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Date Lab: Ghosts were the surprising subject of the night

Mike Bock is 32 and a writer and editor at a federal agency. His dream date is “a world-renowned archaeologist who reads a lot and is also great with kids.” Dara Duratinsky is 31 and works at a nonprofit think tank. She is interested in “confident goofballs with dad bods or Chris Evans.” (Daniele Seiss)
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Mike Bock, 32, says he knows what he wants: “A really meaningful, long-term relationship.” The only catch: “I haven’t quite found the right person to do that with yet.” In February, just a few days after ending a shortish relationship, he applied to Date Lab. Mike grew up in the D.C. area and has been reading the column forever, so there’s a long-term commitment right off the bat.

He’s hoping to find “a reliable, fun person” he can have a close connection to, including a shared sense of humor. His friends would say he has a type — tall, brunette — but Mike insists that isn’t true. He does have a preference for “nerdier” women, because the writer-editor at a federal agency is, by his own account, “a little bit of a nerd.” He added, “I do find myself drawn to opinionated women.”

We matched Mike with Dara Duratinsky, 31, who confessed that “nothing was going on” in her dating life when she applied. For the past few years she was on a bit of a dating hiatus — she was in grad school and working full time, plus pandemic. When she redownloaded the apps at the end of last year, she explained, “I found nothing really came of conversations. And I’m a huge fan of Date Lab, so I decided to apply.” She’s ready to date in hopes of finding something more serious but considers doing anything social a victory unto itself.

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She’s looking for someone outgoing and funny, who will practice “honesty and transparency about where they’re at and what they’re feeling.” She tends to date people who have jobs “on the giving-back side,” she said, like teachers; she currently works at a nonprofit think tank. And in a perfect world she’d meet a manwho wants to talk about baseball as much as she does.

Dara told a few close friends about her match “because they’re equally as obsessed” with the column. But she picked her outfit on her own: black skinny jeans, a dark orange blouse. She took a Lyft to Lupo Verde at 14th and T streets NW, arriving a few minutes early.

For the big night, Mike deliberated among three shirts; a bright pink, “very loud Hawaiian shirt” was discussed with his roommates, all of whom vetoed it in favor of a blue option with pineapples. “I think I do have a fairly big personality, so I wanted to showcase that,” he said. Then he headed to the date. “I’m embarrassed to say I took a scooter there,” he told me. “I realize it’s kind of dorky … so I try not to do it too often.” (In fact, he parked it a few blocks from the restaurant so he wouldn’t be seen by his date on this cringey mode of transit.)

Date Lab: They were both about 30 minutes late

He beat Dara to the restaurant by a few minutes. “She seemed well put-together,” Mike said, even though they were both “a little giggly and nervous,” by his account. “She gave off a nice vibe straightaway.” Dara thought “he was cute” and “he seemed happy to see me.”

They got an outdoor table and each ordered a vodka cocktail. Trying to avoid asking about work, they aimed to figure out why they were matched, realizing they’d both lived in D.C. since graduating from college. Mike talked about doing improv comedy, which Dara enjoys watching; both of them are into spending weekends exploring the brewery scene. They swapped travel misadventure stories and talked about how they filled their time in quarantine (she got a dog, he bought a backyard grill). For some reason, they started talking about whether they believe in ghosts, not typical first-date fodder, which Dara found charming. “I really enjoyed that part of the conversation. We were both like: I’m skeptical but I’m open.”

Dinner lasted a couple of hours, after which Mike thought they’d be a bit more at ease in a different environment. “Since we’re both pretty big fans of dive bars,” he said, they wound up a few blocks south at Kingfisher, where “we both hit our stride a little more.” They inadvertently walked in on trivia night and sat in on the initial rounds. “She did really well,” Mike said. “It was pretty impressive.” Then Dara needed to get home to her dog. Mike asked for her number, so they swapped contact information and hugged goodbye.

Date Lab: A case of ‘cat person vs. dog person’?

For Dara, the evening was “easy, really easy. And I enjoyed the conversation.” But Mike didn’t feel quite the same way. “It was just sort of more kind of surface-level things,” he said. “I tend to date women who are pretty chatty and extroverted, and Dara seemed like more of a listener.” While Dara didn’t necessarily feel that romantic chemistry, she said, “I don’t usually expect to feel sparks on a first date. I usually look for: Do I enjoy the person? Do we get along? Do I find them interesting? Because [sparks] could come later.”

Even though Mike asked for Dara’s number, he admitted he did it because it was “the perfunctory, nice thing to do” and he was “leaning toward no” on a second date. “When we got to the end of the night, you can tell if the chemistry is there, and it wasn’t there.”

Rate the date

Dara: 5 [out of 5].

Mike: 3.5.


They went on a second date but didn’t pursue things further.

Jessica M. Goldstein is a regular contributor to the magazine and The Post’s Style section.

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