This past weekend, the New York Times' Social Q's column published a letter from a woman who wanted to know: "At what point in the dating process is it correct to perform a background check on a prospective partner?"
Their answer: Um, never. Just get to know the person, you crazy harpie.
We're kidding, of course. They didn't use the word "person."
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Their real answer: "Feel free to consult a private eye anytime after you feel that certain spring in your step, but safely prior to sharing your Social Security number or the secret code to your A.T.M. card."
Ah, yes, the old private investigator. We'll just call ours up right now on our speed dial.
Seriously, though. Are we just completely behind the times? Is everyone besides us hiring private investigators before embarking on magical overnight date number three? Or is the New York Times just targeting a different readership than us? You know, the kind that likes Matlock and fears that 20/20 might be right about the guy who's developing your film.
We recommend keeping it simple. If you meet your date through friends, ask the compatriots a few probing questions.
When you're out on dates, do that crazy thing we refer to as talking. Get to know them. Pay attention to how they interact with others. Don't share information you shouldn't (e.g. your mother's maiden name, your credit card numbers, the fact that you cry when you watch The Ghost Whisperer). As with food preparation and sex, keep it safe. If you feel that something's not right or too good to be true, don't waste your time.
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If you can't resist, allow yourself a few minutes with that sacred tool of stalkers the world over: Google. Just bear in mind that you might come across something you'd prefer not to, and we're not talking about insurance fraud (e.g. ambiguously affectionate Facebook postings from other gals, Dungeons and Dragons fan club memberships, bad art).
Finally, remember (as even the New York Times concedes) that no amount of investigating with a private eye or online will tell you if that special someone will treat you well, irritate you, or embarrass you. Only time will tell you that. So don't just search your new crush for signs; listen, and listen carefully.