Before you meet up with someone from a dating app, do you Google the living bejesus out of them? Or check their social handles, bemoaning any match who has theirs set to private? If yes, you're in the majority. According to a survey by Statista, 55 percent of people take their matches' name to the search bar before meeting IRL, while 60 percent scroll their matches' social feeds. Only 23 percent of people surveyed say they don't sleuth.
But as vaping, coconut oil lube, and charcoal cleanses have proven, just because something is common doesn't necessarily make it good. If you're wondering whether or not you should follow the crowd in this case, you've come to the right place. Below, three relationship experts address the pros and cons of learning about your date via URL before meeting them IRL.
Of Course, There's No Universal Answer
As with most sex and dating conundrums, the answer to "Should I Google my match?" isn't a universal yes or no. It's inaccurate to say Googling is always bad or always good, says Jesse Kahn, LCSW-R, director and sex therapist at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in NYC. "What matters here is your motivation," they say. Which emotion is sending you to your search bar: Is it fear and skepticism? Curiosity and nosiness? Excitement and jitters?
Knowing what it is that you're screening or searching for before you begin searching is valuable, says mental health professional Jor-El Caraballo M.Ed., a relationship expert and co-creator of Viva Wellness. That way you'll know when you've found what you're looking for, he says. (And you can avoid going on a deep dive once you've found it.)
The Main Benefit of a Quick Search: Safety
"Online dating has grown exponentially, and as it has, so has the number of potentially dangerous catfishers," says Megan Harrison, Tampa Bay-based relationship therapist and founder of Couples Candy. (At least 18,000 people fell victim to "romance fraud" in 2018, according to the FBI.) Googling might help you avoid one of these catfishers by helping you verify that someone is who they say they are. For instance, if their soccer roster pops up, they really are the right-mid of their local team, and if a local newspaper clip about their lemonade business bops to the top, they really are an entrepreneur.
While these check-ins may help you gain some peace of mind, Caraballo urges you to look inward and assess whether or not you have reason to be suspicious of this person. "Is there something in particular that you're concerned about? If so, will what you read on the internet really help soothe your nerves?" If there is something in particular that you're concerned about, "trust your instincts," says Kahn. "Don't agree to meet up with someone unless you're absolutely sure they are who they claim to be, and you feel comfortable doing so."
It's a good idea to ask someone that you've met online to share their Snap or Instagram handle with you, so that you get that basic reassurance, says Caraballo. The key word here: ask. Rather than playing detective, you're straight up asking someone for their handles.
"You can also ask someone to do a quick video chat before agreeing to meet in person," he says. "This allows you to do a vibe check, and also offers some direct visual confirmation that the person is how, and who, they initially represented themselves to be." (See: I Went On First Dates Via Video Chat During COVID-19 Quarantine — Here's How It Went)
And it's important to remember that there's no way to guarantee safety on a date. For starters, many people's online personas are carefully curated to project a specific image, "so scrolling through social media is not the most accurate way to determine a person nor their characteristics," says Harrison.
For your safety, it's also a good idea to give at least two (local) friends and and family members the itinerary of your date, as well as sharing your location with someone on your phone, prior to meeting up with an online match. (Related: 5 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Sex and Dating, According to a Relationships Therapist)
It Can Help You Notice Any Glaring Incompatibilities
"A small amount of online research can help give insight into a person's values or political and religious views," says Harrison. You may want to feel out whether they have attitudes that you don't agree with at all, she says — especially in the event they don't offer much info on their profile.
For example, maybe you only date people who vote blue and your match is wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat in all their Facebook photos. Or, you learned they're a committed church-goer from Instagram, when you're a total atheist. Learning these things ahead of an IRL hang can be useful in that they save you from meeting up with someone you'd never actually date.
That said, there are ways to garner this information without a search bar. How? Conversation! It is totally kosher to ask your match what their political affiliations and world views are before you meet up. You might for example say, "Before we make plans to meet in person, do you mind if I ask who you voted for last election? I've learned I'm most compatible with people who are also Democratic." Or, "I don't know how to bring this up casually, but I wanted to let you know that I'm pro-choice. Would you mind sharing your own views on the topic?" (Related: The Case for Being Up Front About Your Sexuality On the First Date)
As Caraballo says, "Dating is all about learning more about someone and letting yourself become known. Asking questions and being curious is a part of the dynamic."
But There's Zero Benefit to Over-Sleuthing
While a small scroll can be reassuring, "it can be downright creepy if you dig far too deep," says Harrison. "If you find yourself memorizing a potential suitor's previous holiday destinations or the names of all their friends, then that's a sign you've probably gone too far," she says. (If you're simply doing it to cope with pre-date nerves, consider one of these first-date meditations created by Headspace and Hinge instead.)
Learning too much about someone before you meet IRL also robs you of the opportunity to let them introduce themselves to you. Not only that, but you may also overlay meanings, assumptions, and narratives onto what you learn that may or may not be accurate, says Kahn. "And those inaccurate assumptions could impact how you think of, feel about, and speak to the person," they say. In other words, you could end up cock-blocking yourself with your own imagination!
From personal experience, I know a deep dive can also lead to an unnecessary (and awkward) power dynamic in which someone knows way more about the other person than vice versa. Once, I went on a date with someone who acted like they knew me because they'd read a first-person essay (or five) I'd written. Since I hadn't been given the opportunity to learn similar information about them, I felt disconcerted at best and ended up cutting the date short.
Plus, you can't really bring up the specifics of what you've learned through your search. "Bringing something up to your date that you found online can be a touchy issue," says Caraballo. If you've mutually shared your online profiles then you can reasonably just mention what you saw and inquire about it, he says. But for information gained by other sources (e.g. Google search, LinkedIn lurk, or Venmo track) it can be quite tricky. "Asking somebody about something you found [in your searches] may make them feel a little protective or more nervous," he says. Fair! (Related: Why Your Anxiety Disorder Makes Online Dating So Damn Hard)
Remember: Your Search Won't Tell the Whole Story
Unless you learn something that makes you doubt your safety, "it's important to take what you find with a grain of salt," says Harrison. "A picture or a tweet only tells a portion of a story, and you miss a big piece of the puzzle."
Her suggestion: So long as you have a good gut instinct on the person, "you should really permit a person the opportunity to make their own first impression in person because you'll get a far better idea of who someone is in person." (See More: 5 Surprising Ways Social Media Can Help Your Relationship)
Will this strategy increase the number of meh dates you go on? Maybe. But it could also lead you to fall in love with someone whose social media presence had you raising your eyebrows. Because ultimately, outside of the movie Her, dating happens between two people — not one person and their internet browser.