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Date Lab: It’s a miracle he showed up on time

James Kincheloe is 32 and a veterinarian in infectious-disease policy. His dream date is “a humanitarian who is incredibly competent at her profession yet also somewhat of a socialite.” Mattie is 25 and entering graduate school. Her dream date is “a surfer who does the NYT crossword every day, bakes fresh chocolate croissants … and paints on the side.” (Daniele Seiss)
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Editor’s note: Because of privacy and safety concerns, Date Lab allows participants to be identified only by their first names. This Date Lab was updated, retroactively, to remove one of the participant’s last names at their request.

Mattie, 25, applied to Date Lab on a whim last year. Not long after, however, she was accepted into graduate school in Los Angeles, starting this fall. The D.C. native forgot about her application until last month, when we reached out to set her up.

The week prior, Mattie had been traveling in South America but had to cut her travel short to attend a funeral in D.C. “I had a very strange week,” she said. Then she reasoned, “Why not?” Even though she’s traveling for most of the summer and moving soon, she decided to go on the date. “A part of me was like, ‘Why couldn’t it work out?’ It’s like a crazy happenstance that the week that I’m in D.C., I am contacted. So I was like, ‘There’s no harm in seeing how it goes.’ ”

On the day of the date, she sought advice on her outfit from friends. They wanted her to wear a crop top. She went against their advice and landed on a dress with an orange-and-yellow checkered pattern and a yellow sweater with flowers. “Very clashing colors between the dress and the sweater,” she said, “but I think it worked.”

“The more I think about something, the more stressed I get,” she explained, so she limited her prep time to 20 minutes and then left the house to meet her best friend for a drink at a dive bar near the restaurant, Destino, in Northeast Washington. At the bar, they practiced ridiculous dating scenarios that ended in laughter, which helped calm her nerves.

For her match, 32-year-old James Kincheloe, it was a miracle that he even made the date — and wasn’t late. He had spent the day traveling from St. Louis to D.C. A friend picked James up at the airport at 5:30 p.m., drove him home, waited in the car while he changed and then dropped him off at the restaurant at 6:30. James made the most of his time at home. He shaved a little bit, patted his hair down with water to make it look like he “wasn’t just sitting on a plane for a few hours” and picked “a random patterned shirt.” With the hectic schedule, he didn’t have time to feel nervous.

“One of our friends was featured in Date Lab a while ago and we all thought it was funny, and so we all put in applications,” he said of his friend group. “I am also on the dating scene, and it just seemed like it would be fun.”

Mattie arrived moments before James. They laughed at the absurdity of being on a blind date organized by a newspaper. “It was a little awkward,” Mattie said. “I was definitely trying to chat, make a few jokes, trying to suss out the vibe. I found him pretty easy to talk to and joke with.” James immediately felt that Mattie “seemed nice and well put together and smiled easily.”

She noticed that, once seated, James barely glanced at the menu. “I generally request for the server to bring out something random, drink-wise,” he said. The pair decided on a few appetizers, then James set his menu aside and asked the waitress for drink recommendations after every round.

Throughout the evening, the menus “were across the table, both on his side,” Mattie recalled. She wanted to order different drinks but felt obligated to avoid the menu, so she stuck to margaritas. “I could have been more outspoken. That’s on me,” she said.

After James, who is from California, learned that Mattie is traveling most of the summer and then moving to the West Coast, it became “pretty explicit that this can’t really go too many places,” he said. “It really just switched to a fun night out chatting with someone.”

Despite the circumstances, Mattie — who describes herself as “a secret romantic” — was still trying to evaluate potential compatibility. James talked about living in New Orleans, Minnesota and central California. As the conversation continued, Mattie “kept thinking, man, this is not all adding up to being a similar age to me.” That’s when she asked James about his age. At the time of the date, he was 31.

James got the sense that “31 was not necessarily in her age range” — though 25 was within his. Early 30s “is not absurdly old or unthinkable,” Mattie said. “But I really want to date someone at the same place as me. … I’m a step back in my phase of life. To me, it makes us a little bit incompatible.”

They exchanged numbers, and James told her to reach out later in the summer if she wants to talk about her summer travels. They hugged and parted ways. “It was a pleasant conversation over dinner,” James said. “I didn’t get a sense that we had a deep connection or that we were really on the same page.” Mattie relayed a similar opinion. “I was looking for that common ground and I felt like I didn’t find it. He was a really good listener, but I never found something where I felt like we could go back-and-forth.”

Rate the date

Mattie: 3 [out of 5].

James: 3.

Update

No further contact.

Prachi Gupta is a writer in New York.

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