Stop Googling Your Dates! Here's Why

CN Digital Studio

by Samantha Henig

It's a phenomenon called "pre-dating": the online sleuthing you do to learn about a guy's ex, his job, his Spotify playlist. But is it smart? Maybe not if you want, y'know, a relationship.

Is the time you spend with someone's online persona messing with what might develop in real life once you're actually together? Experts say absolutely yes. "Too much information is detrimental," explains Amy Van Doran, a matchmaker in New York City. "It makes it hard to fall in love. For that, you have to be in the moment." Still tempted to snoop? Tough love time. Here are a few hard-core reasons you shouldn't:

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1) You turn into a comparison shopper.

49% of women would cancel a first date because of something they found out about him online, according to a study.

"You're trying to suss out: Will this person and I have a connection? Actually, there is no evidence that we can assess that online," says Eli J. Finkel, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, whose research on online dating shows that misconceptions are rampant. "You think you know what you want, but what you really need is to sit across from each other and get a beer."

2) You hijack the chemistry.

In-person conversations allow you to take into account your date's tone of voice, body language, and facial expression-and to open yourself up to things you might dismiss online. "You can't determine if somebody is a potential mate by any means other than being together and looking into his eyes," says Brian Alexander, coauthor of The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction. And he means looking into someone's eyes literally: "Eye gaze is one of the chief tools humans have used throughout evolution to gauge each other's intentions," explains Alexander; biologically, it triggers the release of neurochemicals like oxytocin, a hormone that lowers anxiety and increases our ability to get close. Touching and having an intimate conversation can do the same.

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No hormones are released, however, when you Yahoo- search someone. "If we sat down and rationally thought about it, we would never fall in love," asserts Alexander, "and we would certainly never have babies, because it's a pain in the ass." That's where all the neurochemicals come in. In the throes of attraction, you're more willing to date a guy who doesn't exactly match all your criteria but, as you get to know him, turns out to be the perfect long-term mate. "Love makes you stupid for a good reason," Alexander says.

3) You get too judge-y.

Another reason to go easy on the online digging: The more you learn about someone, the harsher you may judge him, according to one study.

"If it's between four minutes in front of each other or 20 hours of Google-stalking, I'd meet in person."

"Fantasy is important when you have a crush," my friend Clarke told me, explaining why she abstains from Facebook research before a date. "You can destroy the excitement if you think you know stuff about someone. It's so much more fun to have your feelings for a person not be colored by anything."

But let's be real...

So what's a tech-savvy, time-strapped, and curious girl to do? Obviously, some digital diligence can save you from disaster (guy with girlfriend, serious drunk, misogynist, jihadist, ax murderer). But how do you not kill the mystery?

Don't be too quick to hit delete. If your searching turns up three DUIs or a blog of photos of him setting squirrels on fire, well, you're right to run. But smaller turnoffs shouldn't be deal breakers. His cheesy emoticons may seem endearing by the time he's also showing his feelings by stroking your hand and feeding you Phish Food.

Google yourself. You're not the only one Internet-stalking; he's doing it too. It helps to know what he's finding out-and to be reminded that not everyone is perfect.

Finally, if you've already fallen for a guy through online clues before going on your first date, don't expect a walking incarnation of Prince Charming. As one friend described it, "There's a fictional element to all your interactions online. It's like reading a novel about someone. Then in person, you meet the big-screen version of the character-kind of different! Maybe very different! Maybe the actors don't even resemble the characters in your head." But as long as you're not spending the whole movie making comparisons to the book, you could actually enjoy yourself.

Samantha Henig is the online editor at The New York Times Magazine and coauthor, with Robin Marantz Henig, of Twentysomething.

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