APRIL 23, 2015

STRANGER: Craig Schattner
LOCATION: Mintwood Place, 1813 Columbia Road NW, Washington, DC
THEME: A platonic dinner to discuss dating in the District

Craig Schattner has been on almost 100 dates in four years, and he’s still single.

What’s the problem? Is it him? Or is it a bigger difficulty with dating in the District of Columbia? Those are questions he’s trying to answer with Dated, a self-produced video series in which he interviews DC residents about the highs and lows of trying to find love in the city.

Dating typically is a private matter, discussed perhaps among friends but not aired for potentially hundreds or thousands of online viewers. I was curious what drove Craig to so publicly air his problems finding a match, and arranged a (platonic) dinner with him at Mintwood Place.

The restaurant is in Adams Morgan, a popular neighborhood with 20- and 30-somethings for its many bars and places to eat. Ideal territory for a first date.

I arrived a few minutes before Craig and took the chance to familiarize myself with the venue, somewhere I’d never eaten before. Each table was taken with apparently happy diners, though I thought the tables were tightly packed. But the place generally has a bright, uncluttered feel with a few pieces of decorative art hanging on the walls, illuminated by exposed light bulb chandeliers.

When Craig arrived, I feared he might hit his head on one of those bulbs. He’s 6 foot 2 inches, looking even taller as he carries himself with an easygoing confidence.

After standing up for a hello and a handshake, we both sat down. And I felt immediately at ease. Craig has a naturally inquisitive yet friendly manner, which meant that for the first few minutes he was the one doing all the questioning. If an early test on a date is showing interest in your companion, he passed with flying colors.

But our get-together wasn’t for either of us to find love, or to interview me. So I moved the conversation back to Craig, and how he first came to think of Dated.

When it comes to dating, Craig says, “I know I’m doing some things wrong, but what is it about the city that makes it harder for people?” he asked, summing up the impetus for the web series. In addition to trying to explore more about his own dating, he wanted to try and crack the secret of what makes love lives in the District more difficult than other, perhaps less fast-paced, cities.

“In this city it seems that it’s always one person who likes the other person far more. I think that push-and-pull is fairly unique to here and New York,” Craig said. “A lot of people in those cities are after political power or financial power, they’re pursuing something,” he added. So the ambitions of some DC residents might outweigh their interest in dating.

Nevertheless, Craig concedes that there are a few things he needs to work on. “If you ask me, I think I’m not very good at making decisions, so the plethora of options is overwhelming” when it comes to dating, he said. Another factor that weighs at the back of his mind is that he sometimes compares a date to his previous nine-year relationship, which he said he tries not to do.

Craig said that if I asked his friends what’s causing his dating problems, they’d tell me that he thinks he’s ready to date even though he’s not. He disputes that, saying instead that he prefers the line another friend said: He’s ready, but only for the right person.

“I don’t want to say I’m picky, because that’s like I can have who I want. But I think you need to straddle something between confidence and what you want. A lot of people I think are waiting for perfection. I wish everyone did that. I don’t think you should settle,” he said.

After a brief break to place our orders, we cheers-ed our drinks of a stout for him and glass of Sauvignon blanc for me. And then Craig told me that his questions about dating, coupled with his long history and love of videography, were the foundations of Dated.

He chose video over, say, writing essays about dating because there didn’t seem to be other existing projects like his interviewing people on the topic in their city. And he has a love of the visual, both as a hobby and in his day job as a videographer for an organization promoting healthy activities for schoolchildren. A video series was the best option.

Initially Craig released an episode on his Facebook page and received good reviews from friends. One of them then posted a link to Dated on Reddit. From there, the Washington Post found out about the series and got in touch. “It spiraled from there,” Craig said.

Since being featured in the Post and other media outlets, he was asked to do a series of videos for PostTV, which he says has been a lot of work. He’s also been inundated with offers of dates, which has been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it means he has plenty of options. But a curse because he says he simply doesn’t have time go on a first date with everyone who writes him. “I’m an anxious person and I got a bit overwhelmed, but I did write every single person back.”

