So you’ve applied for Date Lab. What are your chances of getting picked?

In my role as Date Lab’s matchmaker, I hear from a lot of singles in the Washington area. Men and women who have a very specific idea of a perfect match (must love classic rock; has lived abroad; and can’t own more than two cats). Singles who want a break from online dating and are convinced Date Lab is the answer. (See this Solo-ish post about a woman who emailed me for years, asking to be set up.)

Applying for Date Lab is the easy part. There’s an online application that requires about 30 to 45 minutes and some creativity in your answers. The hard part is getting picked for a first date. And then there’s the question: Will that first date actually happen?

There’s a moment, as I’m wading through the virtual stack of Date Lab questionnaires, looking for a match for someone, when I start to feel a glimmer of hope. Maybe I’m in search of a petite, bookish brunette who loves to hike — and, having weeded out the blonde, redheaded, too tall and outdoors-adverse — I’ve finally hit on a height-appropriate reader who’s happiest halfway up a mountain.


But at this point we’re still a long way from an actual date, never mind the sparky romantic encounter Date Lab readers seem to crave. For starters, just because she’s his type doesn’t mean he’s hers. If he is the former college athlete with an Ivy League degree and healthy hairline that she’s seeking, fabulous: They’ve just inched closer to becoming one of the 50 couples we send out each year. Given that about 750 people applied in 2015 and the database of applicants currently numbers roughly 6,500, they’ve beaten the odds.

Even so, there’s a potential match-killer lurking, one that torpedoes about a third of my would-be matches: bad timing.

Some of my most promising pairings never have a chance to meet — not via Date Lab, at least — because by the time I match them, one person has coupled up independently, or has shipped off to a new life in Los Angeles. (Really, this happens too much. Stop moving out West, Date Labbers.) Or one of them landed their dream job and doesn’t want his colleagues to get their first impression from the pages of The Washington Post Magazine.

It’s actually not that surprising. Our daters, after all, are actively dating, which means they may make their own match at any moment. For many, relocating is relatively easy and appealing, which makes them a moving target, so to speak.

Complicating matters, there’s often a long lag time — sometimes years! — between when someone submits an application and gets chosen for a date. This increases the likelihood that life circumstances have changed by the time Date Lab comes calling.

For women, a long wait is especially likely, mostly because women far outnumber men when it comes to applying for Date Lab. Anyone in a group that has fewer overall applicants — older daters and gay men and lesbian daters are a prime example — may linger, too, because their applicant pool is so small that making a good match is tricky. That means the spry and engaging 81-year-old I’ve been dying to send out is still waiting in the wings while I cross my fingers that a jazz-loving octogenarian Latina, his “type,” applies. (Ladies, if that’s you, apply here.)

Of course, the very thing that makes matchmaking so unpredictable also makes it beautiful. I love it when Date Lab couples hit it off, or even get married (we’ve had four of those). But when daters email me back to say they’re no longer available because they’re in a relationship, or engaged, or married, I’m not disappointed. Usually it means something wonderful has happened in their lives. I’m not too worried about their would-be-Date Lab matches, either. Most take the news in stride. They know that whether they get rematched by me, find love on their own, or stay single by choice, there’s certainly an interesting journey ahead.


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