Love In The Age Of Google

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Dating used to be largely a matter of spending time with a love interest, discovering the good, the bad and the ugly in person. If you were lucky, friends helped fill in some of the blanks.

These days, the Internet — and the ability to check people out before they ever meet up — has forever changed the rules.

For better or worse, "googling" your date has become standard practice.

"I often tell my friends that are still in the dating sphere to use the power of Google to their advantage," says Katie Laird, a 24-year-old Web marketing professional and self-proclaimed "social software geek" from Houston.

The results can be enlightening, surprising and, sometimes, a little disturbing. So Laird's advice also comes with a warning: "Don't google what you can't handle."

Hers is the voice of experience. In her dating life, she regularly did online research on her dates and turned up, among other things, "bizarre" fetishes and a guy who was fascinated with vampires.

"Not my scene at all," Laird says, "and nothing I would've ever guessed over an initial meeting and beer."

She also had to contend with an on-again, off-again boyfriend who googled her on a daily basis to try and track her every move. The story did end happily, however, when she met her future husband online.

In some ways, having a social networking page, or pages, has become the new calling card. It's a way for people to check out photos and find out what they have in common, even when they've already met in person.

That was the case for Brad White, a 23-year-old recent college grad in Chicago, who met his current girlfriend through friends at a bar and immediately looked her up on Facebook. "The commonality of our music taste and friends is what prompted me to ask her out," White says, "obviously, besides the attraction."

The details people find can provide a few talking points to get past the initial awkwardness of a first date, though not everyone likes to admit that they've done their research.

"It seems like in contemporary dating, it's this elaborate dance between two people who already know a lot of what their date is talking about but they can't admit it," says David Silver, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco who studies online culture. "You nod your head with curiosity, but you already know what they're going to say."

Even he is amazed at the level of information that can be dug up these days.

  • Alfonso Serrano