I have a routine leading up to every first date, and it starts long before it’s time to straighten my hair and pump myself up with some Notorious B.I.G. In fact, I’ll rarely agree to go on a date with someone until I check it off of my list. Before every date, I thoroughly sleuth my prospect online. I am a journalist, after all.
After working at two television networks, finding out everything I know about a new source or interview subject feels like second nature. I need to verify that someone is who they say they are. Anything else I can learn about them is an added bonus that might be used to help us develop a rapport during an interview or at least add more color to a story.
It’s the same thing with dating. I want to know that you are who you say you are. And I want to have some knowledge I can use to help steer the conversation in the event it’s awkward. I never want to be trapped in the sort of bad date where we chug our margaritas, pretend like we had a decent time, do the ol’ one-arm hug, and then definitely never text each other again.
I also don’t want to waste my time, so I use my cyber sleuthing as a way to make sure there aren’t any obvious red flags that would instantly tell me we are not compatible. If there are, well, that’s one more night I can meet a friend for drinks or meet my couch for takeout.
And so, before agreeing to any date, I start gathering my reporting. If he has his Instagram attached to his profile, I’ll scroll through the first 10 photos and read the captions to learn more about him and what he’s been up to recently. I’ll also check to make sure he’s not the kind of dude who follows 100 porn stars.
Next, I’ll plug his name into Google. I can quickly figure out his last name by typing in his first name and the school he attended, the company he works for, or even his job title. If that’s a bust, an advanced search on LinkedIn usually does the trick. Sure, anyone can pretend to be someone they aren’t on the internet, but having a LinkedIn presence is usually a reliable indicator that someone is legit.
Once I know his full name, I’ll head over to Facebook and check out whatever is public on his profile. Finally, I’ll do a quick sweep of the first page of Google search results for his name to see if there’s anything interesting — including any potential deal breakers. In one case, I discovered a match was arrested for taking a drunken joyride in a stolen ambulance. We all make mistakes and yes, it was college, but come on. Only once I’m satisfied with what I see will I make a date.
But here’s the thing: I’ve always kept the fact that I’m an A+ sleuther a secret. That is, until I met Justin.
When Justin and I matched, he asked if I was famous, something he apparently inferred from the requisite two photos I posted with celebrities I’ve met through my job. (One was Floyd Mayweather and the other, Dustin Diamond, aka Screech from “Saved By the Bell.”) After I let Justin know that I am absolutely not famous and was sorry to let him down, he asked if I’d still like to grab a drink sometime.
My internal dialogue: Yes, but hold that thought.
I went through my usual routine and vetted Justin. Once I was satisfied that he seemed worth having a couple of drinks with, we agreed to meet up on a Monday after work.
That afternoon, I discovered something spectacular. Justin had viewed my LinkedIn profile, further proving my theory the vast majority of people secretly creep on their matches.
Knowing that I was not alone in this gave me an extra kick of confidence to perform an experiment on Justin. Rather than admit to him outright that I’d cyber stalked him online, my mission for the evening was to naturally weave into the conversation some of the tidbits I had discovered about him, and see how he reacted.
I figured we’d start with an easy one. Everyone who has a dog loves to talk about it, so I asked Justin about the golden retriever on his Instagram. He seemed happy to oblige.
The dog’s name is Duke, and Justin adopted him when he moved to New York seven years ago. He grew up with golden retrievers for most of his life, so he definitely wanted one of his own in the city. As an added bonus, Duke is “a total chick magnet,” Justin told me, a line he probably should have just kept to himself.
After our first round of drinks arrived, I asked him how long he had been in sales at his company — I only knew he worked there from his LinkedIn.
Maybe I was reading too much into it, but I felt like Justin paused for enough time that the silence was awkward. And there is nothing worse than dead air on a first date. It made me wonder whether I had jumped the gun a little. But he indulged me and explained that he’s always worked in sales in some capacity, but started at his current company a year ago. He said he travels about once a month and really likes it. Then it was my turn to talk about what I do and get the usual polite job conversation out of the way.
With one drink down, another on the way, and the conversation moving along, I decided to step it up and ask about the beach vacation photo he posted on his public Facebook a few months earlier. He didn’t label where it was taken, so I figured I’d inquire for the sake of this experiment — and at least walk away with another tropical beach to add to my travel wish list.
By this point, I had outed myself completely. Justin looked politely amused but also uncomfortable as he asked whether I always scope out a guy’s Facebook before a first date.
I could’ve replied with a smooth save such as, “Well only the hottest ones!” But at this point, I wasn’t really feeling another date was in the cards with Justin, so I owned up to my sleuthing — and teased him about looking at my LinkedIn profile, too.
I told him I like to have an idea of what to expect before I meet a date. I don’t want to just trust his carefully curated collection of dating app photos. I want to see what else is out there. And I want to make sure whoever I’m meeting appears to be a real person, minimizing the risk of being catfished or stuck having a polite drink with a guy who looks nothing like his photos. He told me he doesn’t usually Google dates, but the celebrity photos made him curious.
It was fun to be so open about my internet research skills on the first date, but would I be quite this open again? Probably not. I don’t think there’s any reason for a guy to know that I’ve done my homework. If he likes baseball, I’m going to bring up baseball. But he doesn’t need to know I learned he played in college and that’s why I’m asking. I’ll let him tell me.
And if this article pops up in the search results by any future matches who Google me, well hello. We already have at least one thing in common.