It was one of those odd evenings right after Daylight Saving Time has taken effect, when you step outside at the end of the day and discover with surprise that the sky is already dark.
The man and the woman remarked on this, laughing a little, as they left the warm restaurant where they'd had a preliminary meeting.
It had gone well, the woman felt. The man seemed to think so, too. As they walked toward a Metro stop, they chatted with the comfortable artificiality of people who've only known one another for an hour or so but want to create a feeling of mutual ease.
Soon they had reached the escalator that would take the man to his train.
"This was a real pleasure," said the woman, who is a friend of mine.
"Likewise," said the man. They smiled at each other. Yes, it had gone well.
"OK then, goodbye," the woman said, putting out her hand. The man shook it warmly.
"Goodbye," he said, and, giving a cheerful wave, he disappeared into the throng of commuters.
The woman walked to the parking garage to get her car, musing over the last little while. After an hour of interviewing, of pleasant but firm questioning back and forth, she felt a definite interest in the position he was offering. He had liked her resume. But though the man had been friendly, effusive even, he had seemed noncommittal when they parted.
Would she get an offer? She didn't know: She'd been to plenty of job interviews before and could usually sense whether it was a good fit or not. But this was the first time she'd gone on a date-interview with a total stranger whom she'd met through an online matchmaking site.
The last time she'd been on a date, my friend realized, Geraldine Ferraro had been on the Democratic ticket. Back then, if you wanted a date, you couldn't sit in your kitchen, tap on a keyboard, and bring to your cause the powerful and implacable logic of computer algorithms. Now you can, and, as millions have discovered, romance can indeed kindle in the soulless precincts of expensive machinery.
At some point, though, swain and maiden must meet in person. Then what?
When an interview for a job -- or a date -- comes through a living, breathing referral, there's a natural line of connection. Your pal who thinks you'd get along fabulously with her cousin (or in her cousin's business), for instance, is in essence vouching for the credibility of the cousin (or his company). She knows the two of you and thinks you're a good fit.
People looking online for love -- or a job -- are presented with a package of attributes, preferences and, shall we say, benefits, which are designed to create an impression. It may or may not be justified. The applicant cannot know what is truthful and what may be embroidery. There's no way of knowing if you face competition from other, younger candidates -- or if, indeed, the sweet-looking fellow hoping for a "loving, committed relationship" already has one at home.
My friend found her car and drove home in the dark. Even in its aftermath, this first date was like a job interview. She wasn't absolutely sure she'd take the gig if it was offered. But with a resume as good as hers, she definitely wanted the chance to turn it down.
Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.