Google can tell us a lot but not everything about dates & potential mates.
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."
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."
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."
The Internet is the new town hall, so it's perfectly rational to scan the crowd from a hidden corner … or so I told myself, when I pre-screened a blind date. There wasn't much wrong with him, he just seemed like a bit of a meathead, and not really my type. Which is exactly what I told my matchmaking girlfriend after I emailed the guy to cancel the date. She was surprised. Usually, I'm an optimistic dater who sees potential, even when I should see disaster.
And that's when I realized I'd crossed the line between exceptional time management and closed-mindedness, letting petty details get in the way of possibilities. After all the time and energy I'd given Google, what had it given me? Hours of angst over the truly awful middle school poem I never should have submitted to an online literary magazine. Awkward dates spent "discovering"facts in the evening that I'd already learned at my desk that afternoon. A pit in my stomach when an ex-boyfriend I hadn't spoken to for years admitted to reading all my articles online. (Even this one? Stop it. Really.) If romance was dead, I had let Google kill it.
Perhaps, I reasoned, my friend Matt Ray was onto something. He's the only person I know who never googles in the name of love—all the more fascinating because, as a network architect and security expert in Seattle, he googles hackers for a living. "The dating process moves fast enough already,"he says. "Emails, instant messages, and cell-phone calls truncate what used to be a longer process. By the time I started dating my last girlfriend we had exchanged 15 emails, and who knows how many lines of IM. Come the second or third date, we had covered at least 50 percent of the significant gettingto-know-you data. And knowing everything up front takes away the allure of start-up dates."He had a point.
So, when I received a flirtatious email from a friend of a friend, I thought twice before calling up my favorite search engine. Maybe it was time to live and let live. Let fate takes its course. Stop allowing a technology that gets hit on a trillion times a day determine who gets to hit on me. Sadly, this line of thinking lasted about 15 minutes. (See chocolate cake rationale.) I typed his name.
As it turns out, the guy was extraordinarily good on screen: exceptional job, history of charitable giving, obviously athletic, good-looking. (Yes, I image search. But I draw the line at Google Earth. When you know what his apartment building looks like, you have to cop to stalking.) So, I took a chance and responded with a flirty email, which led to more, flirtier emails and, eventually, brunch. In person, he was just as intelligent, kind-hearted, athletic, and handsome as my research indicated. He was funny, personable, interesting, and ... gay.
The good Google had failed to mention that. I walked away from the restaurant convinced that this was my final, cosmic punishment—what I deserved for taking an illegal shortcut on the road to Mr. Right.
Google is good for finding many things: the winning word for a knock-down, dragout game of Scrabble; the tax break that'll buy you a new couch; perfect shoes. But when it comes to finding The One, no one gets to click a mouse and discover a New Yorker-reading, pastry-baking, compliment-smothering husband. Whether you like it or not, the only way to discover the good stuff—common values, unbelievable chemistry, unstoppable laughter—is to engage in the endless cycle of expectation and disappointment known as dating.
Google may seem all-powerful, but it's simply no match for the oldest search of all.
Marnie Hanel is a former YourTango senior editor.
Do not google her.