Bed, Bitch & Beyond: Is Google A Dater's Best Friend?


A relationship question for our modern times: Do you Google the people you date? Before a blind date? After a first date? Just quick background check? It's undoubtedly the greatest invention in history if you want to check up on your exes, but what about Googling the people you're meeting right now?

There's been a fair amount of discussion on this topic in recent days. It wound up touching off a hot debate on Jezebel, which ran an e-mail exchange billed as a "Crap E-mail from a Dude". It was actually more like a crap exchange between a dude and dudette, neither of whom came out of it looking very good. They'd met on an on-line dating site, and the woman, "Karen", was clearly Google-happy:

Karen: Soooo... you're busy googling me now, I guess?

Joe: ..no, I am not googling you. Should I? I don't know your last name, remember?

Karen: You certainly could google me with what you have now. I think "Karen [website]" would do the trick. It's an unusual spelling. But if you do it, you have to give me fair access and spill something that will make you google-able. After all, you're going to get over 20K hits on me once you track down my last name...

Joe: I'm not googling you. It's no fun when someone WANTS you to do it.

Karen: Hmmmm... you're contrary, in possession of extraordinary impulse control, or YOU HAVE A GOOGLEABLE SECRET YOU DON'T WANT ME TO FIND? Or could it be all three???

Karen took a lot of heat from Jezebel commenters for seeming "self-involved," "narcissistic" and "desperate", mainly for bragging about the number of Google hit Joe would find and pushing him to check up on her: "Karen's "Google Me!" imperative had me rolling MY eyes." Karen later went into the comments thread to defend herself, saying she'd been encouraging Joe to Google her not to brag on her accomplishments, but so that he'd learn what she did for a living in case it was a dealbreaker. (Full disclosure: I know Karen's real identity, and I don't think she was totally wrong to say "hey, you might want to know what I do" ahead of time). On the other hand, if Joe wasn't going to take the initiative himself it was silly to keep prompting him (and surely she could have figured out how to do a search on him without pumping him for personal info).

The post sparked discussion among Jezebel commenters about the "to Google or Not to Google" issue:

Heathernumber1: there was an article (in Wireless, I think) about how over-Googling someone before meeting them for the first time cuts out natural bonding and discovery that can help build a relationship, romantic or otherwise. Kind of makes sense. Know too much, and your first date will be like a job interview – 'So apparently you were on your school's soccer team, how was that?'

jigglyball: I kind of feel like an aberration right now, because I've never done the pre-date Googling. Then again, I really, really love surprises, so...

Heh. She is a braver woman than I. I always run a quick on-line search on men before I go out with them, especially if it's a blind date. According to a recent article "The Blind Date Meets The All-Seeing Internet" in the Washington Post, I'm not alone:

Web searches for background intel on prospective dates have been undertaken since the dawn of cyberspace, but only in the last few years -- with the advent of Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn and the like -- have our online identities grown so rich that they routinely precede in-person introductions.

"First impressions have changed," says Dan Schawbel, a 26-year-old personal branding consultant. "For me a first impression could be a Google search, a search on Facebook or MySpace. . . . You can do research beforehand and know whether or not you want to go through with the date."

On more than one occasion, Brown has found out that men who represented themselves to be single were actually married, sometimes with children. The Web, she says, often reveals the discrepancy between "what they say they are and what they really are.

I can't imagine why anyone would NOT want to know this information. But there are definitely people who espouse the "less is more" approach:

Nancianne Sterling, a 32-year-old Arlington woman who runs TargetLove.com, a service that coaches clients through the Internet dating process, understands the temptation to scour the Web for information on a person in advance of a date with them. Before meeting her current boyfriend, she used to do it all the time, looking for résumés, school associations, blogs and anything else she could dig up.

But she advises clients to skip the preemptive search.

Scattered bits of online info color the way people look at their prospective dates -- and not usually in a good way, she says.

