For some women, first date preparation is a leg wax, a blowout, and brand-new, five-inch pumps. For others, it’s a swipe of lip gloss.
But for me, it’s always at least a solid hour of internet research. To me, pre-date Googling is less a verb than an Olympic-style event of decathlon proportions. There’s the phone number check, there’s the email address cross-search, there’s the quick dip into the search box of his alma mater, then there’s also a quick perusal of his Facebook page, and, occasionally, his friends’ Facebook pages.
Stalkerish? I never think so. I like seeing his digital persona take form, how a guy can go from just a formal bio on his work website to a giddy commenter on a Facebook feed in just a few clicks of a mouse. It makes me feel like I know him, which always makes me more relaxed before blind dates. That way, I can anticipate the anecdote about the time he spent New Year’s Eve in Iceland (saw it via his friend’s Facebook) or his dorky obsession with Journey (know that from Googling his email address and finding some postings to listservs).
When it comes to me, I pride myself in being off the Google grid. Sure, there are the articles I’ve written and my up-to-the-minute-minutiae Twitter account, but I also share my name with a microbiologist in the U.K., an eponymous Welsh wool shop, and a woman who blogs on a website called The Fashionable Housewife. I thought I was safe from any negative Google surprises—until I was set up with a fellow journalist, someone I’d fallen in love with from the very first page of search results, from his smart Twitter feed that focused on environmental news to the play he wrote that was still accessible through a search of his name on his grad school department website.
We met at a crowded bar after work and did the preliminary introductions, then ordered drinks. “So, that essay you wrote a few years ago? The one about how you like one-night stands? Do you still do that?” he asked, turning toward me and raising an eyebrow.
I almost choked on my beer. We had one more thing in common: He Googled with the same unflinching intensity I did. Somehow, he’d managed to find an essay I had written for a risqué website when I was 23, about how I preferred one-night stands to dating. Even then, I’d published it under a pseudonym. But I had done a reading of the piece under my own name, so he must have found some sort of announcement for that, Googled the title of the essay, then found the piece.
If it had been any other situation, I would have been impressed. But I shrugged and laughed, hoping he’d change the subject and we could forget about it. But he raised his eyebrow and I began racking my brain, trying to remember the specifics of that particular piece. A few details came back to me: About how I had a tendency to make fun of the guys who I was dating, and often would end a date with a visit to a friend-with-benefits. How I always gave my dates unflattering nicknames. It was an honest essay that captured who I was at age 23, but it wasn’t who I was now. But I could tell he didn’t believe that.
Then I remembered all the guys I’d preemptively rejected, based on the pre-first date Google search. There was the one whose music website caused me and my cube mate to burst into giggles when we read the way-too-earnest lyrics to his self-written songs that were mostly about how sad he was to see trash on the side of the road. There was the guy who kept talking about marathon training even after I’d found a road race result that showed he was slower than I was.
The date ended after one beer and a few uncomfortable conversations about the parts of our lives that weren’t internet-accessible—which were mainly boring anecdotes about our respective train commutes. That was the lesson I needed. Going on a date with someone who had their own internet-based idea of me—which was skewed and not really reflective of who I was as a real person—wasn’t fun or enlightening. And I realized that in order to really get to know the guys I date, I need to stop searching and start connecting.