How much Googling is too much?

GoogleDouglas Mack wrote a beautiful and heart-wrenching piece about his own online dating adventure in The Morning News. (Thanks to Dave Pell’s NextDraft for bringing this to my inbox.) He tackles the topic of newly acquainted folks Googling each other once they find out a full name to query. This is a tricky practice; I usually discourage even sharing one’s entire name until a couple dates in, although it’s tricky to balance basic safety concerns with privacy concerns.

The unfortunate reality is that women are more likely to be the victims of a creepy ill-meaning dater than men are. So in order to ensure that a woman feels safe and that her boundaries and needs are respected, it’s fair game for her to insist that a man give his complete info including first and last name, while declining to share the same info herself. This is FINE and in fact commendable if we actually use this stuff for safety purposes.. But ladies, you have to remember to be Maren-like in your Googlings if you use this information for some light e-stalking. You have an unfair advantage now, and it’s shitty of you to use it to preemptively form unfair opinions about the dude who just bared his internet soul to you. And once you’ve fully vetted him and determined that he rings no Serial Killer Alarms, you should feel free to reciprocate if you have an e-stalkable online presence.

In writing about Maren having Googled him, Doug is relieved and relaxed when she sends him links to her own sometimes-embarrassing online presence. (Emphasis mine.)

Her brief email ended, “Please ignore the parts where I may seem like an idiot.”

It was a touching offering, like a stranger unexpectedly sharing a meal or a hard-won prize: I give you my awkwardness. I like you for yours; I hope you will like me for mine.

I hadn’t even realized I was holding my breath until it escaped in a full-throated rush that was at once relieved sigh and belly laugh.

This, folks, is the proper way to e-stalk and share information. It’s totally normal to Google each other now, or Facebook stalk, or what have you… but it has to be done with an open mind, a light heart, a sense of humor about the whole thing. You have to recognize that the awkwardly edited version of yourself that made it to the top page ranking isn’t necessarily going to be the picture you would have painted on your own. And that’s OK, but everyone needs to be informal about this. Don’t strike someone off your Potential Match List just because of awkward search results. As Doug puts it:

The specific moment that had built our trust and communication—the key to the mutual attraction we felt but had not yet confessed outright—was basically an act of distrust and paranoia, a secretive background check.

And you know what? Spoilers: things worked out pretty well for them. So if you take on this inherent act of distrust, if you insist on seeing someone’s Facebook page or Googling their byline or generally otherwise forming an imperfect picture of them, just take everything you find with a grain of salt. They might be AMAZING despite their awkward blog entries from 1997. Give them a chance in person.

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