Date Lab: She dressed like an ‘insurance agent’ (because she

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Laura Penn, 37, had forgotten about her Date Lab application submitted last year. When the middle school teacher found out we had a match for her — and the date was in a few days — she got “more and more anxious and nervous about the prospect.” She is looking for a lifelong partner, she says, but understands that she might not meet the right person immediately.

Her anxiety worsened when she found out her date’s first name, Sarah. “Then I started thinking, oh my God, what happens if I know this person? There’s very few people in the lesbian pool in general, and even fewer who are age-appropriate,” she said. It didn’t help that a friend added: “What happens if one of your students sees [the column]?”

Thankfully, between graduate classes and teaching, she didn’t have much time to ruminate about it. After work, she skipped her scheduled allergy shot to allow more time to get ready. She went home, showered and then asked a friend for advice on what to wear. “I’ve never been on a blind date before,” she said. “I’m not known to be the most stylish person on the planet.” She settled on a button-down shirt, nice jeans and brown shoes. She left early “to give myself enough time to get to the restaurant and have a drink to calm my nerves a bit,” she said. But because of traffic, she arrived at Mandu, a Korean restaurant in Mount Vernon Triangle, only five minutes early. Sarah was already seated.

She didn’t recognize Sarah Freeman, after all — which eased her nerves. “I was surprised that she was Black because Sarah is not a very common name for a Black woman, and she didn’t expect me to be Black because Laura is also not a common name for a Black woman.”

Like Laura, Sarah is looking for a long-term relationship. “On Saturdays, I read the magazine, and Date Lab is just one of the fun parts, a relief from the news,” said the 37-year-old, who owns an insurance agency. “There was a part of me that was like, this sounds fun. I’m kind of adventurous. I’m also an NPR junkie, and part of the attraction to Date Lab means [my match] dug deep into The Washington Post, so they probably also aligned with me as an NPR junkie.”

“I didn’t really do anything to prepare,” Laura admitted. “I just picked my outfit out.” She laid out three pairs of pants and three shirts and at the end of the work day, she put on whatever “felt good”: jeans, a button-up shirt and what she described as “an insurance vest.” “I’m an insurance agent technically, and that’s what I wear to work,” she explained. “I decided to look like an insurance agent. That’s just my personality. I am generally pretty dry. It’s a fleece vest and a really pressed collared shirt, kinda an old dad look.” She was ready an hour before the date, so she watched “Judge Judy” to zone out without getting caught up in something more involved, like work emails.

While they were taking photos together, their chitchat revealed that they both had lived in Washington state (Sarah’s from Seattle and Laura used to reside in Tacoma) — giving them a natural segue. “So it was more like, well what were you doing in Tacoma, how did you get to D.C.? That kind of thing,” Sarah recalled. Once seated, they ordered vegetarian and pork dumplings to share, and Sarah ordered bulgogi and a soju drink while Laura got a chewy rice cakes entree with a spicy sauce, and a cocktail with Tito’s vodka and caramelized pineapple.

Sarah, who attended Howard University, discovered that Laura has relatives who are alumni. They also bonded over a love of hiking, talked about gentrification in D.C. and Seattle, and shared stories about traveling abroad. “It was a really great convo, no red flags, very easy to talk with her,” Laura said. She even invited Sarah to come play on her queer pickleball team.

But “there was an elephant in the room,” said Sarah. “We were both masculine of center.” Halfway through the date, she asked Laura, “What type of woman do you typically date?” Sarah recalled, “She didn’t directly say, and I said, ‘Whatever you say is okay.’ ”

They both confirmed what each had suspected from the beginning: “I like feminine women and she likes feminine women,” Sarah said. “It’s almost like matching me with a guy. … I think we both knew that from the jump, but I thought it was important to be direct about it.”

After about two hours of talking, Sarah asked Laura for her phone number to stay in touch about hiking and meeting up as friends. They hugged goodbye. “It’s hard to rate the date as a date when it feels like it’s more of a friend set-up,” Laura said. “I would like to be friends with her.” Sarah echoed Laura’s sentiment: “I actually dig her as a friend type. It wasn’t a romantic connection. She was dope.”

They have remained in touch as friends.

Prachi Gupta is a writer in New York.

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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