Brandon Millman, 36, is a news-radio writer who moved to the D.C. region from West Virginia four years ago. Back home, he said, he didn't have a lot of luck dating. "I was far more introverted back then," he said. "Coming to D.C. has been refreshing. Changing latitude helped change my attitude."
Still, as any D.C. single knows, dating here is not easy either. He told me that a Tinder date once canceled on him at the last minute because “she was having second thoughts on how I looked in my profile pictures.”
In the case of Northern Virginia resident Kelsey Coles, 29, Date Lab was her reward for winning Story District’s “Worst Date Ever” storytelling contest earlier this year. (I’m a senior storytelling trainer for Story District.) Her tale: What started out as jokingly “trolling” someone on an app turned into her developing a great connection with a man through witty texts and funny phone conversations over several months. Due to the fact that he lived far away and her crazy work schedule, she never expected to meet him. But he surprised her by driving five hours to Washington for an impromptu date — and left within 15 minutes. Recalled Kelsey: “He thought I was too ugly to keep talking to” — even though they had previously FaceTimed.
Kelsey, who works at a talent agency, is a foodie and a hardcore stand-up comedy aficionado, so a killer sense of humor is nonnegotiable. She told me: “I like it when I can riff with someone. Joking chemistry is important.”
We sent the daters to Woodward Table, near the White House, which serves contemporary American cuisine. “This restaurant was much nicer than the hole-in-the-wall places that I usually go to with my friends,” Kelsey said.
I had thought Brandon might be anxious or reserved while Kelsey would be at ease. But instead, Kelsey admitted, “About 10 minutes before the date I started to get nervous.” During their obligatory Date Lab photo session Brandon “was really into it,” she recalled, while she “was just staring blankly.”
Brandon’s first impression of Kelsey: “Beautiful and funny — what more could I ask for?”
Kelsey, meanwhile, thought Brandon was “super friendly. ... He has the energy of a person in an improv troupe.” Brandon was flattered. “The first thing she said to me was, ‘Do you do improv? You have that improv feeling about you.’ I thought, ‘Wow! That’s one of the best starts to a date I’ve ever had.’ ”
Once they sat down, “there was a good back-and-forth ... about our experiences in radio,” said Kelsey, who had worked in radio during college. Brandon said: “We bantered all night. I thought it was fantastic. We rolled from one subject to the next.” He found her passion for comedy refreshing: “Finally someone in this town who wasn’t obsessed with politics or waist-deep in it every day.”
Things seemed to be going smoothly until it was time to order dinner. Kelsey told me, “I was trying to persuade Brandon to go all-out” on the Post dinner budget because she wanted to try everything on the menu, but she said he wasn’t interested. “It was a little disappointing. I just wanted him to order more food!” She did persuade him to get an appetizer of crawfish hush puppies, while she noshed on gnocchi. “I ate all of mine and he barely touched his. I was a little annoyed because I didn’t want to be the ‘fat one.’ ”
Brandon’s mind was not on the meal. “We lost track of the time,” he said. “Once the food did arrive, we just picked at it. It was the most natural conversation I’ve had with a stranger in a long time.”
However, the clock was definitely ticking for Kelsey. “I prefer short first dates, but this lasted three hours,” she said. “If he had eaten quicker, this would have been a normal-length date. He is very chatty, and I’m like, ‘Hey, buddy, hurry up.’ ” She said the conversation “felt lopsided” because she “was asking more of the questions. ... He did the vast majority of the talking the last two-thirds of the date.”
Even though she felt the date was going long, it did not deter her from her final goal: a dessert of cardamom creme brulee for her and apple pie for him. “I had to push him into dessert as well,” Kelsey said. “And then I felt I had to apologize for pushing him to eat more.”
They left the restaurant, and after a quick hug and exchange of numbers, they went in opposite directions toward the Metro. Brandon texted Kelsey later to make sure she got home okay and to tell her he had a good time. Kelsey said, “It was sweet, but I was surprised. I had a hard time telling if he was having fun.”
Brandon told me he texted her again a few days later to ask if she’d like to go out the following weekend, but he got no response. When I asked Kelsey about that, she said, “I usually think it’s okay to ghost someone after one date.”
Kelsey: 3.5 [out of 5]. “He was friendly, but there was no connection. And he didn’t eat enough food.”
Brandon: 4. “Her bubbly personality, the ease of conversation and laughter was free-flowing. I don’t think I could have asked for more from this particular experience — aside from a text back to say she’s not interested.”
No further contact.