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Date Lab: He put his number in her phone. It was one digit off.

Stacy Fleming is 28 and a government contractor. She is seeking someone who is slim and fit, has good style and thick hair and is the “life of the party.” Ethan Hovanic is 27 and works in medical sales. He is looking for someone who is “athletic and Christian, has blue eyes and “looks like Selena Gomez.” (Daniele Seiss)

You don’t often hear people referring to their Date Lab outings as “normal.” By “you,” I mean me — in the dozens of interviews spanning the years that I’ve written for this column, only about three people have called their dates “normal” (per a search of my mostly complete transcripts). You (or at least, again, “I”) might say that it is, in fact, abnormal to describe your time meeting someone completely blind while knowing that anything you say can and will be printed in The Washington Post as “normal.”

“It was just … normal,” said Ethan Hovanic, 27, of his meal at Farmers & Distillers in Mount Vernon Square with 28-year-old Stacy Fleming. Her assessment that she arrived at independently: “It was kind of normal, maybe?”

The upside of this date turning out to be conventional is that Ethan and Stacy had low expectations going into it. Both expressed if-it-happens-it-happens attitudes toward finding a romantic partner, to the extent that they have ditched dating apps, at least for the time being. Ethan explained that apps are a time suck, while Stacy is simply not a fan of first dates.

Unfortunately for her, this one had some of the markings of a “classic first date,” at least according to Ethan. He said their conversation, which kicked off around 5:30 p.m., was standard meet-and-greet fare: “Nothing deep, nothing political, nothing religious, nothing philosophical.” If that sounds underwhelming, well, consider this faint praise Ethan gave as an overall assessment: “I wasn’t sitting there looking at my watch for 7 o’clock to roll around.”

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“We talked a lot about the whats — what your hobbies are, what your job is, what you do after work — and not much about the whos,” elaborated Stacy, a government contractor. “We didn’t really talk about what we’re looking for. We didn’t talk about dealbreakers. We didn’t talk about the who-makes-us-who [we are] qualities of ourselves. We kept it very middle-of-the-road.”

At least they ordered with panache. She nursed two margaritas, and he had two whiskey drinks (one of them being “essentially a piña colada but with bourbon”). She ate lamb, he had Farmers & Distillers’ riff on chicken and waffles: Southern Fried Chicken & Glazed Donut. The tone of their discussion was not particularly funny, nor serious nor flirtatious nor romantic. It just was, apparently!

“There wasn’t this instant spark or electric chemistry or anything,” said Ethan, who works in medical sales. However: “There was nothing said or done that was like, ‘Ooh, that’s a red flag,’ ” he continued. “She was very sweet. I just don’t think the click was there.” It almost sounds like if there had been a red flag, someone might have passed out from excitement brought on by the flash of color.

Stacy was willing to give Ethan another try, if only because she found him “visually attractive” and doesn’t put much credence in the defining authority of a first date. “If you give people the opportunity to go on a second or third date, sometimes you’ll see a totally different side of them, whether it’s good or bad,” she said, sensibly. So she asked to exchange numbers and passed him her phone to put his number in. She then texted him her name so he’d have her number.

After about two hours, they wrapped the date with a hug goodbye and then: no word from Ethan. Later that night, Stacy texted him to ask if he got home okay. Still no word. “That was my biggest turnoff,” she said. “I was walking home, it was a little rainy. If you feel any type of human decency, then you at least make sure someone got back, even if you don’t plan on seeing them again.”

Date Lab: Their goodbye was one big miscommunication

Ethan’s side of the story during his interview went like this: “She didn’t shoot me a text with her name or give me a call, so I didn’t actually have her number. And I realized that after the fact, like, ‘Oh, whoops.’ ” But she did, Ethan! She did! “Oh wow, whoops,” he said (again) upon learning that Stacy had attempted to follow up. “Maybe I gave her the wrong number. That would be unfortunate.” He did and it is. The number Ethan gave Stacy was actually one digit off from his actual number, which Stacy confirmed after Ethan’s interview. She asked us to pass on her number, “so then the ball is in his court.”

“Now I’m embarrassed,” he said. “I feel bad. It really wasn’t intentional. I don’t want this to come across as like, ‘He gave her the wrong number because he didn’t want to see her again.’ It’s not that at all.”

And yet, Ethan didn’t want to see Stacy again. He called her “a very pretty girl” and “friendly” in his interview, but no spark is no spark. This raises the question: If one mistakenly enters a wrong number into the phone of someone they don’t plan on staying in touch with, is it actually so wrong in the bigger scheme of things?

Rate the date

Stacy: 4 [out of 5].

Ethan: 3.5.


Ethan texted Stacy to apologize, and she said he seemed sincere about mistakenly giving her the wrong number. However, the conversation did not continue beyond that.

Rich Juzwiak is a writer in New York.

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