The 37-year-old professional mixed martial arts fighter from Virginia has been in a couple of long-term relationships and some off-and-on situation-ships, but for the past three or four years he’s mostly been single. When it comes to dating these days, John said, people don’t have the right priorities. “A lot of people try to get in a relationship and they think it’s going to make their life better somehow,” he explained. “Not enough people understand that you’re supposed to have your own life and enjoy it.”
Peer pressure is how occupational therapist Amy Orlando came to Date Lab. Funny thing, peer pressure. Sometimes it can be the push you need to do something you’re scared to tackle. Other times it can be opening the door to a dumpster fire.
Anyway, back in 2018, Amy, who is a former competitive fencer, went on a road trip with some married friends, and they persuaded her to apply. Despite growing up in the D.C. area, “I’d never read it before,” the 35-year-old said. But she figured, why not? She had yet to find that someone with whom she had really good chemistry who was also passionate and driven. “I don’t want someone who is kind of walking through life. I want them to have a goal,” she told me. “Someone insightful about themselves and kind of knows their flaws and also their strengths, and someone to have fun with.”
The night John and Amy were slated to meet at Farmers & Distillers near Chinatown, John put on a hoodie, khaki pants and dress shoes. “I don’t care about impressing anybody, at all, other than myself,” he said. Then he hopped on the Metro. Amy, meanwhile, had gone shopping and bought a new top for the date. She changed a couple of times — trying to make sure she had the right color jeans to make the yellow top really pop. She also got there early.
Upon arriving, John had headed straight for the bathroom, and when he resurfaced, Amy was already seated.
“My first impression was he had an odd outfit choice,” Amy said. “I tried to look nice. I went shopping and I timed my hair salon visit so that it would be done before this.”
It wasn’t a full-on MMA eye gouge, though. “There was nothing wrong with it, but a little odd, especially if you are trying to meet someone for the first time,” she added.
First impressions don’t mean as much to John. “When I first meet someone, I’m never like ‘This person is like this.’ I need to spend time with someone before I know what type of person they are,” he explained.
John is constantly training and coaches jujitsu, so he doesn’t drink alcohol. “I need to be able to train every day. … It’s going to be detrimental for me,” he said.
Amy decided not to get a drink either. They ordered their food — fried chicken and a doughnut for John, three-cheese ravioli for Amy — and, well, ate it.
“Really, we just had the meal and had a conversation,” John said.
Amy agreed about the meal but felt like the conversation never quite got any momentum. No lunge, no parry. “It was three hours. We talked for three hours, but it never kind of got off the ground,” she said. “I don’t know anything about MMA, but jujitsu has some strategy and technique just like fencing does. I thought conversation would get going just based on that.”
And yet, both agreed that they enjoyed what they did discuss. “I was explaining to her … for me your job doesn’t make you who you are at all. I’m an MMA fighter because I train hard and I diet,” John said. “My passion is really what makes me, me, not my job title.”
“He had some really good insights into some stuff about him that I really appreciated,” Amy said. “[The conversation] sort of took off for a little bit and then it stopped. I’m not sure why that was. But I did appreciate what he had to say.”
They shared a milkshake. Then the date ended without exchanging contact information.
“It was fine,” Amy said later. “If he did ask me for my number I would have given it to him and been fine going out and hanging out as friends.”
But John didn’t bother because he knew where he stood: “I think there were some things about me and my personality that she didn’t necessarily like.”
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Tanya Ballard Brown is a stand-up comedian and an editor for NPR.