DEAR DR. JENN,
I’m newly single and dating, mostly through apps and websites. Should I do some light Internet stalking of my potential dates before going out with them, or does that kill the romance? —Sleuth
Let’s be real: There’s no such thing as a blind date anymore. Most people—75% of women and 59% of men, according to one dating site survey—check out their date on social media before a first date.
There are many people, dating professionals among them, who will tell you this is a bad idea. But I am all for it. Think about argument against Internet stalking: Searches leave you biased, possibly against someone you’ve never met. I say that’s exactly what you want when screening for dates. Take my girlfriend Monica, who is a vegan. A simple glance at her new potential date’s Instagram showed him to be a hunter. For her, that was an easy deal breaker. Or a recent client, a staunch liberal Democrat, who saw a potential Bumble date’s Instagram pictures of her volunteering for a political candidate that makes his skin crawl. Another deal breaker.
We have way too little spare time to warrant wasting hours with a date that could’ve easily been ruled out. That’s time you can’t spend with someone who’s better suited to you. Not to mention, there are safety issues involved with meeting a stranger. This is not the time to put on your FBI hat and dig into the deep net, but discovering a mutual friend can go a long way.
We need to be aligned with a potential partner’s core values in order for a relationship to last. If there is something you feel very strongly about, you don’t want to date someone who has the polar opposite philosophical stance, unless you love a high-conflict relationship with lots of debate. If you’re open to finding out what piques your interest on a date, then don’t turn someone down just because their life is different than yours; difference can make for a great match. But if you’re coming to the dating game with non-negotiables in mind—often religion, kids, politics—you don’t want to get attached to someone who you already know won't give you those.
A little stalking can also give you a sense of where a person is developmentally in their life. Take one client of mine, whom we’ll call Jane. She was very clear that she was looking for a life partner. Shortly after starting to date John, not exclusively, he posted a picture of himself in bed with two women. God bless the man who is such a douche bag that he showcases his pride about bedding as many women as possible (at one time!) on social media. Jane was able to quickly eliminate him as potential husband material. The opportunity to weed through people who are not right for you is a time-saving gift.
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Social media can also help you pinpoint your dating Achilles heel. On season four of my show VH1 Couples Therapy with Dr. Jenn, we went online with TV personality Farrah Abraham to find some potential matches for her. The first person she picked was a guy who posted a ton of shirtless selfies in the gym locker room. Yes, his abs were worthy of showing off, but you could see that this man was a classic narcissist from how he chose to present himself. This should have helped her rule him out, not drawn her to him. If you’re having similar difficulties, think about what you find attractive and why. Therapy can go a long way to help us understand our selection process. On the flip side, a little snooping may also lead you to finding out that you have similar interests with your match. You may like the same music, enjoy the same kinds of adventure, have the same goals, or just find each other interesting. This bodes well for a fun first date!
Beyond a light Internet stalking session, I also recommend an old-fashioned phone call (gasp!) before an in-person meet. A person’s social media presence can more or less only help you screen for the most major red flags or exciting common interests. But getting to know someone on the phone gives you a sense of whether or not you have chemistry, a rapport, and a sense of humor you can work with.
There is nothing wrong with saying, “I’m not gonna lie—I Googled you and came across a post of you at a Taylor Swift concert. How did you become a fan?” (Unless, of course, that concert was four years ago.) If you’re not comfortable revealing that you know that information, you still have it in your back pocket and can mention that time that you went to see Taylor Swift live.
But don’t take it further than that. Stop your search before you’re scrolling through dozens of pictures, trying to figure out whether the woman he has his arm around is/was/will be his girlfriend. Stop before you’re making recipes from his best friend’s roommate’s girlfriend’s food blog—and if you’ve gone there, keep it to yourself. More importantly, don’t bend your personality to fit the preferences that you think you’ve figured out based on his Facebook pictures. First of all, you’re probably wrong about a lot. And second, you’ll be listening to Taylor Swift for the rest of your life.