"We make determinations about somebody, whereas if we met them and we liked them, it wouldn't be as big a deal. People come up with all these reasons why somebody's not going to be good, before they meet them," she says. "It's almost like you're looking for quantitative information to make a decision without emotion -- and when you do that, you don't allow yourself to feel for that person in the way that you might've if you hadn't looked up any of the information."

I think she's right about not wanting to be overly prejudiced before you meet someone, but instead of instituting a "No Google ever!" rule, I'd just advise people to take the Google results with a grain of salt. Unless you discover a deal-breaker--like that your date is married or signed a petition supporting Roman Polanski--try to reserve judgement until you've met in person.

Where I really disagree, though, is with Sterling's assertion that:

Plus, she adds, it kills the fun and mystery inherent in allowing a person to reveal themselves organically over time.

Mystery is highly overrated, in my opinion. Why? I offer up this example:
Last year
I went to a party with a friend of a friend, who told me she's gone out with a guy who she kinda liked, but she felt that something about him was "a little off." When he joined us at the party I recognized him immediately--he is a notorious toxic New York bachelor whom Gawker had written about extensively. A simple Google search would have told this woman everything she needed to know--mainly, that the dude is a woman-hating Douchebag Extraordinaire and she should run as far and fast as possible in the opposite direction. I pulled her aside and asked her what she knew about this guy and whether she'd ever Googled him.

"Oh, no," she replied, "I don't like to do that. It ruins the romance."

I was stunned. This woman struck me as incredibly naive. She is a professional publicist; she makes her living by knowing who people are and what they're about. But when it came to dating, she didn't want to be blinded by, y'know, actual information, even though in this case, she already felt there was something "off" about the man, and a quick Google search would have confirmed her instincts.

Oh, but it would have ruined the romance! Well, if that's the case, fuck romance. Women should NEVER embrace the "ignorance is bliss" theory about ANYTHING, and especially not about men we date. Knowledge is power and women need to grab onto as much of both as we can, especially when it comes to dating, where we're potentially exposed to all kinds of emotional and physical risk. This dude was living proof of that.

So ladies, by all means, Google the hell out of a dude before your first date. See if his Facebook profile is public. You might learn something you might not like, and you'll have to figure out what to do with that information. But you would have found out that information sooner or later, so why delay the inevitable? Besides, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find out: that your date has a funny website, or likes dogs, or--if you get lucky with a Google Image or Facebook search--that he/she is delightful to look at. In the sometimes rough-and-tumble world of dating, I have never regretted being forewarned or forearmed and neither should you.

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Comments

11 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Know When to Stop

though I guess might be prudent .. After googling what then, a police background check? White pages, all known public records .. when does investigating stop and stalking start ? Plus, do you bring up the investigated results in conversation on an early date? Say ... I noticed you used to collect Popeye models, are you over that, Im not Olive? That kind of thing. Mystery isnt being threatened, you can know a person for 30 years and still discover facets of their selves I'll warrent.

Let's be clear about the definition of stalking...

A person who intentionally and repeatedly follows or harasses another person and who makes a credible threat, either expressed or implied, with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm is guilty of the crime of stalking.

Googling someone--even looking up public records like a criminal record, real-estate transactions, etc--would never meet the legal definition of stalking. You're not in any way threatening someone or violating their privacy by searching for information that's in the public domain. Stalking is a serious crime, and I don't like to see it equated with a simple on-line search.

And as to your question of what/when you should reveal--you don't have to say anything at all.  No matter how you obtained information about your date--whether through a Google search or a mutual friend or whatever--it's up to you whether/how you want to discuss it.

Becky Sharper www.harpyness.com

Becky Sharper www.harpyness.com

Thanks, Becky.