One thing he did agree to was going on a date organized by the Sarah, Ty and Mel show on radio station 107.3. Craig and a woman named Ashley went a morning coffee date before work, and he said the intense focus on him was unusual. “I don’t really need people in my private life that much, I’m comfortable with releasing what I want through Dated,” he said. “But here I had someone else trying to structure a date for me” — although he ended up enjoying his time with Ashley.

At the time Craig and I had dinner, he said he was trying to organize a second date with Ashley. So there’s someone with promise. And he said one goal is to eventually film a date for his series. Even if he ends up with a girlfriend, he said there are plenty of topics he’d still like to cover: age differences, monogamy, and the impact of social apps on modern dating.

Most importantly, he’s still having fun doing Dated and proud of his own work. “You could take everything else in the world away, but that’s still my own making,” he said with a smile.

Craig, 30, is willing to give DC a while longer in his quest for his love, mostly because he loves the area. He grew up about a 30-minute drive away in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Now he lives in Adams Morgan, fairly close to Mintwood Place. I’m jealous of his proximity to the restaurant. The reason being that the food is great. Craig decided against having a starter, so instead he answered my questions while I ate an appetizer.

My order was the goat cheese and beet mountain pie. Layers of lettuce and beets buried under a massive wheel of breadcrumb-covered fried goat cheese. It was a hefty starter, but I’m a huge fan of the beets-and-cheese combination, and this did not disappoint.

While I worked on demolishing the starter, Craig told me that he went to university in Michigan, graduating in 2006. After that it was back to DC for about six months. By then he was in his long-term relationship with his former girlfriend. She was entering her third year at Northwestern University in Chicago when Craig moved out there. He had graduated with a degree in public relations, and for a while worked at a “small, fun” PR agency in Chicago.

One day he passed by a video production company and, inquisitive, asked if they were hiring. They were, and they took him on. Craig had no experience of editing, but said he loved the work even though sometimes he’d be doing 12-hour days. What’s the attraction? “It’s kind of an art. Why did they leave that frame in or out? Why did that shot hang there?” he said.

Craig and his girlfriend lived in the Windy City for about a year, until a series of job offers for the girlfriend ultimately led to the couple moving back to the District.

But Craig was struggling to find employment. So he decided to take a one-month trip to Asia to recharge his batteries. Upon his return, he thought about pursuing his years-old dream of opening a bagel shop. Craig, who’s Jewish, touted his skills in making Montreal bagels, which he said are sweet and cooked in boiling honey water instead of salt water. He took the GMAT and started applying to schools for business courses. But then he did some hands-on training at a sandwich shop in DC and soon realized that life in the food industry was not for him. “That was a low point, I’d had an idea that came crashing down,” he said.

He regrouped and in a few weeks had secured a job with the Alliance to Save Energy, a pro-energy efficiency organization in the city.

One day they asked Craig whether he could create a video for them, and so he decided to use humor with skits to promote conserving energy. While at the Alliance, the videos he produced played on a billboard in Times Square, which he said was a great experience.

In his personal time, he and two close friends put together a comedy group called Dunk Your Bagel, to make more humorous videos. That work included a fake history of DC’s 5-cent tax on plastic bags, which played at several environmental film festivals, garnered tens of thousands of YouTube views, and helped Craig get some freelance video work.

For work these days, Craig is doing a “one-man job” traveling the country filming shoots for an organization that promotes healthy activities in schools. “I organize the shoots, do the interviews, camera work, editing. I get to do everything,” Craig said.

His added that his colleagues know about the Dated series, and have offered praise for it. “I’m very open about it. I was worried that it might affect my work, so I have been very conscious about keeping them separate. I do my all interviews after work or on the weekends. It’s good to keep it separate,” Craig said.

Although Craig’s interviews for his series are pretty wide-ranging, I wondered whether on a date he goes in with a list of routine, must-ask questions.

He said he doesn’t and prefers instead to “freewheel” his dates. He said he’s curious about people and so always finds something to talk about — I can attest to his skill with that — and that it doesn’t matter so much if people don’t ask him too many questions. However, if his date doesn’t ask him a single question then he noted that can be an early “red flag.”

One thing he said is important is finding out what his dates likes to do with their time, both work and leisure. “I like the question ‘What do you do?’ because the answer tells me what their passions are, what they’re interested in,” he said. “If I ask what they like to do outside of work, I want to hear about their passions and hobbies, I want to know what drives them.”

