On my first online date—five years ago—I was scared and inexperienced and extraordinarily stupid, but somehow the date went incredibly well. We clicked right away, and talked for hours about our families and our shared home state and our favorite comedians. After a torrid sidewalk make out, I headed home completely smitten. He was so fascinating and strange and perfect, that I was not content to wait until date No. 2 to know everything about him. So I took to Google.
I knew my date had been a writer, but I didn’t know how prolific he was: A simple search of his extremely specific name spat back pages and pages of bylines and dozens images of him as a talking head on various news programs I would never watch. I had hit the mother lode. And as much as I told myself I was not going to keep clicking, soon I found myself in deep. Thirty-two pages deep, to be exact.
I wanted to hide my stalking, but if you read 32 Google pages on someone, you are bound to slip up. Thirty-two Google pages will burn inside of you until you finally tell a dude how incisive you found the 2007 report he wrote about election tampering. My date was justifiably creeped out, and then he was no longer my date.
So I don’t Google dates anymore.
But that misstep was five years ago. While a Deep Google is still untoward, the rules must have changed. So what constitutes a Deep Google? Thirty-two pages is 32 pages too far, but isn’t a cursory search for “date’s name” + “child sex offender registry” just self-protection? Is an image search worse than a Web search? How far is too far?
My friends actually expect me to date a guy who literally googled me in class
— professional puppy (@freddiehamiIton) October 23, 2014
And more importantly: Is the creepiness limited to Google? How much of someone’s Twitter feed is it acceptable to read? Is it OK to check for mutual Facebook friends? Should you ever, ever click on a person’s LinkedIn profile?
Jessica, 28, believes that a pre-date search is par for the course, but that a full-blown scour should be off limits. She does “the check” just to make sure her dates haven’t committed any heinous crimes and to “just, like, make sure they exist generally.” Jessica expects that her dates might Google her, which is fine—as long as they keep it to themselves. “It comes with the territory, but I would be creeped out if someone brought up [what they had learned] on a date.” As long as the information overload doesn’t bring her date to bursting, she knows that what’s public is public. But, she says, “I think there’s an assumption that most people Google each other—for a variety of reasons ranging from safety to just insatiable curiosity that’s fueled by availability and culture—but part of being a normal human is knowing when to hold back. And part of dating is getting to know someone gradually.”
In the last five years, how many of you have NOT Googled someone you were about to date/just went on a date with? #AtoZ
— Rashida Jones (@iamrashidajones) October 17, 2014
Noah, 29, says that he skips Google entirely when it comes to online-stalking dates: “I’d actually be more likely to look them up on Twitter or LinkedIn than Google them.” He considers social media a much more acceptable form of investigation, and hopes that prospective lady friends feel the same way. If a date was to look up one of his profiles, they would only find what he wanted them to find. “Everything [on social media] is stuff that I’ve done or I’ve purposefully put online,” but with Google, anything could come up. While he claims he has nothing to hide, this desire to unearth secrets puts Noah off—it “makes it seem like they’re looking for something or don’t trust me in some way.”
Isla, 27, says that Twitter is her downfall. “I go pretty far back,” she admits. “I have restrained myself from using Topsy to do time searches.” She feels guilty about this, but her comeuppance is swift, “I feel like the endless scroll is my punishment.” The hours she’s wasted are penalty enough. On top of that, she’s gotten in trouble for her detective work—creating an awkward moment after accidentally dropping the name of the company her date hadn’t told her he worked for. “He was confused but glossed past it.” Did she learn her lesson? Not so much—only carpal tunnel can do that: “At some point you get tired of scrolling.”
Ryan, 31, is an avid Twitter user, but the idea that a woman might read deep into his feed doesn’t scare him at all. However, he says, he would be upset if a date assumed he is his Internet persona. “The stalking doesn’t bother me one bit,” he says, but “if someone tried to extrapolate “Who is Ryan?” from it,” they would be in for a surprise. The information isn’t the problem, it’s assuming that the endless stream means anything IRL.
Amanda, 30, believes that in this advanced age, a search engine is unlikely to tell you the secrets you really want anyways. “The information I’d get from a Google stalk is more likely to just tell me things I already know—like where they went to school and what they do for a living.” For this reason, she prefers a close Facebook examination. Amanda argues, “We all do it”: Recently, she was walking past a sidewalk café and saw a woman handing her phone to her friend, saying, “OK, be careful not to accidentally like any of his pics.” She knew exactly what was going on; she’d said the same words to friends of her own.
Still, there’s one social network Amanda assiduously avoids. “I always worry that they’d see if I looked at their LinkedIn profile, so I never go there. There’s a fine line between flattery and creepery,” she laughs.