I am so sick of people getting called stalkers if they so much as mention having looked at someone's Facebook page. I can't say I never did it when I was younger, but the lightened use of words related to brutal crimes, especially against women (see also: "That's raping my eyes") is really problematic.
As for the original topic, I'm afraid I don't have much too add -- in my experience, most names are common enough to turn up an irrelevant dearth of stuff, and my own birth name is so typical that if someone ever tried to Google me, gooooood luck. If the person knows my preferred usernames, the juicy stuff is locked up anyway.

Hmm, I've always found this

Hmm, I've always found this to be a difficult, personal boundaries situation. I've been online a few decades now and The Google knows altogether too much about a few youthful indiscretions of mine, things I'm not proud of but which don't reflect who I am now. Embarrassing writings which can't be removed from the usenet archive. That said, when I met my long term partner the only links I could find to her name were news articles and records of an unfortunate event in her life. Now that I know her well and understand the situation she was in it doesn't affect my opinion of her, but Google could easily have misled me. I've considered spamming the web with thousands of nonsense forum posts and blog comments containing our names, schools, etc to make us both unsearchable.

Intelius

For about 29.95 you can get a full civil and criminal rundown on a man, including all addresses, children, everything. They can't really hide anymore!

Mixed Feelings

I understand your point about the importance of knowledge, but my instinct shies away from wanting to Google everyone before I meet them or take the time to get to know them. Your story about Gawker's Toxic Bachelor gives me pause. I will admit, I have no idea who this person is, but the internet is full of rumors and bullshit, and I do believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt and a chance to prove themselves before I make judgments about them based on what I read on the interwebs. It's never actually occurred to me to Google someone before I've met them. I hope it doesn't start occurring to me.

I think you're right about

I think you're right about the rumors and bullshit. Lord knows, it's ain't a fact just because you read it on the internet. I always consider the source. If you read something on Gawker, that's different from what you read in a reputable newspaper or magazine. If you find something that person has written and posted under their own name, that's different from what's been written about them by another party.

It's really just an extension of the kind of information filtering we do every day. Whenever you meet someone new, you're taking in a lot of information--from them, from their friends, from other places--and the internet's just one more source that you have to apply the filter to.

Becky Sharper www.harpyness.com

Becky Sharper www.harpyness.com

The Googler and the Googled

When I was dating, I was a pre-date googler. The problem I ran into was how, when or if to reveal that I had googled the person. Mostly, because I actually found out interesting things that I wanted to follow up on. I have no real shame about googling people, but it just feels socially awkward to start a conversation - "So I googled you before I came here. Did you really write your senior thesis about the Russian Revolution? That's fascinating!" or "Is Jim your brother? You two look like twins!"

Interestingly, I was also having a conversation with someone the other day about whether a woman would assume a man is romantically interested if she finds out he's been checking out her Facebook, Flickr, etc. How should people react if they find out that random people are seeking or finding random information about them on the interwebs? Is it obvious or narcissistic to wonder if that person is into you? Is man googling lady different than lady googling man ?

Too Much Information

The more I reflect on this, the more information available for perusal is just making everything more byte sized, more mundane even. Log on, scan 45 blogs, news stories, emails, and check out tonights dates clubs, organizations, and Junior High Classmates. Hows a drop in the ocean going to be special if we now wallow neck deep in the water? We turn into grazers, munching the grass but never getting to the roots of anything. Too many metaphors. argh

Google Yes

I don't usually think to Google, but I would definitely recommend it. I mean, we used to meet people through other people that we know. It was, like, primitive Googling because your friends or family could vouch for people. Now that we're a more fractured society, who can provide info about that stranger? Well, Google, clearly.

I always Google potential

I always Google potential dates unless I already know about them through mutual friends. I also sometimes run their names through a free, public state database maintained by my state, which gives listings for any court cases they're involved in. Why, you ask, am I so invasive before even giving the dude a chance?
Simply put, I don't want to be a victim. I'd rather know more about a person than not enough. If that person has had a restraining order taken out against him by a past girlfriend, I want to know about that in advance.