So it was with her whole heart that she entered Prather’s on the Alley, where she met her date, Brendan Gaughan, 31. Brendan, who’s been out of a three-year relationship for about two years now, said Sarah was immediately outgoing. She said he put her at ease. He said she was nice. She said he was cute. However, he hedged when pressed about instant attraction.
“I just knew it would be more of a friend thing fairly quickly,” he said. “For me it was: Just enjoy this, and thankfully she was a cool person and it was easy to do that.”
“Leisurely” is how Sarah described their almost four-hour date. All the dishes they ordered they shared: apps of spicy Brussels sprouts and pork ribs; mains of grilled whole fish (dorade) and pappardelle with pork; and for dessert, a skillet cookie and a sundae with a berry compote. She drank prosecco, he had chardonnay.
They discussed Sarah’s reexploration of faith after being a longtime atheist, as well as the government shutdown that occurred earlier this year. Both work for the federal government: She’s a lawyer, he’s a data analyst. But mostly, they talked books. “We’re both avid readers, and we kind of nerded out and gave each other really good reading lists,” said Sarah.
You could fill a small library with the books that were name-checked on the date. They discussed their shared love of Harry Potter and magical realism. They kicked about principles of “scientifically based and not hokey” self-help, according to Sarah. She recommended an armful of novels for him: Yaa Gyasi’s “Homegoing,” Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s “The Shadow of the Wind,” and Min Jin Lee’s “Pachinko,” among them. He suggested thinking-dude staples like George Saunders and Kurt Vonnegut.
During the date, Sarah noticed a few things about Brendan that convinced her he’s a good person. He asked the server his name so they could refer to him by it, and he welcomed a toddler who approached their table to blow out the candle sitting on it. It was the toddler’s thing. (His parents had taken him to Prather’s the night before, when he did his candle bit and peed on the floor — and they let him back in!) When Brendan came back from the bathroom, he grabbed the candle that was sitting outside of it so the child could blow out that one, too. Some might say Brendan was feeding his habit; Sarah called it “really sweet.”
After the restaurant, they walked to the Metro. Upon saying goodbye, Brendan went in for a kiss, but Sarah pulled away, uncertain of where he was aiming. She immediately asked for a do-over. Brendan clarified his target: “I meant to kiss you on the cheek.” It “was a little mortifying,” Sarah said.
She told him she’d like to see him again, and he responded, “Oh yeah, you can take my number and we’ll see how it goes.” Instead, Sarah took the hint.
“I put my hand up and I said, ‘If you’re not interested you can tell me — I prefer honesty,’ ” she recalled.
So, he was honest. “I said, ‘I would rather just be friends, but we can exchange numbers and talk about the craziness that this [Date Lab experience] is,’ just to be cool about it,” he said. “I was upfront with her, and she was cool enough to make me feel comfortable enough to say it. I give her major credit.”
They resolved not to pursue romance, but to form their own book club. Their first selection, they decided then and there, would be Michael Lewis’s chronicle of the Trump administration, “The Fifth Risk.”
Sarah gave no sign of hard feelings after being rebuffed; she had nothing but nice things to say about Brendan after the date, calling him “curious, kind, funny and smart.” Mostly, she was happy for the chance to take her mind off things. “After that breakup,” she said, “I really need a palate-cleanser, and it was just really nice.”