Revelations of a self-professed Google stalker.
Before I go on a first date, I already know most of the information a woman would usually volunteer. Corrin told me she had worked for the Obama campaign, planned the events calendar for a coffee shop and broke up with her boyfriend recently. I knew all that from her online résumé, a newspaper article on the opening of said coffee shop and her Twitter feed, respectively. Kim told me about her research on leftist movements in Sweden, which was mentioned on the website of the university where she teaches, and Caralynn and I talked about mutual friends, who I knew to bring up because, judging by the dates of her Philadelphia Weekly columns, she wrote for the paper at the same time my friends did.
My name is Nick and I am a Google stalker. For me, every first date is like a movie based on a book I have already read: It’s a live-action rendering of what I already know will happen and surprise is nil.
Google, which was incorporated 15 years ago today, has probably changed the world more than any other internet company. There was an internet before Google, but the search engine catalogued its vastness and put all its endless content within easy reach. The Silicon Valley behemoth took on every information-age challenge presented to it and now it’s the world’s default encyclopedia, translator, spellchecker, news portal, homework aide, primary-care physician, road atlas and sex ed instructor.
And it has changed the way we do first dates. Unless you insist on it, there’s no more going in cold, armed with whatever information the date had already provided or what you had gleaned from mutual friends. Now Google provides at least a few tidbits about anyone you can provide a first and last name for. (Add only a city or a profession if it’s a John Smith or Sarah Jones.)
I have a dysfunctional relationship with pre-date googling. I always google but I fear being googled because of some highly personal things I have written under a byline. I wrote a blog detailing my bout of ulcerative colitis for the website of the newspaper where I once worked. After that went up, every time a date declined an appetizer I was paranoid it was because her mind was clogged with the hunger-killing image of me crapping blood. Due to my former employer’s poor performance, that blog has been scrubbed from the web, but still anyone searching “Nick Keppler” is bound to find a memoir piece on this website in which I admit I was once forcibly committed to a psychiatric ward. It’s one of the most intimate and touchy parts of my history, and for a while, it was the top search result for my name.
It never seemed like an option to not write about it. That’s what memoirists do: exploit their strife and struggles for a byline and a meager sum. And I tell myself that any woman right for me would read that and think, “Wow, Nick Keppler is brave as hell and writes like a motherfucker! Sexy!”
Maybe the reason I google so much is so I can come out even on the Google seesaw. If Google is going to put me at a disadvantage because of the things I put out there about myself, I want to reap some benefits from it by finding something useful by googling the women I date. It seems like to do otherwise would be to put myself on the losing end of this seismic shift in socialization.
Or so it seemed. Maybe it isn’t such a seismic shift and maybe it’s not affecting my date’s impressions of me as much as I thought.
For the purpose of this story, I emailed every woman I dated in the last year (or at least those on which I am still on speaking terms) and asked if they googled me, and if so, what came up. Surprisingly, only two out of the seven said they had googled me. Two said they wouldn’t know how to because I had never given up my last name.
(Side note: It’s fairly easy to find the last name of anyone about whom you know enough to want to date. Pro tip: Find something small and local she likes, a nonprofit or a bar or an event series. Go to its Facebook page and look for a big status update. Search through everyone who “likes” it. There she will be, first name and last.)
As for the two who did google me, one found an interview I did with a local band she liked and that was the only search result she found interesting enough to click. The other saw the mental hospital piece but wasn’t phased by it. “It seems like with everyone I get to a point when I find out something fucked up about him,” she said. (She was much more concerned about this thing I wrote in college about human-on-robot sex.)
Just to be sure my search results weren’t so scandalous that they making women drop out before the first date, I messaged two women I had been communicating with on a dating website but who I never actually met. Both said they hadn’t googled me.
It made me wonder what role Google really does play in the dating process, considering most of what I find in pre-date googling is trivial (a LinkIn profile, a possible past address on WhitePages.com, that time she did that thing in high school and the local paper covered it). I have never found anything terrifying (like an arrest report, a sex offender registry entry or a contribution to Ron Paul) or even all that useful.
I think I continue to google my dates because putting myself out there for the judgment of a total stranger is still, after all these years of it, terrifying. Having a primer on my date eases my nerves. Googling “blurry vision” or “heel pain” isn’t actual medical care, but the sheer obtainment of knowledge temporarily feels empowering. Googling a date’s name has the same effect. Knowing I could bring up Barack Obama or the Nordic Model or the former editor of the Philadelphia Weekly and she’ll be engaged, I feel a little more comfortable sitting across from a total stranger knowing we are evaluating each other like show ponies.