How to check out a potential partner online – without being creepy

Researching potential love interests online is par for the course these days – but admitting to it is another matter.

In the first throes of romance there are three little words it’s probably best to avoid. No matter how googly-eyed you may be about someone, admitting “I Googled you” too soon is a sure-fire way to nip a relationship in the bud. So, by the way, is admitting: “I have herpes” or “I like Nickleback”. However, while honesty may be the best policy when it comes to sexually transmitted diseases or very bad bands, the same isn’t true when it comes to online stalking. I mean, um, online “research”.

According to a survey from Pew Research 41% of 18- to 29-year-olds use social media to find out more about a potential date. Which clearly means that 59% of 18- to 29-year-olds are shameless liars. I mean, come on, the first stage of any modern courtship is “pre-connaissance” isn’t it? A little digital due diligence pre-date is just good sense these days. But good sense isn’t always good manners and there is still something of a stigma attached to admitting you know more about a potential paramour than you really should. So, to help you navigate the thorny world of stalking netiquette, here is a handy guide to the dos and don’ts of creeping without being creepy:

Don’t be a professional stalker

For reasons I can’t fully explain I accepted a friend request from my dentist on Facebook and LinkedIn. Within a matter of hours he’d endorsed me for “digital strategy” on LinkedIn, which was flattering if somewhat confusing. He’d also “liked” a number of my Facebook photos, pausing to comment on one: “Great smile Arwa! But let’s talk periodontal pocket reduction at your next visit!!” I now have a painful bill for pointless periodontal procedures and a new dentist. The point of this story is that you should stalk for love … not for money, and never for molars.

Don’t compile a dating dossier

There’s a point at which a little light stalking goes from “research” into “psychopathic behaviour”. The point at which this line is crossed is up for debate. Nevertheless if manila folders are ever involved you can be pretty certain you’re in weirdo territory. My friend Britta, for example, went back to the apartment of a guy she’d been dating for a couple of weeks to discover he had a folder labelled “Britta” in plain view on his desk. “I was sitting on his lap at the time so I asked him about it,” said Britta. “And he pulled out a bunch of random photos from my Facebook page. It was awkward for both of us.”

Do destroy the evidence

While you may not have a binder full of women on your desk, a little online research can leave a very large trace. Getting out your phone to show your date a hilarious YouTube video of prancing pygmy goats (everyone does this, right?) only to realise that their LinkedIn profile is still open on your screen is a serious first-world problem. My normal advice in situations like this would be to drink copiously. However, I’m a little worried that someone I’m semi-interested in would think less of me for suggesting this. So, in case she’s stalking my digital footprint, let’s, errr, move swiftly on. In short, cookies are never your friend, and clear your history if you want any chance of a future.

Do know how much stalking is too much stalking

Seven pages into Google is too much.

Do avoid the pre-judge

When you are face to Facebook with someone you risk unearthing nuggets of information that might unfairly turn you off them before you get to know each other properly. This is the termed the “pre-judge.” There are certain instances, however, where you are completely justified in the pre-judge. It is, for example, entirely warranted vis-à-vis anyone who posts copious “inspirational” quotes online; anyone who plays Farmville; and anyone who posts pictures of themselves with firearms.

I offer this last piece of advice from personal experience, having once hit it off with a girl in a bar who (like everyone else in New York) was a photographer slash model slash social-media-expert. We exchanged names and numbers and I added her on Instagram in order to examine her talents more thoroughly. While her body of work was impressive I was somewhat perturbed to come across a photo of her posing with a gun, complete with the caption: “… the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”. I strongly believe that the only arms people have a right to bear are those attached to their shoulders so this creeped me out.

Reader, I Googled him

Sometimes, it’s good to stalk: it can help you figure out if the object of your affections is worth those affections. Nevertheless if you want there to be a happy ending to your research it’s probably best to do a little less online stalking and have a little more offline conversation. – By Arwa Mahdawi © Guardian News and Media 2013

Image – AFP

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