While he’s not a big fan of setting rules for how to conduct dates, he insists on paying for the food and drinks. Not out of any desire to show he’s interested necessarily, but more to “avoid any confusion” about who should pay, he said.

I suggested that his generosity might send the wrong signal that he’s into his date when in reality he isn’t. He paused for a moment. “Maybe. You could be right. But my thought is just that I will take care of this,” he said.

A fan of closure, Craig says that he won’t leave prospective dates hanging if they ask for a second meeting and he’s not interested. He doesn’t do a slow-burn of taking longer and longer to reply to texts or, more extreme, cutting off all contact without explanation. And ladies, if you’ve been on a date with Craig and it didn’t work out, don’t worry — he said he also has to deal with rejection. “I’m not great with it,” he said, “I think a lot about what did I do wrong.”

Craig didn’t make any missteps on our platonic dinner, and he was great company. He even offered to take photos of his main course once it arrived, a big help.

It meant I didn’t have to lean across the table to get a snap of his wood-grilled bacon cheeseburger cooked to medium and served with a side salad. He said he enjoyed it.

My entree was the spring lamb navarin, a hearty bowl of carrots, turnips, onions, peas, lamb, herbs and more. The lamb was tender and perfectly cooked, the vegetables fresh, and the serving incredibly generous. But I’m a glutton so I managed to finish it.

While devouring the main course, I wondered whether Craig’s almost 100 dates have all shared common traits, and whether he has a “type” when it comes to dating.

He thought for a second. “That’s one of those questions that I realize that if I come up with an answer, I paint myself into a box. Everyone has their preferences, but if I start saying specifics, that might hurt me,” he said. Still, he added that in the past, “I’ve gone for women that have dark hair, quirky personalities, are interesting, have good smiles, and are active.”

So what’s to blame for Craig’s dating woes? Is it him? Or is it the city?

As we finished our dinner, I got the sense that he probably believes it’s a combination of the two. He’d highlighted inherent difficulties with trying to find a soulmate in a city driven by politics and power. But he also hinted at a need to change some of the ways he thinks about dating.

Either way, it’s something he’ll keep exploring with Dated.

Already he says he’s learned a lot about himself through the series. “I have people telling me what I’m doing wrong with dating, saying that it’s me and it’s not DC. One person said, ‘I know why you’re still single, you’re gay.’ Another said it’s because I’m a dork,” Craig said with a laugh.

Although he’s not gay, “I am a dork,” he said, smiling. “But so far people haven’t had bad things to say about the videos, I’ve been getting compliments on their quality.”

And so he’s going to keep producing Dated, and keep going on dates in the hopes of finding that next long-term relationship. For the near future, that will be in the District. “I love this city, it still has a hold on me,” he said, even if he remains a singleton.

He acknowledged that the nine-year monogamous relationship he was in is probably acting as something of a hurdle to overcome. But he reiterated that he’s trying to teach himself to not benchmark new dates against the pros of that relationship. “I sometimes weigh my options against when I was dating, and think a person might cross this, this, and this off a checklist, but not this, and then it doesn’t work out. But I’m trying not to do that,” he said.

“I really enjoy being in a relationship and want to find someone that I just enjoy being with,” Craig added.

Maybe one day when he eventually finds love again he can make a series called Married. Until then, his bid to solve the big questions about dating continues.

3 thoughts on “#73 Dating In DC

  1. Giorgio Vasari Reply

    With so many dinner-interviews to choose from, this one caught my attention for various reasons…and I’m glad I started with this one. It kind of parachuted me in to how you carry and sustain a conversation with a stranger -is there any agenda, is it the dining experiences (the food, the space, and the ambient), a flirty (safe) personality, a pure curiosity, etc. etc. One of the highlights on this read (to me) is when you mentioned his drink (stout) and yours -a Sauvignon Blanc, which I then immediately looked on the date you wrote or posted this (gives me a little hint about you). One thing I find very interesting is your sweet reminder to the readers about keeping the atmosphere or this is purely platonic…but would rather say my comments in person over dinner (maybe) or drinks *wink*

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