So let’s say I just met someone and they seem nice, but I want to know more about them. Should I research them online? Or just leave it to conversation to learn more about them?
A Budding Romance or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Internet Stalking.
“Stalking” isn’t really a word to be thrown around in terms of checking into someone you like, so why don’t we think of it as “fond research?” And there’s nothing wrong with fond research. Even in long-term relationships it’s unsurprising for one partner or another to scroll through who is posting on their lover’s wall or Tweeting @ them.
Does this usually have any bearing on the relationship? Only if you let it. If you’re gonna be all, “Who’s Rebecca!? Why is Rebecca leaving cat emojis on all your Instagram photos!?” and it turns out Rebecca is your boyfriend’s cousin, you’ll look like a crazyface. Because you’re being a crazyface.
But what about the person you just met? The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Psychology released a study in 2011 that found people exhibit many of their same patterns of behavior online as they do offline. Extroverted people had more “Friends” and engaged more with their “Friends” than shier users.
The study also concluded that people prone to procrastinate used Facebook as a distraction from real work. Hey, Obama: Why don’t we put all the unemployed millennials to work by funding more “No Shit, Sherlock” studies? Boom, I just fixed the economy.
There is ABSOLUTELY a difference between your online presence and your IRL presence. When I’m online, I’m able to craft a comment or status update that is concise and witty enough to garner a few likes. I can research any information I need to back up my arguments on social justice forums. In person when I don’t have a response to something I sometimes just make weird animal noises.
So when starting your “fond research,” add a grain of salt for every mouse click. You can’t really know someone just by their profile or blog – but rest assured that once you get to know them, they’re usually much better in person.
Here are a few ground rules for online creeping without being a creeper:
1. DON’T LIKE, FAVORITE, REBLOG, OR COMMENT ON ANYTHING EVER
This isn’t to say that you don’t think they look cute on the beach in that picture from their last vacation, or they had a really insightful quote on their tumblr dashboard that just spoke to your soul. But stalking – er, research – usually spans into a timeless void, and you can often find yourself not only on multiple social networks, but far back in a person’s online life.
That cute beach pic? It was from their senior week after high school graduation. Let’s say you’re “researching” during winter break of freshmen year while you’re stuck back home at your parent’s house. Now there is concrete evidence of you looking thoroughly through their profile. And how much worse would it be if you also commented, “lookin’ good ;)”? It’s not flattering; you’re gonna get shutdown like the government. No Boehner for you (I just don’t think enough news outlets are using that joke!)
2. Use your accumulated knowledge for good, not evil
First-date small talk is now formatted into editable boxes: Favorite movies, what you’re reading, what you’re listening to on Spotify, where you go to school, what you’re studying, etc. But this doesn’t automatically cut these subjects from discussion. If you see the person you like is studying nursing, and “Scrubs” was your favorite TV show, when you ask what their degree will be in, you can segue into talking about TV or movies.
People have always prepared talking points for first dates – you just get a leg up if you see in their Twitter bio that they’re an “amateur foodie.” What you SHOULDN’T do is change yourself or give a false perception of yourself based on what someone you want to sleep with “likes” and dislikes. Don’t run to Barnes & Noble and buy the book they just gave four stars on Good Reads. Don’t make up a story about how tough it was for your family when you put down your goldfish if you see they volunteer at an animal shelter. They’ll find out soon enough that you’re faker than Xtina’s tan on “The Voice” (Babygirl, you are beautiful, no matter what they say. Orange skin is bringing you down.)
3. Conversation wins over stalking every time
If you really want to get to know this person better, don’t get on your iPad. Go hang out with them, for chrissakes! To see if they’re relationship material, you have to be compatible talking, flirting, sexing … and at least of those shouldn’t happen online. You pick.
Prove my dad wrong – this generation CAN communicate face to face! Anyway, what does my dad know? He hasn’t even downloaded any additional apps onto his iPhone.
And just remember, your profile might be on the other side of THEIR computer screen. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to see pop up in your notification box.