After learning that several of her friends were fans of the column, Hibbah Kaileh decided to give Date Lab a shot. Hibbah, 27, is “open to a relationship,” preferably with someone who shares her Arabic cultural background, is close with his family and a great conversationalist. But she isn’t looking to rush into anything. “A nice, casual date, getting to know somebody, sounded like a fun time, and if something more long-term came out of it, great.”
As the evening approached, she grew nervous. A work meeting at the end of the day didn’t help. “I ended up rushing, and that stressed me out,” said Hibbah, who works as a research associate for the government. She quickly showered, did her hair and then texted her friends about outfit options. She landed on black leather leggings, a black top and a green blazer.
One of her roommates offered to drive her to Del Mar, a Spanish restaurant at the Wharf in D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront neighborhood. Together, they debated potential outcomes of the date — from hitting it off to totally bombing — which calmed Hibbah.
She arrived on time. Her date, 32-year-old entrepreneur Mustafa Acikgoz, had gotten there a few minutes minutes early. He, too, “was a little bit anxious.” An hour before the date, he played video games to help him zone out and then changed into a white button-down shirt, black jacket, dress pants and black shoes. He drove to the restaurant.
They broke the ice by making small talk about traffic and whether they’d been to the restaurant before. “He had a kind face,” Hibbah said of her first impression. “She had very nice eyes, of course, but I really saw her beauty when she took her mask off for the photos,” Mustafa said. They ordered bourbon cocktails and shared several tapas.
The tone of the conversation shifted when Mustafa asked Hibbah about her intentions for the date. “I’m looking for a relationship with an end goal of marriage,” he explained to Hibbah. While he did not specify his expectations on his application, Mustafa had hoped to be matched with someone who was looking for the big commitment. “Someone who loves learning as much as I do but also loves physical activities as much as I do,” he told me, and is “respectful and kind.”
“I appreciate that he knows what he wants,” Hibbah said. But “I was slightly taken aback by it … like, this is intense.” Hibbah told him that she doesn’t date much and was just getting back into the dating world. Mustafa then assumed she wasn’t interested in anything serious. He got the impression that “she was really only kind of there for the experience,” he told me, “which kind of killed my whole vibe.”
But Hibbah said that Mustafa misinterpreted what she said during their conversation. “I am looking for something more long-term, but I don’t go into something thinking that this needs to be a long-term relationship. … I don’t casually date.”
The mismatch in expectations (and perceptions of the exchange) cast an awkwardness over the rest of the meal. Moving forward, Mustafa treated the date as “practice” for future dates, an effort to “make the best of the situation.” He added, “I like the fact that she was at least honest and upfront about everything. She was very kind and courteous.”
While Mustafa assumed Hibbah was not interested, however, Hibbah was still sussing out their potential compatibility. “I did not write him off in those first two minutes,” she said. “He was very sweet, very kind to talk to.”
Soon Mustafa launched into a conversation about self-improvement, mentioning that he regularly listens to talks by Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, a person he “looks up to.” “I did not know who that person was,” Hibbah said. She assumed Peterson — a controversial figure known for his social commentary and his opposition to using gender-neutral pronouns — preached kindness. When she looked him up after the date, she found Peterson’s views to be “very political, kind of right-wing.” She told me it’s “a very particular point of view and line of thought that I do not subscribe to, and I was very surprised.”
During their discussion, Mustafa focused on Peterson’s book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” and how he has used it to improve himself. While she valued his sincerity, Hibbah didn’t have much to contribute. “I’m just more of a private person,” she said. Self-improvement “is not something I would share with someone on a first date.”
Mustafa asked Hibbah whom she most admires. She said she looks up to writer Tara Westover and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. They again struggled to find commonalities. “The conversation continued throughout dinner, but it wasn’t really building off of each other,” Hibbah said.
Two hours passed like this, with a few uncomfortable moments of silence. Mustafa said that, while the date didn’t go as he had hoped, “we still had a good time. Towards the end of the date we were really smiling.”
When their server came with the bill — after they had split a white chocolate flan for dessert — Hibbah mentioned she was calling an Uber home. They walked out together, and Hibbah gave Mustafa a hug and said it had been really nice to meet him.
“We didn’t exchange phone numbers, and I kind of just left,” she said.
Rate the date
Hibbah: 2 [out of 5].
No further contact.
Prachi Gupta is a writer in New York.
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