Remember You’ve Got Mail, America’s introduction to the Internet’s ability to connect two people romantically? That was in 1998, the beginning of online dating’s slow climb to mass popularity. Suddenly the internet became flooded with creeps, shy folk and social recluses all itching to click-and-date; online dating developed a longstanding stigma of breeding losers.
Social media was a brand new concept back then. Dating millenials had no experience using the internet as a tool for building relationships, and so the only success stories traveled by word-of-mouth and cheesy commercials from that silver fox that started eHarmony.
Things are different now. We, the social media generation, are dating at last. Unlike our elders, we’ve grown up with social platforms, user profiles, avatars, Google and HitClips. We understand how online representations translate into real life, how to litmus test a cyberfriendship.
This also means that we know how to misrepresent ourselves, accentuate the positive and downplay our greatest problems. But it’s not that easy—all of the tools that developed alongside the latest and greatest anonymous dating websites can be used to take out that anonymity. There are endless arguments for doing research on prospective dates: it can keep you safe (“I thought this was a bar…”), prevent awkward encounters (“Oh, you’re a Red Sox fan?”), reveal hidden surprises (“OMG, she’s a model at Lane Bryant!”), identify mutual friends (“Joey, what do you know about a guy named Bert Kontrol?”) and over time, help you identify patterns between profiles and people so you don’t need to do your research at all.
Eliminate the surprise that made online dating fun in the first place. In honor of Safer Internet Day, we invite you to stay informed by using our 3-step process to online dating stalkerdom.
Step 1: Pick Your Poison
There are dating sites for every niche imagineable. Star Trek superfan? Trek Passions. Allergic to gluten? Gluten-Free Faces. Coffee lover? Grindr. (Author’s note: Hope you like your coffee strong.) Find a site that caters to you.
And then there are the new kids in town, the trendy sites that ask questions like “What’s your favorite superpower?” or “How many Gushers can you eat in one sitting?” There’s Coffee Meets Bagel, a “daily deal” email with just one person to approve or reject each day. Or Grouper, a service that matches you and two friends with another group of three to alleviate pressure and increase chances of success (or a memorable orgy). Try out Mirror, a site that relies on your friends’ evaluations rather than your own self-obsessed summary. Most new sites take advantage of Facebook, introducing you to people with mutual friends or shared interests. After all, some of the best relationships are hiding in your extended network of friends.
Step 2: Run The Photos
You’ve met your knight in shining armor? Great, time to see if he’s real. Open two side-by-side Chrome windows and drag their profile photos into the search box of Google Images. Yes, you can do that. (Using a mobile app? Screenshot that thang.) Are you impressed? You should be.
It’s scary how often this works. People recycle photos all over the internet, so there’s a good chance one of them has made its way to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or some escort website from their time abroad in Poland. (Author’s note: true story.) Way too often, these photos come from MySpace profiles, Tumblr feeds of Belgian models and pseudo-celebrities from YouTube. That’s really why you’re running the search; you’re trying to make sure their story adds up.
In some cases you’ll need to do legwork; you might find a cached list of some kid’s Facebook friends and have to scroll through the list or ask your date for a first name to narrow down the potential suspects. Or even an old cache of their dating profile (if it’s public) which might confirm they used to live in Baltimore or that they were once straight. Once you have a name and very basic information, you’re ready to Google.
Step 2B: When You Can’t Find Their Name
If nothing came up in step 2, do not fear! Start with a search for their username. What’s that, they use it on Tumblr? Score! If you’re still stuck, talk to them for real and gauge their personality. Meanwhile, you should be asking simple questions that will unintentionally reveal who they are. Do they go to NYU? Any friends in your major? Great, bug your mutual friend Jane or check her Facebook friend list for a lead. Aspring actor? Ask them what show they’re in, and check the cast page. Merchandise Coordinator at Tommy Hilfiger Corporate? Do an advanced search on LinkedIn or check the corporate site. Broke blogger? Ask them about their latest post and run a Google Blogs or Google News search. Mozart lover from Idaho attending Pratt? Use somebody’s Graph Search beta account.
It’s unreal how little you need to know about someone in order to find out who they are. Simple intuition like assuming his or her Twitter and Instagram handles are the same can land you the intel you need to know for a successful first date. Vapiano lover? You know where to meet. (Don’t abuse the privilege, kids. Nobody likes a phony.)
Step 3: Get Real
The goal is not to learn everything about them so you arrive to your first IRL meeting like a therapist following a year of sessions. The idea is just to make sure they’re genuine, weed out the fakes and possibly get excited that you subscribe to the same YouTube Channels or have both retweeted Heinz Ketchup. Being a creep is not a replacement for having a real conversation and asking questions that matter, like “What are you hopes and dreams?”
Remember, knowledge is power. And with great power comes great dates. (And with great dates come great Moroccan tajine.)