Thanks to the Internet and social media, it's easier than ever before to get to know someone without actually knowing them — which can come in pretty handy when you're gearing up to go on a first date with someone new. If you're the type who has a habit of researching a date before meeting them, you're far from alone: according to a new survey of 2,000 Americans by employee screening and background check company JDP, 77 percent of people said they've researched a potential date (and 38 percent always look up a date).
"There are times when researching someone online before meeting them can spare you from a dead-end date," Scott Valdez, founder and president of ViDA, a service that helps clients meet their ideal match online, tells Bustle. "But here’s what you need to keep in mind while you’re taking a peek around — you’re missing a huge piece of the puzzle. When you're scrolling through someone’s social media profiles before you've met them, you don’t have the benefit of filtering what you’re seeing through the lens of a pre-existing relationship."
While a deep dive into a stranger's social media can certainly be revealing, it's important to take your findings with a grain of salt. The JDP survey found that 40 percent of people have actually backed out of a planned date because of something they found during their pre-date research, which begs the question: how much social media spying is too much? Here's what dating experts want you to know about Googling or checking up on a date's social media in a way that's healthy, not harmful.
What Healthy Pre-Date Research Looks Like
Where exactly are singles getting their intel when they look up a potential date? The JDP survey found that the most popular outlet for social media spying is Facebook: 88 percent of folks said that was where they did their research. The next most popular platform was the old faithful standby, Google (70 percent) — useful for checking to make sure someone is safe and sans criminal record — followed by Instagram at 53 percent.
"Healthy research includes looking at the person's tweets and [other social media] profiles," LeslieBeth Wish, author, licensed psychotherapist, and founder of Love Victory, tells Bustle. "You can learn about their interests, accomplishments, goals, and education or training. If the person has a website, you can get a better, overall sense of what kind of person they want to project."
Taking a quick glimpse at someone's social media is a great way to get a sense of who they are and what they're interested in, which can be helpful in deciding if you want to go on a date with them or not. But it's also important to keep in mind that, for many people, social media is all about carefully curating an image, so merely seeing what someone shares online doesn't necessarily provide an accurate glimpse into who they are.
"There’s no guarantee that what you see is what you will get," Jonathan Bennett, dating and relationship expert at Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. "Instead, try to get to know your date one on one. That’s far more indicative of what dating that person will be like in the long run."
When Does Researching Someone Before A Date Become Detrimental?
There's a huge difference between doing a quick Google search on someone and "stalking" their social media prior to meeting up. But the truth is that most people don't just take a casual glance: the JDP survey revealed that 63 percent of people admitted to going "most or all of the way back" when looking at date's social media profiles, which Valdez warns can be tricky.
"You’re looking at tidbits of information related to someone you don’t actually know," Valdez says. "What you perceive is sometimes far from an accurate interpretation of what’s going on in their 'real' life. It’s so easy to take things you see online out of context, and you may end up passing on a date with someone you would have really clicked with."
Even if you don't discover anything that gives you pause or makes you consider canceling the date, there's still another downside to doing too much pre-date research on someone. First, there's the risk that you'll let slip a tidbit of information that you only know about your date from checking their social media — which might be a little awkward to explain. And, if you already know tons of info about someone from their online presence, it can be harder to ask authentic getting-to-know-you questions on the date.
"If you’re trying to figure out broader aspects of that person’s life, [researching them] can take some excitement out of the dating process," Bennett says. "Part of the fun of dating is the joy of discovery. If you already know everything about the person, you’re going to limit the natural rapport building that bonds people together in person."
While it might be fun to digitally explore someone's past, spending too much time reading their posts before meeting can make it more difficult to actually get to know your date in person. Besides, there's only so much that can be translated through a screen; if you want to know if you'll really connect with someone romantically, that's something you have to figure out by meeting them IRL.
"You won’t really know how you feel about them until you see their personality in action during that all-important first date," Valdez says. "So while it’s not a terrible idea to try to pinpoint potential dealbreakers through a bit of online stalking, it’s usually best to avoid judging too much before you’ve actually met them."
In an age where we're used to having information constantly at our fingertips, it can be tempting to throw caution to the wind and spend hours reading a date's social media profiles as a way to "prep" for a date. But until you actually meet someone and get a feel for their energy and personality IRL, it's next to impossible to really get to know them.
So the next time you're about to meet someone new, don't be ashamed to look them up and arm yourself with as much pre-date info as you feel you need — just remember that you'll get a much better sense of who someone is when they're across the table, not on your screen.