Googling prospective dates

Online: Search engines can report volumes about a potential new flame, some of which might even be correct.

April 30, 2001|By Nara Schoenberg | Nara Schoenberg,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

At some point after the flirtation had begun - but before the first date - Lucinda Hahn realized that the new man in her life knew a lot about her.

He would mention articles she had written years before for a tennis magazine; he would ask what it was like to interview players such as Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati.

Hahn had a question of her own: How did he know she had done these things?

He told her he had typed her name into an Internet search engine.

"It was flattering," says Hahn, 35, a senior editor at Chicago magazine, who still laughs, a few years after dating the man, when she envisions him looking her up on the Internet. "I actually was sort of impressed with the initiative."

Combine passion, boredom and technology in roughly equal measure, and you get romantically motivated googling, yahooing, or dogpiling: the use of an Internet search engine such as google.com to seek information about a potential date or mate. Still a rare practice among the online masses, googling the one you (might) love is fairly common among the young, professional and Internet-savvy.

"Everyone does it," said Jena Fischer, 26, a Chicago advertising executive. "And if (they say) they're not doing it, they're lying."

Googling a date can bring useful information. Executive recruiter Yuki Tripp, 24, hit pay dirt when she did searches on her new boyfriend and his ex-girlfriend: She found a picture of his ex-girlfriend, a woman her boyfriend had dated for several years.

A 31-year-old strategic planner for a health care company said he did a search on a woman he met on a train and was able to verify some of the information she had given him.

"It's one other way of doing a reference check," he said.

But if the object of your affection doesn't have a high-profile job or a top-heavy resume - or isn't involved in a Google-friendly field such as public relations or advertising - you're likely to find what 22-year-old Amy Fliegelman did: nothing.

And even if you find information, it can be hard to determine what it means.

Emily Livingston, a public relations director at the online dating site www.match.com, once ran a playful search on her then-boyfriend, "the nicest guy in the world," a mentor for the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program and a volunteer at the Freeport, Ill., Junior Chamber of Commerce.

The search yielded newspaper articles about a child-murderer with the same unusual name, the same middle initial, and approximately the same year of birth.

"I was terrified," recalled Livingston. "I had this really slow connection. I was waiting for the picture to come up and I was like, `No, it can't be. No.' "

It wasn't. Livingston began a two-year relationship with the man, but her story illustrates some of the limitations of romantically motivated Internet searches.

Eileen Livers, a relationship expert at the women's Web site www.ivillage.com, cautioned that an Internet search can dig up information that is outdated, incomplete or irrelevant.

Googling is "very fun, and it can be funny, and it can be very useful-and you definitely have to take it with a grain of salt," she said.

Among the possible complications: "You may not be able to figure out whether the information is about the Joe Smith you know, or some other Joe Smith living 3,000 miles away," Livers said.

Still, she said, such a search can be useful in preparing for a first date. A search may reveal that the person you're interested in ran a marathon or wrote an article about cars, allowing you to steer the conversation in a rewarding direction.

On a recent Thursday night at the Chicago sports bar Kincade's, the upscale 20-something crowd was divided on googling.

Kim Donovan, 28, a banker, said he would feel "borderline violated" if he found out a woman had googled him, and Dalton Akkerman, 28, compared googling a date to stalking.

"If I'm dating someone I usually like to get to know them the old-fashioned way: going to dinner, talking," Akkerman said.

Women seemed more likely to embrace googling a prospect than men, with Joley Gleen, 24, an engineer, saying, "I don't see anything wrong with it. They're some crazy, messed-up people out there. And men lie."

As for men who might want to google her, Gleen said: "It's fine with me. Enjoy."

Googling has proven a rewarding form of relationship research.

A 34-year-old database manager paused during lunch at a downtown food court to say that when she and a friend did a search on a man both had once dated, they hit an unlikely jackpot: a tiny wedding announcement in a small-town newspaper.

In addition to changing his name, the man had changed other information about himself, the database manager believes.

"I don't want to give away too many details," she said, "but it was the equivalent of a total boob claiming to be a neurosurgeon."

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