BACK IN THE DAY, when "googol" was just a number too large to comprehend, every first date was a clean slate. The mystery unfolded slowly: Where are you from? Where'd you go to college? When should we register at Pottery Barn? These days, Google cuts in on the getting-to-know-you dance. Show me a person who has never indulged in a little online detective work and I'll show you an octogenarian resident of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. As long as there's Internet access, romance will be researched. But just because you can google—and it's nearly impossible to resist doing it—does that mean you should? The primary justification googlers use for their actions—other than the "home alone with a chocolate cake" argument (it's delicious, accessible, and no one will ever know)—is that when you live a chaotic urban life, dating requires efficiency. Hop on board for a shortcut to red flags.
Take Nicola Piggott, a public relations executive in Los Angeles. "I got chatting with this guy online who said he was a teacher. I googled his school's site, clicked on 'faculty,' and there he was … wearing a priest's collar! He asked me out, so I set up a poll on my blog to see what my friends thought. Everyone said he'd be a sex fiend. So I didn't go."
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Tina Singh, a consultant in Washington, DC, also trusts in Google. "I looked up this guy once and found an old Web site that had pictures of him and his friends. I swear, he thought he was part of the Indian mafia. They were wearing silk shirts, hair gel, and were leaning against these cars. Their parents' BMWs! Obviously, I wasn't interested after I saw that."
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If information pertinent to your love life exists in the public domain, why shouldn't you access it? Ginny Smith, an actress in New York City, reasons, "It's the equivalent of reading a story about your crush in the hometown newspaper."
Jennifer Lee, a New York City-based writer agrees. "If you were living in a small town, you'd be snooping around with everyone you know. In a global society, Google is an extension of your friends and family."