Wins, Losses Of Playing Matchmaker

Americans are meeting that special someone through all sorts of ways.

Americans are meeting that special someone through all sorts of ways. istockphoto.com hide caption

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There are countless ways to meet that special someone — through a friend, website, and even a set-up. For the past five years, The Washington Post has tried playing Cupid for residents of the nation's capital. Reporter Christina Breda Antoniades tells host Michel Martin about the history of this experiment called "Date Lab," and what it's like being its matchmaker extraordinaire.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: Here is an area where intuition plays a role for better or worse - dating.

But sometimes we don't trust our own intuition, so we let our friends or relatives or a matchmaker set us up or maybe we let the computer do it. Well, in the Washington, D.C. area, there's another option: Date Lab. Every week, local singles agree to allow editors at The Washington Post magazine to set them up and they agree to report the glorious or grim details.

Now, that feature is marking a big milestone, its fifth anniversary over which time Date Lab has brought together 250 couples. And since we frequently check into the magazine for interesting stories about the way we live now, we wanted to check out how Date Lab is doing after - at five - five years old.

Christina Breda Antoniades is the reporter and matchmaker behind The Washington Post Date Lab. And she joined us here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Welcome. Congratulations.

CHRISTINA BREDA ANTONIADES: Thank you.

MARTIN: You have an interesting story. You're actually married.

ANTONIADES: I am.

MARTIN: And thank goodness, right?

ANTONIADES: Yeah.

MARTIN: And you have been reporting these - doing the matchmaking and doing the stories, the subsequent follow-up stories since the very beginning. And you have an interesting story about that.

ANTONIADES: I have. Yeah. I actually started in - went on one date. I began - I interviewed my first couple. I was very pregnant with my third child and so I did my interviews and that night I went into labor and had a beautiful baby girl. So I always know how old Date Lab is because it's the same age as my daughter.

MARTIN: An auspicious beginning. How did this idea come up - how did this idea come to begin with? I mean newspapers play a lot of different roles in communities, you know, but things, like, you know, personal ads have always been kind of controversial and Date Lab kind of combines the personal idea - the idea of the kind of classified personal ad with the kind of community gathering place idea.

But I can kind of see where it'd be a little controversial. I can see where, you know, particularly at a prestigious paper like the Post, people saying, what? What? Really?

ANTONIADES: Well, I do think, you know, initially the idea was to do something that the magazine wasn't doing at the time, which was explore this area of life that is dating that is really important. It's a big part of people's lives at some point in their lives. And there really wasn't anything addressing that in the magazine at the time. It wasn't a given that, you know, that the magazine editors or the people higher up would want to do it, that it would work, that Date Lab would be a success.

You know, of course there were some people that were a little uncertain about that. And it turned out to work out really well.

MARTIN: It's popular. It's a hugely popular feature. I understand you have about 4,000 people on the database at this point. But what do you consider a successful match?

ANTONIADES: Right. That's a tricky question. We think it's successful, if the two people go out and at the end of the night they think there's a potential for romance, to that, to us that's success.

MARTIN: So tallying the dates with that definition in mind, what would you consider your successful match rate? The 253 couples you've matched to this point.

ANTONIADES: I think with that in mind we were around 40 percent. You know, I think a lot of readers sort of hope for more. They like the ones where there's - there really is obvious romance. And so we would love to have those. We haven't had enough of those. But we're still hopeful.

MARTIN: Well, you know, I'm going to ask you tell me about the first Date Lab wedding, but that's actually a more complicated story than you might think. But before you do, we're talking about the fifth anniversary of Date Lab. That's the matchmaking feature of The Washington Post magazine. Our guest is Christina Breda Antoniades. She is the matchmaker for the series. And she also writes the follow-up pieces, which can be fairly brutal, I have to say.

I never appreciate my husband more than when I read those. And I think, oh my goodness, I am so glad that I don't have to have - be, like, publicly reviewed. But what was the worst date ever?

ANTONIADES: Well...

MARTIN: And why do you think it was the worst date ever?

ANTONIADES: I think one of our - it depends on how you look at that. One of our early dates, one of our first dates, the couple both gave it a zero, which isn't even on our scale of one to five. They just were not happy from the beginning. She didn't like him. She thought he was rude. He thought she was checked out - which she was - from the get go. And so that one was a bit of a disaster.

I think the worst dates - worse than that are the ones where one person thinks they had a great date and the other person is not at all interested and thinks the date was a dud.

MARTIN: You know, they get some interesting response from readers. I know that readers often write in to give feedback to the individuals on the date to say, you should've been nicer, or something like that. Or why were you so mean? That's very interesting, isn't it? Why do you think that is?

ANTONIADES: Yeah. Well, actually, the commentators can say even worse than that. (unintelligible)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ANTONIADES: They feel pretty free to criticize. You know, I think when they say you should've been nicer, I guess, you know, it's easy to be in the armchair giving the advice when you're the person doing the interview. I think we do ask some uncomfortable questions. We ask people to assess their date, the physical attributes of their date. And that's not really comfortable for a lot of people. You know, that's not something you would normally do- to say in front of people you don't know well. You might say it to your friends, but we do want them to do that.

MARTIN: And the dates that have cliqued, why do you think they have cliqued? And I do want to mention that you do seem to put quite a lot of effort into these matches. I mean, you don't just, like, throw them in a pile just to see if something amusing would happen. Although you did have the monkey (unintelligible), which we don't - I don't understand the monkey. But when you have had successful matches, why do you think it's worked?

ANTONIADES: I think the best dates are always the ones where the people go into it with a very open mind and they're certain that they're going to have fun, they're not necessarily looking for, you know, check off a checklist of attributes in the other person, but they're just sure that they're going to meet someone who's interesting, if nothing else.

MARTIN: And you have had your first - you've had how many Date Lab weddings, people get married?

ANTONIADES: So we've had two marriages and one engagement.

MARTIN: And one engagement. One of the marriages - how - you tell us.

ANTONIADES: Well, it didn't work out so well. That was our first.

MARTIN: Your first wedding.

ANTONIADES: Very early on in Date Lab. And they hit it off, even though there were some, you know, initially when we set them up, there were some things we weren't sure about. She had wanted us to find her a sexy chef, so we did. And he was shorter than her usual type. But she - so at first there wasn't that initial spark. But by the end of evening they were clearly really liking each other. And they went on to get - they eloped, actually, maybe eight months later.

MARTIN: And it (unintelligible) a complicated question, but why do you think it didn't work out between them?

ANTONIADES: Well, she says that, you know, she had wanted a sexy chef and then she moved to New York with him and he became a very - he was becoming a very successful chef and that lifestyle was different from what she had expected.

MARTIN: Well, that's life, isn't it?

ANTONIADES: That's life.

MARTIN: And so any advice you think for people who perhaps aren't brave enough to do Date Lab? And any advice to single listeners who might be wondering whether your matchmaking could give them some clues about how they can spice up their own dating lives?

ANTONIADES: Yeah. Well, I do think, you know, that one thing that we've seen across the five years is that open-mindedness that being upbeat, being very warm and smiley and excited about your date. And usually you have a good time when you do that and the other person does as well.

MARTIN: Christina Breda Antoniades is the reporter and the matchmaker behind The Washington Post's Date Lab. If you'd like to read her piece in its entirety, and we hope you will, we'll have a link to it on our website. Just go to npr.org, click on the Programs tab and then on TELL ME MORE. Christina Breda Antoniades, thanks so much for joining us.

ANTONIADES: Thank you.

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