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Date Lab: The vibe was ‘between friendly and flirty’


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Mark Collins, 53, who has been single for seven years, is wrestling with a dating question: When he’s looking through the apps, “is it just easier to find something you can use to disqualify someone? I think I’m guilty of not pushing out of my comfort zone enough — of looking for the ideal — [and] I was hamstringing myself by doing that.”

Earlier this year, Mark moved to Alexandria from Oahu, Hawaii. “I really thought I had landed in the land of my kindred spirits in the DMV,” he said. But when he started browsing, “I was quite disheartened by my experiences.” Mark isn’t a parent (he self-identifies as the “fun uncle”) and struggled to find potential matches who wanted to talk about something other than their children. So he decided to launch himself outside of that comfort zone and apply to Date Lab.

He’s hoping to find someone “age-appropriate,” which he defines as someone “five-to-seven years younger” than he is (“I really don’t think older would be a good fit for me”). He’s drawn to “women who are independent and an easy laugh.” On the physical front, “I’m probably out-of-my-league picky,” he confessed, describing his preferences: “slim and fit, that’s super important. … I’ve been on dates with women taller than me, and I’m embarrassed to say it but I’m just not comfortable.” (Mark is 5-10.)

We matched Mark with Maggie Buenting, 45, an audiovisual technician who has been in the D.C. area on and off for the past 20 years. She, too, has gone on “numerous crummy dates from online.” A friend who is “a big fan of Date Lab” encouraged her to apply. She’s looking for someone “genuine,” “extroverted” and “down-to-earth.” Being shorter is a dealbreaker for her. (Maggie says she’s not even 5-4 but reports men on apps are really rounding up when they say they’re 5-8.)

When she learned she’d been selected for Date Lab, Maggie looked up the restaurant — Gypsy Kitchen on 14th Street NW — so she could see the vibe and dress accordingly. She went with “pseudo-casual: jeans and a cute spaghetti-strap white eyelet tank … and espadrilles and red lipstick.” She kept her hopes reasonable: All she wanted was “a fun, relaxed night with someone that I [find] attractive.”

Her 30-minute Uber from Bethesda did not have air conditioning, and this was one of D.C.’s very swampy days, so she was “hot and sweating and nervous” on the ride over. She arrived first and treated herself to a glass of wine before Mark showed up, right on time. “First impression: He’s hot,” she said. “He’s very handsome! Very good-looking. And a great smile.” Though this is what she’d been hoping for, it did not set her at ease. “I was more nervous.”

Mark had also felt some nerves when he got that Date Lab email, but he came around, figuring, “What could the real downside be?” He spent the day of the date at work but found time to shave, hit the gym and meditate. He called a buddy with style instincts to vet his outfit and decided on “one of my favorite shirts from Oahu … a comfortable pair of jeans and Vans.”

He drove to the date and found Maggie waiting inside. Though he wasn’t sure if they were “physically a good match” at first glance, “she had a very pretty smile and a really nice energy,” he said. “I was excited to get to know her.” He grabbed a gin cocktail and they settled into a booth for dinner.

Over the next two hours and many plates of tapas, they discussed pop culture — Maggie has worked in music; to her relief, Mark shared her dislike of Coldplay — and some of the celebrities and musicians Maggie has met through her job, which Mark found “really interesting.” Maggie said Mark seemed like someone with “a lot of patience” and “a really good heart.” According to her, the energy “felt somewhere between friendly and flirty.” (“He told me I was very pretty,” she said. “And asked me if I hear that a lot. That made me blush.”)

“I found her wonderful company,” Mark said. “She really pushed me to have a two-way conversation — I tend to be very inquisitive and that can come off as one-sided, and I’m working on it, and she called me on that and pushed me to make it 50-50, and I really respected and appreciated that.”

But Mark said they didn’t have the same views on many subjects. And, he noted, “I didn’t feel a physical connection.”

He offered to drive her home, but Maggie had a feeling that Mark was too new in town to realize just what he’d be signing up for (driving to Bethesda only to turn around and drive to Alexandria), so she declined. They hugged before she got in her Uber but didn’t exchange contact information.

“He did not ask me for my number,” Maggie said, and she didn’t ask him because “I blanked. And I wish I had!”

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

A reminder from the Date Lab team: Our daters volunteer to participate in the column. While we appreciate a lively discussion assessing our matchmaking skills, please follow our community rules and do not comment on someone’s appearance or write a personal attack.


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