"So I read something online today..."
It was our third date and we had exceptional chemistry, but Graig's tone of voice made it clear that he was preparing to cut his losses and end things now.
"It sounds like you really hate closeted guys," he said, gripping a craft beer with his strong, still closeted right hand. "I think us continuing to hang out might be a bad idea."
I immediately knew which article of mine he had come across. It was published about two years before, a petty "advice" piece inspired by a frat guy I had once dated who got off on living a double life as a "bro" in the streets but a "'mo" in the sheets. "The only time it's acceptable to date while still closeted," I had bitterly written, "is ... never."
That snarky missive, dashed off long ago, was now about to ruin a great night and send a guy I really liked running.
Thankfully, Graig let me explain myself. But if he'd done as most singles do and Googled me before our first date, I would have found myself another victim of the pre-date Internet sweep to turn up any and all possible dealbreakers before a romance can even start. And the man who's now my boyfriend wouldn't have gone out with me at all.
The thirst for information is real: The Google Cock-Block, as we'll call it, claims countless victims who probably don't even know they're victims. A Match.com survey on online dating found that 27% of single men and 49% of single women would cancel a first date based purely on the results of an online search. Advocates of this practice often cite "due diligence" and "safety purposes" to justify online snooping, but let's be real: Safety is just one part of it.
"I'm looking for clues into their personality," Sarah*, 27, told Mic about her pre-date sleuthing habits. "Red flags as well as conversation pieces."
And while Google-stalking has been in our lives for years, share-happy apps like Twitter have exacerbated the thirst for details. As Jezebel broke down in "The Definitive Guide to Online Stalking Before a First Date," we now free-range snoop on everything from Instagram ("shots of their lunch will confirm that the person is annoying") to Facebook ("a great way to get an overall look at how someone wants to be perceived") to LinkedIn ("for the status-obsessed").
Not Google-stalking before a date has become, as Maureen O'Connor put it in New York in 2014, "the new abstinence."
Judging a book by its social media: Fixating on limited details ahead of a date can influence our attitudes and expectations heading into it, as psychologist Todd Essig told Wired back in 2009: "In the absence of real-world information, you're going to invest tremendous emotional energy in what you find online."
One female dater in her 20s told Mic she spent two weeks ahead of a set-up obsessing over her date's brooding, Clark Kent-esque LinkedIn photo. She showed up to the date and couldn't get over how high-pitched his voice was.
More often than not, though, our Google-stalking actually means we don't make it to the dates at all — aka, Google Cock-Blocked.
"I was recently on Tinder and chatting with this cute guy who definitely had conversation chemistry with me. He asked, 'Wanna meet for a drink at 9?' I was thinking of going," Sarah said. "Then I checked out his Vine, saw his face from different angles, heard his voice and witnessed his sense of humor (or lack thereof). I became completely turned off. I never responded to his message."
Getting the wrong idea: The problem with judging each other online, of course, is that social media (particularly six-second videos) present limited, often not-so-accurate versions of ourselves, whether it's photos from the distant past or a joke on a Facebook wall that didn't exactly land well.
In fact, before Graig nearly dumped me over my Google past on the third date, I had been ready to Google Cock-Block him. Before our first date, his OkCupid profile was mostly blank (a definite red flag), and a Google search for his full name pulled up little more than useless links to "private" LinkedIn and Facebook accounts. Ironically, what you don't find in Google-stalking a date can be just as incriminating as what you do.
By the time Graig brought up the results of his stalking session on our third date, I had gotten over my preconceived notions, including the fact that he was still closeted to many of his friends and family. But he didn't know that yet.
"That article is old," I told him. "And it applied to a very different situation."
"I don't know. Your description of that guy sounded a lot like me," he replied. "If you're not cool with where I'm at right now, this isn't going to work."
He was arguing with a version of myself that didn't even exist anymore, yet will also exist forever thanks to the Internet. There's a reason the European Union battled Google in court last year over the "right to be forgotten" — a Google search for a person doesn't organize the results by personal growth.
But in person, face-to-face, he and I were able to talk about the results of his stalking and then bury them, in favor of a much more accurate reality, one that focused on the here and now.
He proudly came out to his friends and family three months later — although you'd never know it if you Googled him.