Ten years ago, if you’d asked someone whether or not they’d be comfortable with a blind date knowing everything about them before they met, you’d get an answer somewhere between “Ew, that’s creepy” and “That’s just not romantic.”
Today, we almost expect our internet crushes to know intimate details about us, even if we’ve never met. No one thinks twice about telling the internet what they had for breakfast, why their roommates annoy them, or how much that guy in O-Chem makes them think of other, more interesting O’s. It’s easy to overshare on the internet, because there’s always someone sharing way more than you are, and because the stream of information seems so ephemeral and ever-changing.
But if you’re looking for love, especially online, it’s important to know what picture your online profiles paint of you. Why? Because if someone is interested in you, they’re probably going to google you. And if they’re really interested, they might dig a bit deeper than that. You might be pretty sure that you don’t have anything particularly incriminating up on the internet, but, just like your credit report, it’s worth checking out to be sure.
It’s also a PR game. We are making far more information about ourselves available to the public than ever before, and we don’t have high-powered publicists to advise us on how to behave, when to shut up, and how to manage our reputations and public image. Consequently, the information available about you on the internet can be very misleading, and this can happen without you even knowing it. A few years ago, I was horrified to discover that a dear friend had posted an unattractive picture of me in his (well-followed) blog. He thought it was a “quirky” pic that showed my personality, but I hated it… and it was the first result being returned when you did a Google image search for my name!
Do you know what sort of portrait the internet paints of you? If you don’t, here’s how to piece it together:
“Know thyself” is still the best advice for dating, but “Google thyself” is the first commandment of knowing how you appear to others. Google uses an intelligent page-ranking system to organize your information (and, no, you can’t e-mail them and ask them to please take down that keg stand picture from your fraternity days).
Google your own first and last name, surrounded by quotations, and add your location if your name is common (my search phrase looks like this: “Meghan Beresford” New York). You should also do a Google Image Search (in the tabs at the top) and scan the pictures to see if there’s anything surprising or unflattering toward the top of the results.
Next, google your online handles. If you’re on an online dating site, your prospects may google your username, especially if you haven’t given them your last name yet. If your online dating username is also your Yelp! handle, your Twitter login, your blog’s name, and the username you use on other dating sites, your date can easily access tons of information about you. (This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth your while to know what they know!)
Finally, google any e-mail addresses you use for site logins, Craigslist ads, or other postings. This search is the least likely to return results, but it’s still worth checking out. It’s basic internet safety to keep track of what personal information is publicly accessible.
Piece together the “facts”
Try to imagine how you’d view yourself if you had only the internet facts to rely on. Do you seem normal and well-rounded, or does one aspect of your personality outshine the others? Is there any information that’s likely to be misinterpreted by someone who doesn’t know you? Is there anything that shows up publicly that surprises you or makes you uncomfortable? (When you scan your search results, make a note of anything you’d like to remove from your public profile. This will help you later, if you choose to take a more active approach to managing what data appears about you online.)
If you share strong opinions in public forums, it’s possible that your posts will show up in your Google results. This is worth knowing, because if 90% of what you’ve shared on the internet is political or religious, your date may see you as much more intense (or worse, one-note) than you actually are. Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with being a member of many dating sites, but if your date can see this info when they google you, they may conclude you’re serious about finding someone (whether or not this is true!).
Read your own Facebook and Twitter status update streams to get a sense for what tone the conversations take. If you tweet or post updates about only your craziest adventures, your crush is going to think you’re a wild child. Conversely, if they can see that you’ve Netflixed movies the last four Friday nights, and if the rest of your tweets are about trips to the bank and what kind of oatmeal you eat, they might get the sense that you’re boring.
People have different sharing habits, especially when it comes to social media, but how you share your thoughts is worth thinking about. If you only tweet when you have something to rant about, your Twitter stream is going to make you seem like a hothead, even if you’re generally even-tempered in real life.
Keep an eye peeled for personal details
Let’s say you recently sold a couch on Craigslist and included your e-mail address, phone number and what street you live on. Until the listing is deleted or expires, anyone who has your e-mail address can get your phone number or figure out roughly where you live! Posting this much info on Craigslist isn’t a bright idea, but I still see it all the time. If you must post personal contact information publicly on the net, consider making an alternate, anonymous e-mail address that you don’t use for any personal communications. If you use your real contact information, make sure you know where it’s posted, and who can see it.
Check your privacy settings on all social networking sites, and see who you’re allowing to see your personal contact details. (AllFacebook has a great set of links for managing your Facebook privacy). When you find personal information you’re okay with sharing, make sure it’s accurate. I don’t know how times I’ve seen a divorced-for-ages friend listed as “married” on Myspace. Don’t assume that strangers or online dates will get that the info is old – they probably won’t. It’s worth the effort to update the info yourself, even if it’s a site you rarely use anymore. If you use the site so little that you can’t be bothered to update it, shut the account down.
When you know what the internet is saying about you, you can clean it up, control your search results, and attempt to remove “bad” information about you. But it’s a “The More You Know” situation, so get out there and start googling!