Part of the reason that Hinge is my favourite dating app is the ability for people to really show some of their personality in their profile prompts. In addition to basic safety and vibe concerns, it’s useful to have a jumping off point for small talk about each other’s interests. Similarly, I’ve argued before why Twitter can work well as a dating app — even though that’s not always the case. Currently there is a stranger who slammed head-first into my Twitter DMs by telling (not asking) me to go get drinks with him. His argument is that we should “get to know each other in person” over “small talk” online. I responded that what he sees as “small talk” is what I see as “basic politeness,” as well as a way to sense whether or not he plans to chop me up into little pieces (which is always a non-zero chance, people). Also: Yes, I’m single, please pick your jaws up off the floor.
The “blind date” is dead. We live in a time where if I can find out your name, then I can find out what year you graduated, what your sense of humour is like, and maybe even how tall you really are. Given the ability to do some “light stalking” (more on that term in a second), why hold myself back? As long as you exercise some self-control, it makes sense that you’d use the digital tools at your disposal to ensure your potential date doesn’t have any major deal breakers.
Although I’m an advocate for looking people up before you date them, you don’t want to sabotage a relationship with too much information too soon. So, what should you know about researching a date online before meeting up in person? I casually tweeted this question to my fan base network and did research of my own to bring you some clarity.
First: Let’s stop calling it “stalking”
Online “stalking” is an outdated term that has been misleading ever since it was first coined. Unless you’re referring to true cyberstalking, which is a serious and dangerous offence, you probably use “stalking” to refer to the act of scrolling back through someone’s Facebook or Instagram. I’m here to tell you that given the state of social media and privacy expectations, this so-called “stalking” is not only acceptable, but it should also be expected–especially if you’re preparing to meet someone from a dating app in-person.
Let me reiterate how odd it is that we call basic preliminary research “stalking.” It’s not as if you’re keeping tabs on the person and following them home; and if you are doing that, please stop and seek help. Instead, there’s a healthy amount of online sleuthing and Instagram-scrolling that is less like stalking and more akin to background checking. Because isn’t that really what we’re doing when we’re researching someone from a dating app? When done right, you’re using the digital tools at your disposal to make sure that a potential partner is who they say they are.
Stay safe from stranger danger
The most obvious reason for a quick Google search of your date’s name is to get a general idea of who they are before you meet them. After that first date, you might Google some more, because at this point, you’re making sure they are, in fact, who they claim to be. In an interview with INSIDER, relationship expert Susan Winter said people should “not feel ashamed if they’ve [Googled their date], because it’s fairly common. And it becomes a more common practice once you actually like a person after the first date…You want to fact-check.”
Besides, cursory stalking is a basic expectation for modern interactions, romantic or not. In response to my tweet, author Nikki Haverstock (@RancherNikki) shared that “A quick google seems like a good safety protocol, but I wouldn’t call that stalking. When I take a class I will often do the same for my teacher so I have an idea of their experiences. Many of my writing/coaching clients do the same to me.”
I know that background checks don’t sound romantic. Know what else isn’t romantic? Going on a date with a catfish. Or a racist. Or your cousin. You get the idea.
Consider the many, many grains of salt
The glaring flaw in the practice of “stalking” or “background checks” or any other kind of online research: People lie online, too. Once again, please pick your jaw up off the floor.
It’s useful to arm yourself with some basic facts about a person, but take into consideration that you’re not getting anywhere near the full picture. “There are times when researching someone online before meeting them can spare you from a dead-end date,” Scott Valdez, founder and president of ViDA, a service that helps clients meet their ideal match online, told Bustle. “But here’s what you need to keep in mind while you’re taking a peek around — you’re missing a huge piece of the puzzle.”
There are a lot of caveats to keep in mind during your background checks. Many amazing people don’t use social media well, if at all. You might be researching the wrong person with the same name. Not only do others fail to present themselves accurately online, but also, you’re not an unbiased, objective researcher. You might glean some information that is a certified dealbreaker — e.g. your date is actually married with children — while other details might look like red flags, when in fact, you’re judging too harshly from behind a screen.
Keep some things to the imagination
My Twitter network agrees that it’s important to strike a balance between research and an open mind — and heart. Jordan Ashleigh (@JordanAshleighF) told me, “I will take a quick glance at their stuff to see if there are any immediate, major red flags but I prefer to decide for myself in person. Some people are bad at social media & great in real life! learning too much about someone before meeting them takes the fun out of it.”
Similarly, @themeredith said, “I’ll do some basic checking around and only meet in a public place but especially guys my age (I’m 37) are generally not good at social media or even texting half the time so in person gives such a clearer picture. Plus it keeps it interesting!”
Let’s say you scroll too much and see that someone posts snarky movie opinions, or they have a cringeworthy taste in memes, or you think they smile with way too much teeth. While it’s important to listen to your gut about true red flags, try not to sabotage a date before you give someone a chance to show you who they are in real life.
Adapt to the new norm
A quick search is to be expected these days. So go ahead and make sure your date is not a creep. Maybe even gather a few conversation starters; if someone has a public profile and is shocked when you reference it in-person, well, they need to get with the times.
How do you strike the balance of a healthy amount of research? One of my Twitter respondents @ale_xcp put it well: “Learning too much creates unfair expectations. Learning enough to make sure they’re not a mutant or a predator is good.”
So let yourself search for a good few minutes, then put your detective badge away. If you’re on page four of Google results, or you’ve scrolled back to when every Instagram post had that grainy vignette filter, you’re painting a filtered picture of someone before getting to know who they really are.
If you’re putting on your private investigator cap, here’s how to keep your social media creeping private. On the flip side, brush up on keeping your own social media presence as private as possible. Finally, in order to get a date scheduled in the first place, here’s how to actually get good responses on dating apps.