It’s an important stage in any budding romance. You know that moment — when you learn just enough about your date to look up him or her online. Perhaps you heard her last name in a voicemail greeting or when he checked in with a restaurant hostess. Or you discovered that you have a mutual friend and after a few deft clicks on your pal’s Facebook friend list, you quickly locate your love interest.
Now you finally have a chance to vet your date, whose digital presence so far has consisted of a carefully constructed profile that’s full of zip-lining pics and claims that she “works in insurance” or that he makes raspberry truffles for all of his friends during the holidays. But do they really? Perhaps a little online sleuthing is in order.
It’s normal to be curious about the person you just kissed 10 minutes earlier. And doing a quick online search is a smart way to make sure your match checks out. This is especially true considering that the Federal Trade Commission recently created a separate category for web crimes called “romance scam.” It’s reassuring to see the man who says “my kids mean the world to me” in a Facebook photo with his sons on a camping trip. Or if she does work in insurance, it’s nice to see her photo on a company website or read her quote in an industry newsletter.
Of course, even coming across your date’s LinkedIn profile with several dozen testimonials doesn’t protect you from fraud. Your new sweetie could still ask you to send him $5,000 via Western Union to help him get out of jail in Fiji. (Read this to find out more about keeping yourself safe!)But a few online signs can you give some confidence that people are who they say they are.
Yet here’s the big challenge: You have to know when to shut down your computer and stop searching. That’s because the Internet can reveal more about a person than you ever should know – at least in the early stages of dating.
Here are some guidelines to preventing your curiosity from wrecking your romance:
1) Keep your search short and simple.
It’s positively frightening what you can learn about a person online. I’m not talking about what you can come across on page 64 in Google search results in the wee hours of the morning. No, you can reach TMI with few skills and little effort: In addition to the usual Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, you can look up their Twitter rants, blog posts, Amazon reviews, wedding announcements and photos, professional performance reviews and YouTube videos. If you know a person’s job title and company, you can find out your date’s salary. In the old days, you could see property records. Nowadays, you can see real estate listings with photos showing inside a house. If you’re seeing someone who’s recently divorced and selling her house, that means you can see her kitchen table and former marital bedroom — before you’ve even gone on a fourth date! It doesn’t take long before you feel like an unintentional stalker or at the very least a little yucky.
So take a look, but remember that less is more.
2) Savor the slow reveal.
There’s a reason we get to know someone gradually and present our best selves. He reveals a little, and you reveal a little more, and then you decide if you want to know more. After a good date, you should float home wondering, “Hmm…could I like this guy?” It kills the mystery when you think, “Is it true what that patient wrote on ZocDoc that he can be really gruff and rushes people through their appointments?” No, if your new guy is a jerk, you owe it to yourself to learn that on your own and in your own time.
It’s also uncomfortable knowing something about someone they don’t know you know. If a woman is telling you about her recent yoga retreat to Guatemala, it will be hard to act naturally when you’ve already seen her photos on Instagram. You sacrifice the chance to connect in an authentic way.
3) Don’t assume anything.
The biggest danger of Facebook is that it’s easy to draw conclusions when you have little context. You see he’s posted seven photos in the last month in which he has his arm around a different woman in each of them. Does this mean he’s a player? Of course, you don’t know who’s a cousin or coworker.
Or you’ve noticed that one guy repeatedly likes your new crush’s posts. So you click on his profile and look through his photos and conclude they were once an item. Does this mean he’s still in love with her? Are you a potential rebound? If so, should you even bother asking her out again?
If you really want to drive yourself crazy, you can even check out your dates’ most recent friend adds and wonder if they’ve fallen in love with someone else since your date last Tuesday.
Falling in love with someone is one of life’s sweetest mysteries. Before long, you’ll know almost everything there is to know about a person, and you’ll wish there was a corner of his or her life left to discover. So don’t rush the process.
What is your thinking about Googling dates? Are you into it or against it?
About the Author:
Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate and Salon.