Last night’s episode of How I Met Your Mother inspired an interesting conversation between my friend and I. In this installment of the series, the main character, ted, had a first date with a woman he met at a bar. He immediately regretted telling his friends Robin and Barney because they are firm believers in the need to vet and Google all of Ted’s dates. The audience is then treated a series of flashbacks of Ted on a date and receiving a phone call from Barney or Robin with some sort of dark secret about Ted’s date. Of course, despite all of these “shady” revelations that include past obesity and criminal records, Ted sleeps with the women any way. Duh.
For this date with the woman at the bar, Ted makes Robin and Barney promise not to Google or Facebook stalk her. He then approaches his date and suggests that he and she have an “old fashioned’ date, where neither of them do any sort of Internet research on the other. She agrees. Which immediately makes Barney and Robin assume she’s hiding something.
Cut to the date and Ted and the woman both struggle to find things to talk about. Eventually they both admit to being nervous and conversation starts to flow easily. Back at home, Barney and Robin are furiously scouring the web looking for information about Ted’s mystery date. Oh, they find something scandalous alright. Ted’s date was an Ivy League graduate who donated her liver to a stranger, inherited a billion dollar fortune and saved a drowning baby from a river. They text Ted a link to his date’s website. He struggles with whether or not to click. He does. He finds out about all of his dates accomplishments and becomes intimidated. He spends the rest of the date trying to measure up and compete with her. Now he has an image of her in his head based on a bunch of one dimensional articles. The date takes a bad turn, she leaves and Ted is sitting alone at the table knowing he blew a great date with an impressive woman.
I’ve mentioned before how I don’t Facebook friend, Twitter follow or Google any dates or men that I date. If they’re up to no good, I’ll sense it pretty quickly. The main reason I don’t do any of those things is that I want to build an impression of someone based on first hand experience, not a bunch of copy on a web site. People screw up and make mistakes. I find those things far more telling and interesting.
It’s hard to date in a time when we’re all so accessible. Depending on how much we share, we run the risk of people forming partial impressions of who we are. Take the example from last night’s post. The guy in that story had built up an idea of who I was because of this website. He made little effort to flesh out my particular character. The one dimensional image in his head was enough to prevent him from seeing me as a full person. Let’s say that you were really rich, famous or powerful. How would you feel if all your dates focused on your money and connections and made little effort to get to know you as a person? Exactly. It’s not fun. You start to wonder if they like you for you. Those quirks that he said he wasn’t sure he could get past were ones that he gleaned from reading posts, not talking directly to me. Once that image was in his head it was hard to get past it or convince him otherwise.
I’ve tapered back on the number of questions I ask dates. I figure that they will share what they want to share when they want to share it. I have yet to be bamboozled out of money, kidnapped or physically harmed. Sure, I’ve had the rare bump or bruise to my ego. But for the most part I have come out unscathed. I find not knowing too much makes the process that much easier.
The unfortunate part of being me is that I know that most innocuous comments aren’t really innocuous. Put them together and you have a certain picture in your head. It’s unfortunate but many of us have preconceived ideas associated with certain characteristics and criteria.
You work in finance? Self-important douche.
You’re a lawyer? Self-important, argumentative douche.
You make and sell your own line of handbags/headbands? Trust fund baby.
That’s why I try to avoid asking too many questions and don’t do any recon on my dates. I want to get to know them first-hand and build my perceptions based on those interactions. Through poking around online or digging too deep, I’m inevitably going to find something out that will give me pause. I’d rather have a more well rounded idea of who someone is before I do that.
Here’s an example: I’ve been going to the same dentist for about 10 years. I love him. He’s done exceptional work and has always been sensitive to my fear of dentists that began when I was a kid. I have been in and out of dentists offices since I was about 4 years old. I ended up having to Google him a few weeks ago to get his new number. Of course I come across a few Yelp review that were negative. Now instead of going into that appointment carefree, I was in a panic. Even though this doctor had been so good with me in the past, I had to get past those negative review. That was the first time in the ten years of my visits that I felt any pain during a procedure. Why? Because I had built up an image in my head. That doctor had to regain my trust, even though he didn’t know it.
This is why I tell all my profile review clients who use OK Cupid to stick to the softball questions that are asked that help gauge compatibility. Avoid revealing things that will likely make someone think twice or fill in the blanks with their imagination. There’s nothing more counter-productive than manufacturing someone’s back story based on some Facebook profile photos and tweets. I can assure you that you only have half the story. We share publicly what we want people to see and believe.
Like I said to Heather the other day, people are judgemental. This idea that someone should get to know you for you and not what you share on the internet is naive. That’s not how most people function these days. Certain things revealed will conjure up an image for some people. Those things can also attract the wrong people. The solution, of course,is quite simple. Share little to nothing that could be construed as provocative OR accept that 75% of the people that find you online will be repelled or disingenuous in one way or another. I accepted a long time ago that I was going to make a choice between what mattered more: my career or finding a guy. After weighing pros and cons and determining what was more likely to bring me the security and sense of accomplishment I needed to be happy, I chose this. I then re-appropriated my expectations and efforts, which eventually made my dating life exponentially easier. This blog doesn’t present me as particularly feminine. Quite the opposite. My insight into how men think combined with my demeanor make it difficult for men to see me as feminine. It’s a constant struggle, but one that I’m at least aware of and trying to rectify. I go into dates knowing that. It doesn’t hurt to get feedback on how a casual observer might perceive you based on what they find online.
I realize that many people have become dependent on the idea of Googling and all that. I guess what I’m suggesting is to remind yourself, as you’re traipsing through their online pantie drawer, that you don’t have the full picture. Before you let your mind run wild and all those insecurities and judgements come out, remember that what you see before you on Facebook or Twitter is a one dimensional representation of that person.If you’re not going to make the effort to get to know the person, then that should reveal how interested you were in the first place and what attracted you to that person.
To those who share and overshare, always anticipate the forthcoming judgments that will come your way. You might think, in the moment, what you’re saying is scathingly brilliant and funny and interesting. But before you click send or submit take those 3 seconds to ask yourself how this will make you look. Don’t be so eager to be written about on a blog. Think before you speak when you’re interviewed. Consider the ramification of what impressions certain photos will make.
Bad judgement is not something that people easily forgive.