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:
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.