In 2006, The Washington Post accepted applications for a new feature. They didn’t ask for any experience in journalism, graphics or business. They just asked for regular, single Washingtonians up for an adventure. Specifically, a blind date.
Every week, The Washington Post Magazine runs a feature called Date Lab that reports on the results of a blind date matched by magazine staff who sift through the thousands of questionnaire answers submitted by D.C. area adults of all ages. Date Lab editors pair people based off of stated preferences, common interests or anything that strikes their fancy. If you’re selected for a date, you only know two things in advance: your date’s name—just the first name, to preclude any advance Facebook surveillance—and the restaurant at which you will meet. The Post gives Date Labbers a generous allowance for dinner, a disposable camera with which to snap some pictures for the magazine article and a raccoon penis bone for good luck. (Just kidding about the last one. Terrifyingly, though, raccoon penis bones are actually used as good luck charms. In polite society, they are referred to as “Texas toothpicks.” Unfortunately, I am not making this up.)
Sometimes couples hit it off: they talk so much that the waiter has to come back 10 times, the restaurant eventually closes down and they mosey down the street for after-dinner drinks, share a goodnight kiss after walking together to the Metro and both rate the date a five out of five. On the other hand, some dates really suck. One guy figured out that he and his date both liked horses. Despite their equestrian connection, there weren’t any sparks; he said she lacked communication skills and suggested that “she connects better with a horse.” After half an hour, his date excused herself to go to the restroom—and never came back. In the post-date interview, she justified her vanishing act, saying that he “was just completely and totally and 100 percent not anything that I would be interested in.” So much for romance.
After seven years and hundreds of blind dates, Date Lab claims some successes, some failures and three marriages (minus one divorce). Grant Schafer and Megan McKnight were paired by Date Lab in 2009. They enjoyed dinner so much that they grabbed drinks on the W Hotel’s rooftop bar afterwards. The next year, they returned to W’s rooftop—where Schafer proposed to McKnight. In 2010, Date Lab paired Anna Russell with Daniel Zielaski. The date continued late into the night—so late that they each had to call in sick to work the day after. Their second date followed a few days later. In June 2012, they tied the knot in Missoula, Mont.
I think that Duke is ready for its own version of Date Lab. As Chronicle columnists love to bemoan, Duke has more hook up culture than dating culture. Blue Devils are more likely to invite a romantic interest back to their room to “watch a movie” than actually invite them out for dinner and a movie. A recent Chronicle article highlighted students’ use of online dating sites in search of “a normal dating experience”; the article quoted Samantha Lachman, Trinity ’13, saying that most Duke undergraduates “are either in very serious relationships or just randomly hooking up with each other,” while she was looking for something substantive but not wildly committed. (The article also called hook-up app Grindr an “online dating service,” probably leading to awkward moments for unsuspecting readers who joined in search of a nice dinner date.)
Just a few weeks ago, I attended a really special wedding in the Duke Chapel. Two of my friends committed to a life together in front of their friends and family, surrounded by a loving community and the towering beauty of the Chapel. This summer, I enjoyed dinner at my friends’ apartment in northern Virginia; they started dating at Duke and moved together to the D.C. area after graduation. I see loving relationships in many communities on campus, but they are vastly outnumbered by bros trading stories of their weekend exploits and the cold, calculated neglect that pervades hook up culture. As Lillie Reed described last year in her column “Candy Land and other terrible games,” hookup culture leads to a competition over who can care less about their partner, and “starts every relationship on the exact right footing: manipulation.” I think dating—either casual or serious—is better practice for “real life” relationships, including marriage, and I think it causes a lot less emotional pain. It’s more fulfilling to care about one other person, and be cared about by one other person. Deep, meaningful relationships help us grow more than shallow flings do.
Duke deserves more dates. Here’s my modest proposal: Let’s start a Date Lab, Duke Edition. Each week, the feature’s editors would pair up some promising applicants, after checking social media to ensure that they don’t know each other too well. Surely there would be a few awkward moments along the way. Duke’s campus is not nearly as big as D.C., so you might run into a past date in Perkins. But that’s not the end of the world; it’s good practice for the real world and certainly happens anyway in hook up culture. Date Lab, Duke Edition could set up a few good dates, entertain the campus and foster more dating culture.
Andrew Kragie is a Trinity junior. This is his final regular column of the semester.