Erika Ettin: How Much Online Stalking Is Too Much?

By Erika Ettin Tribune News Service

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As dating expert Erika Ettin points out, "People, understandably, see your online footprint as a way to verify that you're real. Unfortunately, they don't just stop there, which is where things get hairy."

Tribune News Service

In some ways, seven years seems like no time, and in other ways, it seems like a lifetime ago. Seven years ago, I wrote an article called "To Google or Not to Google? That is the Question." The article discussed how much "research" to do before meeting someone from an online dating site in person. At the time, I said this:

"When it comes down to it, it's hard to resist the urge to Google or Facebook your date once you have his or her full name staring you in the face, yelling, 'Search me! Search me!' I'm not going to tell you that you can't look (who wouldn't?). But no matter what you find, try your hardest not to create a firm impression of this person in your mind before you meet. Unless you find out that he or she is a criminal, just go on the date, have fun, and try to put it all in the back of your mind."

Today, for better or worse, it's assumed that people are looking. While I still don't recommend clients go out of their way to get the last name of a date, if you give yours to someone, assume they're looking you up immediately. Same with your phone number. Reverse number lookups are getting a lot more action than they used to.

Here's where a lot has changed in seven years since I first touched on this. I can't remember the last time I showed up to meet a new person, date or otherwise, and the person didn't already know something about me that I hadn't previously shared. Maybe it was the fact that I own a business, maybe that I have a dog, or maybe that I've tried stand-up comedy (not well, for what it's worth)... you can find anything online! Back then, I may have been offended if someone asked me a question about how I enjoyed going to business school at night before I mentioned it. Today, I kind of expect it. It's still somewhat off-putting to get asked a question about something you haven't explicitly shared yet, and I wouldn't recommend doing that to someone, but it's not a surprise when it happens.

People, understandably, see your online footprint as a way to verify that you're real. Unfortunately, they don't just stop there, which is where things get hairy. It's one thing to check my LinkedIn account to make sure I am, in fact, a business owner. It's another to look at all of my Facebook pictures and comment on my trip to Colombia last year.

I'm not naive to the fact that if you "stalk" one person and find bad things, you're inclined to want to look everyone up, like this client, who sent this email to me:

"I did have a date planned for tomorrow with George. He gave me his last name without hesitation ... then he came back about an hour later and decided that he didn't want my daughter (who is protective of me) having so much control ... it was a red flag for him. That was a red flag for me ... so I searched the court records ... and yes ... another one that lied about his age. He's not 60, he's 66."

So now, she'll understandably want to look everyone up. (And please stop lying about your age, people! It's deceitful and will catch up with you. Rationalize it all you want, but it's still wrong.) Don't assume the worst in people.

I can't tell anyone not to do their due diligence. I can tell you, though, just as I did in the article that feels like it was written just yesterday, to draw your own conclusions about someone separate and apart from what you find online. Degrees, photos, and jobs you can find online. Character, values, and essence, you can only discover for yourself in person. ___ (Erika Ettin is the founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps others navigate the often intimidating world of online dating)

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