Probably the best thing about the internet is that it allows you to KNOW EVERYTHING IMMEDIATELY. Is a moose bigger than a horse? What's a "Kylie Jenner"? Does zucchini bread count as a vegetable? Could I beat a deer in a fight? What the fuck is the Huffington Post? It's a beautiful thing, this internet, though not without its pitfalls. Nowhere are the internet's beauty and its pitfalls so apparent as in the realm of romance.
For the first time in human history, huge swaths of the dating pool have voluntarily cataloged their own intimate details and drunken photos for the ready, instant browsing of any creepy goober with internet access. Your crushes, your exes, your potential OKCupid dates—pretty much all of them are going to have some sort of online presence, if you know where to look (which, come on, you obviously do). This can be great, if you want to vet tomorrow night's date for pick-up artist tendencies, Republicanism, or wintertime flip-flops. Or, it can be terrible, if you get so caught up in the virtual life of the guy you lost your virginity to that you knit a set of dog-socks when his beagle gets sick and mail them to him even though you two haven't spoken since 1998. That is BAD. DO NOT DO THAT. For all its boons, the internet is basically an automated crossing-the-line machine.
Arwa Mahdawi at the Guardian has an excellent roundup of guidelines for how to investigate a potential mate without getting caught and spending the rest of your life in shame-prison (or, worst case scenario, actual prison). My personal favorites:
Don't compile a dating dossier
There's a point at which a little light stalking goes from "research" into "psychopathic behaviour". The point at which this line is crossed is up for debate. Nevertheless if manila folders are ever involved you can be pretty certain you're in weirdo territory. My friend Britta, for example, went back to the apartment of a guy she'd been dating for a couple of weeks to discover he had a folder labelled "Britta" in plain view on his desk. "I was sitting on his lap at the time so I asked him about it," said Britta. "And he pulled out a bunch of random photos from my Facebook page. It was awkward for both of us."
Do destroy the evidence
While you may not have a binder full of women on your desk, a little online research can leave a very large trace. Getting out your phone to show your date a hilarious YouTube video of prancing pygmy goats (everyone does this, right?) only to realise that their LinkedIn profile is still open on your screen is a serious first-world problem. My normal advice in situations like this would be to drink copiously. However, I'm a little worried that someone I'm semi-interested in would think less of me for suggesting this. So, in case she's stalking my digital footprint, let's, errr, move swiftly on. In short, cookies are never your friend, and clear your history if you want any chance of a future.
Do know how much stalking is too much stalking
Seven pages into Google is too much.
Seconded, all of it. But this is a juicy topic, and I think we can come up with plenty more (leave yours in the comments!). Here are a few that came to mind for me:
1. DON'T DO CRIME.
When I say "cyberstalking," I do not actually mean stalking someone on the cyberweb. I'm just calling it that as kind of a winky, self-deprecating exaggeration—like, you know, oh, haha. DO NOT ACTUALLY STALK ANYONE EVER. The point of creepin' on crushes and exes on the internet is to torture yourself, not your target. Once simple online curiosity crosses the line into real-world contact and obsession, shit isn't cute anymore. If you have trouble telling the difference, here's a helpful exercise. Ask yourself: "If Gary Busey was doing to me what I'm doing to Chad right now, would I call the cops?" If the answer is anything above a "Yeah, maybe," go jump into a very cold body of water.
2. Be careful with your fingers.
For the love of all that is sacred, do not accidentally click "like" on some random pic from 2009 that you found during a 3 am spelunking expedition into your hot barista's old Facebook albums. NEVER EVER CLICK "LIKE" ON ANYTHING INVOLVING A BIKINI OR NAKED MUSCLES. Just to be safe, never click on anything at all.
3. Don't tell yourself scary stories for no reason.
Oh, are there six new photos of your crush playing Big Buck Hunter with some harlot who's totally pulling off that haircut you've always been afraid to try because of the time your mom told you your neck was "hefty"? You could stay up all night crying and writing elaborate, obsessive erotic fan-fic about the two of them and their "Big Horn Sheep Adventure," OR you could just tell yourself she's probably his sister or something and then get back to binge-watching Alias on the 'Flix. If those are your choices, why the fuck would you pick the first one? Pick better. Be better at picking.
4. When in doubt, Spicoli that shit.
In moments of romantic uncertainty and pain and diminishing rationality, I always think of something my older sister once told me. You just gotta be Spicoli. Would Spicoli cry in the coffee shop over some shit on Instagram? Definitely nope. Would Spicoli eat a whole tube of cookie dough because the hot guy from French ignored his friend request? Nah. Would Spicoli let a few measly photos of his ex-girlfriend visiting a corn maze with the entire lacrosse team distract him from enjoying chimichanga night? HELL NO. Spicoli would just be chill, man. Whatever. He's Spicoli. If you ever feel your romantic obsession levels reaching such a pitch that they're distracting you from living your life, channel Spicoli. Carry around a laminated picture of Spicoli in your wallet, like a totem, if you must. Be the Spicoli you wish to see in the world.
Image via Valeriy Lebedev/Shutterstock.