date Lab dates, I want the best for everyone in their love lives, but I don't know these people. A lot of them have careers I don't understand and romantic aspirations I can't relate to. I'm not an experienced relationship guru like Dan Savage or Esther Perel, so I tend not to take a position on the outcome of any date.
But in the case of D.C. residents Sebastien Gasquet and Esther Hudson, I'm going to err on the side of advocacy: Dude, what the heck? Just ask her out on a second date, already.
Sebastien is a 29-year-old program associate at an international development nonprofit group. He's originally from France, but he really likes Italian food. So we sent him to Lupo Verde, an Italian restaurant near U Street NW, for dinner and drinks with Esther, a 27-year-old Texas native and graduate student in philosophy.
Esther found her way to Date Lab when she and a couple of college friends signed up together just for fun. Sebastien also enjoyed the application process: "The questionnaire had some funny questions." But, talking to him, I realized that his participation was more than a lark; Sebastien had something at stake. "The Date Lab thing was the first time in a long time that I'd been on a date," he told me. "It had been close to a year." He'd been traveling a lot, and this part of his life had gotten away from him. He wasn't sure that he was "ready to go looking for a relationship," but he wanted to get back into dating.
I asked about first impressions. "He was a little shorter than I expected," admitted Esther, but she wasn't put off. "He smelled good." Sebastien said that Esther was "definitely attractive."
When it came to small talk, Sebastien was feeling rusty. "One fear I had was I did not want to overtalk and blabber on about myself," he said. As it turns out, it wasn't blabbering on that Sebastien needed to be worried about. He and Esther talked about their backgrounds and careers for a couple of hours over cacio e pepe, a creamy pasta dish he'd previously tried to make himself, fusilli and gelato. But "after we got to the dessert, we were kind of running out of topics," he recalled. "I didn't feel like I was going to be able to sustain the conversation going forward." It shook him. "The longer the pauses got, the more awkward it got." (I talked to Sebastien for a half-hour or so, and, yeah, he can be pretty hesitant.)
Esther noticed the lulls as well, but they didn't bother her so much. Sebastien is so clearly introverted, and she gives him credit for pushing himself. "I appreciate when someone makes an effort," she said. "And I think he was trying, and I was trying." As a grad student, Esther teaches. From standing in front of a class, she learned that sometimes you just have to keep going. "I just keep talking and another idea comes."
And it wasn't all wheel-spinning, idle chatter. Esther, who says she spends a lot of her time thinking about justice, the law and ethical questions, quite liked talking to Sebastien. "He does justice reform in developing countries," she said. "I think that's fascinating. He has an interesting life, an interesting job and interesting hobbies. I think he has plenty to talk about."
"I didn't turn out to be a nervous wreck," Sebastien said, relieved. "The first step toward a relationship is not as intimidating as I remember it to be." He told me their evening was "very enjoyable" despite the breaks in conversation, but he remained wary of the whole dating process. "I don't think I [will] be going on five dates a week," he said. "It's just something that takes a little more effort on my part."
Well, Sebastien, the good news is: You don't have to go on five dates a week. And fortunately, you have a chance to go out with someone who you already know finds you fascinating. Esther said she would take him up on another date, if he asked. She, of course, could ask him out, but she's "traditional," she said, and prefers the guy to take the lead. So how about it, Sebastien? Why not give it another go now that you've shaken some of the dust off?
Sebastien: 4 [out of 5]. "I'd forgotten that dating can be fun."
Esther: 4. "It was a good first date."
A few weeks passed, and Sebastien still had not contacted Esther.