To be honest, I was worried about Sam Pitcavage. Sure, the 25-year-old had high cheekbones, piercing eyes and a thick coif of black hair. But the words “David Foster Wallace” appeared twice in his Date Lab application, including once as an adjective to describe himself. (Other adjectives: “cynical,” “clever,” “charming.”) He misstated the title of his favorite book (Joan Didion’s 1968 essay collection is called “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” not slouching “on” it). Asked to elaborate on his non-vegetarian diet, he wrote, “I’m all about the T-bone.”

Sam later explained he filled out the application with friends at a rooftop party on the Fourth of July, and some of his answers may not have been as clever or charming as they seemed after a few Coors Lights. So, yes, he did consider his dream date to be a snarky coffee-shop girl who was “popular on Instagram without really trying.” But, no, it wasn’t really a dealbreaker if “she doesn’t know who David Foster Wallace is.”

Which is good, because Casey Gergen, 25, loves to read, but her literary tastes run to historical fiction. She isn’t popular on Instagram without really trying, because she’s not on Instagram. She also didn’t use the word “waifish” to describe her ideal man (as Sam had described himself ... twice). Still, Casey did say she liked athletic guys who aren’t too much taller than her — and Sam qualifies on both counts.

We sent them to the Smith, an upscale American eatery on U Street NW. Casey found Sam at the bar, drinking a cocktail he had ordered because he liked the name: Sam’s Rum Punch. Casey noticed a couple of things about Sam right away: First of all, he had a fanny pack. Second, he was cute, despite said fanny pack. She, too, made a strong first impression. “She was very, very attractive,” said Sam, “not only in how she looks, but she just had a good aura, as one might say.”

They sat down and ordered burrata with tomatoes on ciabatta bread, and then pizza, which they realized was redundant, which made them laugh. Sam, a cyclist, remarked on Casey’s earrings, which were shaped like bicycles. Casey remarked on Sam’s fanny pack, and he explained that it was his solution to the problem of biking in the swampy summer heat with a wallet and keys stuffed in the pockets of his skinny jeans.

She had a sunny personality, and Sam was charmed in spite of himself. Casey did not fit the mold of the dark-humored, Instagram-famous barista of his dreams. Her résumé noted several leadership positions in the fields of pep and positivity: captain of her high school cheerleading squad, president of her college sorority. “I think in our hearts we all identify with Taylor Swift,” said Sam, “when she says, ‘She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers.’ ” He thinks of himself as a bleachers guy.

For Casey, Sam checked a few boxes: He was active, he was into food, he wasn’t too tall. But there were some notable contrasts, too: “He was asking, ‘What about your high school angst?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t really have any angst.’ ”

Despite their differences, they enjoyed each other’s company. Sam told Casey about his forays into gardening, which he called “amateur horticulture.” Casey told Sam about her experiments with homemade pizza. When Sam asked what role she plays in her group of friends, Casey was impressed by how unusual the question was. She told him she was the “instigator,” the one who pushes everyone to go out and do the thing they’re talking about instead of just sitting around and talking about it.

After dinner, they grabbed soft-serve ice cream at McDonald’s, hopped on a pair of Capital Bikeshare bikes and headed east toward Bloomingdale. They ended up at Showtime Lounge, a dive bar. Casey instigated tequila shots. “At this point,” she said, “we’re both thinking this is already an absurd situation to be in, so like, we’re just going to lean into the absurdity.”

They wandered back to U Street together sometime before midnight. Sam had forgotten his phone at work, so he dictated his number while Casey typed. She sent him a Bitmoji of her face floating in the yolk of a fried egg. Like their date, it was both playful and romantically ambiguous.

“I found myself wondering if I was feeling genuine flirtation, or if it’s just two people who are really compatible as ‘just friends,’ ” said Sam. “And I wasn’t sure what the answer to that was.”

Rate the date

Sam: 4.5 [out of 5].

Casey: 4.5.


Sam and Casey have hung out a few times since, but they’re still working on that answer.

Steve Kolowich is a senior reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education.