According to the New York Times, one fallout of the Ashley Madison leak is that some online daters are now hiring private investigators to look into the marital status of their online prospects. That’s bleak, guys.
Abby Ellin writes:
Clearly, a certain wariness (if not weariness) has set in. But rather than holing up at home playing Words with Friends, concerned daters have taken to researching their suitors beyond the requisite trolling of Google and Facebook.
Some are turning to specialized search tools, like Spokeo, an online verification service. Others are using private investigators and matchmakers to do the vetting for them.
According to the Times, Spokeo claims requests for background searches have more than doubled since August. Carly Robyn Green, a Los Angeles songwriter, explained, “There are so many more people leading double lives than I could have fathomed,” and as a result, she’s dating with more “awareness and vigilance.”
Age, weight, height, employment, income—the Times notes that the proliferation of dating apps has allowed daters to fudge these numbers, and the knowledge that tons of married dudes were looking for a side thing has made marital status a primary worry.
Dating technology has not quite caught up. The fact that apps like Hinge and JSwipe hide surnames until you match with someone, or show you mutual friends but don’t let you contact them, is also a problem for the deeply suspicious, Green told the Times. Nor do most of these services bar married people from entrance, leaving you to sort that out on your own dime.
As a result, they found upticks in businesses that vet suitors more thoroughly for matchmaking, or offer real-world or online investigation services to bust the less forthcoming. But if you didn’t want to pay, say, $25k to join a fancy matchmaking service, or even $67 an hour to hire a PI, you could use an app highlighted in the article, Dating Lounge, which offers greater transparency in dating by showing full real names, giving access to a user’s friend network, and blocking anyone who is married or in a serious relationship. Too bad there’s a waiting list!
At any rate, the sentiment behind this alleged saturation point of mistrust is perfectly understandable. Dating sucks. Online dating sucks. It all sucks. (And it’s worth noting that the Times piece is not just full of women who are suspicious of men; it also includes men who feel misled by women.)
“You don’t want to love somebody who doesn’t really love you back,” said Melanie Kron, 39, a New York journalist who recently discovered that the man she was seeing was engaged to someone else, a woman with whom he had two children. “You want people to give you what you’re giving to them. You should emotionally invest in something real, and when people lie to you, you question yourself.”
So here’s the thing. First of all, when people lie to you, try questioning them. Them! Not yourself.
And absolutely, a certain general mistrust makes sense when it comes to taking the risk of online dating—or really, any kind of dating. And if you’ve had a terrible experience, or been abused in some way, it’s your prerogative to take extra steps to feel safe.
But taken together, I have to say, most of the complaints to be found here are less of the “He was married!” variety and more of the “Her picture was 6 years old!” or “He was bald!” disappointment. Hardly a scandal. Intentional or unintentional instances of minor misrepresentation have always been an acknowledged risk of dating online. So what is the real takeaway here? We all need to pony up for a detective before meeting for drinks? No.
It’s hard to trust people. That is nothing new. Romance, at least early on, is always a leap of faith: You must take someone’s word that they are who they say they are, and are not in fact a married guy dressed in a single guy’s clothing. Otherwise you might seem a little bit nutty. But there is one really great way to figure people out that doesn’t involve paying someone to follow them around. It’s called trusting your instincts! Seriously:
Trust your instincts.
Don’t let your desire to be in a relationship cloud your judgment about whether someone’s intentions are on-point. If you quiet down the eagerness we all feel in hoping a thing is good, we can note a few red flags.
Do you ever feel like someone is either too good to be true, or not telling you everything? Is there something guilty in their manner? Do their stories not quite line up? Can they never talk on the phone after 7 pm? Do they cancel plans a lot? Is there an unexplained tan line on their ring finger? Are weekends radio silent?
In one anecdote from the Times piece, the owner of a private investigation firm says a client admitted, “My gut’s telling me something may be wrong. And then I heard about this Ashley Madison thing and I need someone to check out my suspicions.” Here’s the thing: if you’re gut is telling you something’s wrong, it probably is. That’s when you need to A) approach the person in question with your suspicions, and then potentially B) get out of there. As life coach Heidi Brandt tells the Times, if you’re at the point where you want to stalk someone you are with or search their phone, “You already know the answers.”
As imperfect as it may be to date online (as this story and these stories attest), romance is a gamble, and trust is a critical component. And the answer to this conundrum is not necessarily blowing your savings on a private investigator. This is love, not war: at least give thine enemy a chance to come clean.
Image via Paramount Pictures/Harriet the Spy.