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Googling in the name of love?

Date: 2006-09-25

Back in the day, when "googol" was just a number too large to comprehend, every first date was a clean slate. The mystery unfolded slowly:

Where are you from?

Where'd you go to college?

When should we register at Pottery Barn?

These days, Google cuts in on the getting-to-know-you dance. Show me a person who has never indulged in a little online detective work and I'll show you an octogenarian resident of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. As long as there's Internet access, romance will be researched. But just because you can Google - and it's nearly impossible to resist doing it - does that mean you should?

The primary justification googlers use for their actions is when you live a chaotic life, dating requires efficiency. Hop on board for a shortcut to red flags.

Take Nicola Piggott, a public relations executive in Los Angeles. "I got chatting with this guy online who said he was a teacher. I Googled his school's site, clicked on 'faculty,' and there he was ... wearing a priest's collar! He asked me out, so I set up a poll on my blog to see what my friends thought. Everyone said he'd be a sex fiend. So I didn't go."

If information pertinent to your love life exists in the public domain, why shouldn't you access it? Ginny Smith, an actress in New York City, reasons, "It's the equivalent of reading a story about your crush in the hometown newspaper."

Jennifer Lee, a New York City-based writer agrees. "If you were living in a small town, you'd be snooping around with everyone you know. In a global society, Google is an extension of your friends and family."

The Internet is the new town hall, so it's perfectly rational to scan the crowd from a hidden corner ... or so I told myself, when I pre-screened a blind date.

There wasn't much wrong with him, he just seemed like a bit of a meathead. Which is exactly what I told my matchmaking girlfriend after I e-mailed the guy to cancel the date. She was surprised. Usually, I'm an optimistic dater who sees potential, even when I should see disaster.

And that's when I realized I'd crossed the line between time management and closed-mindedness.

If romance was dead, I had let Google kill it.

Perhaps, I reasoned, my friend Matt Ray was onto something. He's the only person I know who never Googles in the name of love - all the more fascinating because, as a network architect and security expert in Seattle, he Googles hackers for a living.

"The dating process moves fast enough already," he says.

"By the time I started dating my last girlfriend we had exchanged 15 e-mails, and who knows how many lines of IM. Come the second or third date, we had covered at least 50 percent of the significant getting-to-know-you data. And knowing everything up front takes away the allure of start-up dates." He had a point.

So, when I received a flirtatious e-mail from a friend of a friend, I thought twice before calling up my favorite search engine. This line of thinking lasted about 15 minutes.

As it turns out, the guy was extraordinarily good on-screen: exceptional job, history of charitable giving, obviously athletic.

So, I took a chance and responded with a flirty e-mail, which led to more, flirtier e-mails and, eventually, brunch. In person, he was just as intelligent, kind-hearted, athletic, and handsome as my research indicated. He was funny, personable, interesting, and ... gay. The good Google had failed to mention that. I walked away from the restaurant convinced this was my final, cosmic punishment - what I deserved for taking an illegal shortcut on the road to Mr. Right.

Google is good for finding many things like the tax break that'll buy you a new couch or perfect shoes. But when it comes to finding The One, no one gets to click a mouse and discover a New Yorker-reading, pastry-baking, compliment-smothering husband. The only way to discover the good stuff - common values, unbelievable chemistry, unstoppable laughter - is to engage in the endless cycle of expectation and disappointment known as dating.

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