Date Lab: Avoiding the dreaded ‘What do you do?’ question

His gregariousness kept the 27-year-old dating fairly frequently in the Before Times, but Shannon admits that pandemic sheltering-in-place gave him a chance to reflect on what he wanted romantically. “Do I want a partner or am I cool by myself? It’s been kind of nice for me to figure out more specifically what I want,” he says. “Long-term I definitely want a partner and a companion for sure, but you know dating is a numbers game and you gotta pick through the weeds.”

Dating hasn’t been as frequent or as easy for Mike Zell. “I’m a person who loves sleep, and if I don’t get sleep I do not do well the next day. So I am usually in bed by 8 p.m. because I am up at 4:45 a.m.,” he explains. “People don’t really like that during the week I won’t do dates and go out later. I can’t do that, I’m sorry. I’m a weekend person.”

Mike also says the dating culture in this area — the 31-year-old is a born-and-bred Virginian — is problematic because “people are uptight and a little shallow and self-centered,” so he purposely avoids asking the dreaded “What do you do?” when he meets people. “I don’t want there to be some expectation or them to worry about what they do or feel like they have to divulge or feel they need to impress,” he says. “I don’t want that to be a deciding factor around who I am.”

Mike, who does IT support for military VIPs, would like to have a long-term monogamous relationship and applied for Date Lab after a friend who applied and was matched talked him into trying it too. “I was like: My dating life is nonexistent and the apps don’t work for me, so, sure, why not?” he says. “I went online, filled out the application and then I completely forgot I did it until I got the random email.”

To be mindful of covid-19 concerns — and Mike’s weekday witching hour — the two settled on a virtual date with dinner delivered to each of them ahead of time. When they signed on, Shannon’s first thought was “Okay, this is not what I usually go for, but stay open. Don’t let that be a determining factor. I was channeling ‘Love Is Blind.’ ”

Mike, on the other hand, thought Shannon was nice-looking and liked that they didn’t go straight into the standard D.C. date questions of “who do you know, what do you do, how much do you make.”

Then they started chatting. And chatting and chatting and chatting. For two hours. “We talked about how we both studied abroad in Europe, talked about music, shows we were watching,” Mike says. “We discussed movies and then we got on TikTok and Vine and all that jazz. It felt like a date, but it also felt more like a Skype call, like seeing my friends in Europe as opposed to a formal date. But weirdly I still felt nervous — ‘Oh, I haven’t done this in a while, oooo, help me.’ ”

Luckily Shannon says he had no problem taking the lead in the conversation. “The first hour was, I think, really him, like, warming up. In the second hour you kind of see a little more personality coming through,” he says. “I think it was one of those things that was like there was never any lull in the conversation, but it was more or less like he would say something and I would try to relate to it.”

The two wrapped up the date by exchanging contact information, and Shannon is open to a second, in-person date to gauge chemistry. “I’m a firm believer in ‘Try everything twice.’ The first time it can always be awkward, so if he reached out and was like ‘Hey, let’s have drinks,’ I would be down for that because I think in person maybe things could be different,” Shannon says. But he was leaving the ball in Mike’s court. Mike told me he would definitely text about getting together over the weekend.

Rate the date

Shannon: 2.75 [out of 5].

Mike: 3.9.


The two did text back and forth some, but there was no second date.

Tanya Ballard Brown is a stand-up comedian and an editor at NPR.