Olivia Elder is open to finding love in unexpected places. After all, her parents met on a blind date and got engaged six months later. She's even applied to be on a few dating shows. In her Date Lab profile, she said she was ideally looking for a "well-traveled nonprofit lawyer who loves fitness and the outdoors," or a "B-list rapper who loves my career and independence almost as much as he loves pontificating about his craft."

We didn’t have any traveling nonprofit lawyers or B-list rappers in our mix, but we did have someone who seemed promising: Chima Ndukwe, a medical student at Howard University. Like Olivia, who works in criminal justice reform advocacy, he seemed passionate and engaged on social issues. He told me he was looking for “a free-spirited, open person who’s liberal. I can’t really mess with somebody who I know doesn’t share my values.” With a background in theater, speech and comedy, he seemed comfortable being in the spotlight but not cocky or attention-seeking.

There was just one sort of major issue: Chima’s age. He’s 21, she’s 23. In her profile, she wrote that 22 was as young as she wanted to go. But Chima seemed mature for his age, and I didn’t want to hold a few months against him. I asked Olivia to give him a shot.

She spotted Chima immediately at Momofuku in CityCenterDC. “He was young; I could just tell,” she said. Is that all? She had to admit, he looked nice. “His jewelry was better than mine, his outfit was better than mine,” she said.

Chima also liked what he saw. “She was attractive, obviously, and her outfit was very nice and classy, professional,” he said — before clarifying that he really wasn’t trying to judge what kind of person she was based on her clothes, just to point out that he thought she looked good.

“The first thing he said to me was, ‘Oh, I’m so glad you’re black,’ ” Olivia recalled. She has always preferred real talk to small talk and was pleasantly surprised that he went there so soon. They discussed their different backgrounds — “I’m a black American descended from slaves, and he’s Nigerian American” she explained — and their different experiences attending George Washington University, where she went, and Howard. They also talked about their interracial dating experiences.

Chima said: “Even in D.C., which is a very liberal city, there’s still a difference between dating someone black and dealing with people who are either racist but don’t know that they’re racist, or people who think they aren’t racist, are down for the culture, but come off as pandering and microaggressive.” It was the kind of conversation, Olivia said, “that would have been more difficult if one of us were white.”

They split a smoked trout dip, chicken wings and garlic noodles. They each stuck to one drink — a relief to Olivia, who can’t really handle alcohol in anything more than extreme moderation. “He was really funny” about it, she said. “I expected to get bullied — that does happen when I go on dates, really frequently.”

Olivia teased him about his age. At one point, she said she’d never been to a Howard homecoming but always wanted to go; Chima, very casually, mentioned that, no matter what became of their date, she should come along with him and his friends next year.

Before they knew it, 3 1 / 2 hours had gone by. They debated getting dessert, but neither of them wanted any and Olivia had to get ready for a trip the next day. So they decided to call it a night. They got the rest of their food boxed up. “He got my jacket for me, which was nice,” Olivia said. They traded numbers and followed each other on Instagram.

Both of them later said they had a really good time. “She seems like a pretty great person, as far as a person can seem from one conversation,” Chima said. But there was still the age issue. Olivia admitted it’d probably be different if Chima were 23. “I’d set him up with my sister,” she said. “I know that sounds bad, but that’s a good thing! It’s like, you could be in my family.”

Still, Olivia seemed not totally certain what would happen next. “I don’t know how it’s going to be,” she said. “We could definitely, for sure, be friends. We’ll see.”

Rate the date

Olivia: 4 [out of 5].

Chima: 4.5.


A week later, they were still texting but hadn’t made any firm plans.

Marin Cogan is a writer, senior producer and co-host for Pop-Up Magazine.

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.