In a recent, somewhat baffling, tweet, Debrett’s, the last word in all things impeccably mannered, said the following:
If you're going on a blind date, quiz the matchmaker and use social networking sites to gather advance information.
Um, you what now?
(As an aside, this vexes me. Heads up, Debrett’s folk: this isn’t what we’ve loved you for over the years. We’re perfectly capable of having a one night stand – we don’t need to be told how to do it in an socially acceptable fashion (as one of your more recent volumes outlines). But it’s conceivable that, actually, we might want to brush up on quite what the deal is when you’re invited to grand dinners at posh military regiments, or exactly how to address a thank-you note to someone titled AND divorced, which your guides no longer cover, and are the worse for it.)
It’s bad enough that the bastion of etiquette feels it needs to comment – it is, after all, not a matter of manners. But the fact they’ve given the advice they have, and stuck their necks out and sanctioned a pre-date cyber-stalk?! Not okay.
I’d argue that if you really must indulge, the Googlestalk is something to be done furtively, guiltily, and never admitted to, much less spoken of openly, unless to the best friend.
For a start, it removes all and any mystery about the person you’ll be dating. One of the great delights of the early stages of a relationship is getting to know someone; discovering what makes them tick and the tales of how they’ve got from where they were then to who they are now. A good, thorough cyberhunt removes all that.
And, whilst you might think that the information gleaned will give you something to talk about on your date, you’re actually doing yourself out of the simplest, most crucial first date conversations.
It’s less likely you’re going to be discussing your date’s views on Gourevitch’s account of the Rwandan genocide than you are where they grew up and how many siblings they have: don’t preempt a vital twenty minutes in which – if you’re listening – you’ll be able to gauge so much more than just the fact that he’s an only child. And the inevitable glaze that will come over your face when he tells you what you already know and that he spent a year travelling round India isn’t overly likely to endear you to him.
Words on the pages of the internet are also – sometimes dangerously – lacking in context. It might be that the gap of several years on the LinkedIn profile is down to a long period of worldwide travel that he’s not put on the form, or maybe just laziness in filling it in, but those out there (especially women) with overactive imaginations are wont to leap to the wild, worst and wrong – “God, was he in prison?!” – conclusions.
And honestly, who wants to know their life has been checked out online before they’ve even met someone?! Frankly, it’s a bit creepy to know that someone’s run a full credit check on you before you’ve had the chance to have a gin and tonic.
I’m not a total dating luddite when it comes to these things, of course: I’d argue that it’s fine to look ‘em up briefly – after all, blind dates are nerve wracking enough. It’s always good to know at least what someone looks like. You don’t want to be faced with the situation of getting to the bar for a well-deserved Friday night G&T and fighting the temptation to flee before you’ve even acknowledged you’ve arrived.
But nothing more. No knowledge of school awards won; holiday pics or the name of the family dog. It’s just not cool. And it’s definitely, despite what Debrett’s might say, not good manners.