Why You Shouldn't Stalk Someone On Social Media Before A First Date

With the digital world at our fingertips, it's normal to do a little background check on your romantic interest before going out on a first date. After all, safety comes first, and you want to make sure you are not putting yourself at risk. But is all the snooping around done in the name of precautionary measures alone?

A 2018 survey by JDP on how single Americans research each other before the first date suggests that the amount of searching stretches beyond the lines of simple safety checks and touches the realm of creepy stalking. Out of the 2,000 adults interviewed, 38% always research their soon-to-be date, and 16% of them admitted that they spend a whopping 45 minutes or more gathering information. While 88% of respondents flock to Facebook to do their research, 63% go far back into the social media account's timeline, leaving no stone unturned.

The numbers are quite disconcerting, but they shouldn't come as a surprise. Stalking is actually part of human nature according to Devan Rosen, the editor of "The Social Media Debate: Unpacking the Social, Psychological, and Cultural Effects of Social Media" (via HuffPost). "There's an element to [social media stalking] that is very human nature," Rosen explained, adding that "we seek uncertainty reduction." Nevertheless, you shouldn't stalk someone on social media before your first date because doing so can, among other things, lessen your excitement and give you a false sense of control.

You take away all the excitement of the first date

First dates are exciting because of the element of the unknown. It's like having a mystery gift under your Christmas tree for two weeks that you are just dying to unwrap. Even if you don't particularly like the gift in the end, the anticipation build-up during those days was surely something that kept you going, right?

It's the same with dates. If you snoop around and find out everything there is to find out about your date, will you even feel excited at the prospect of finally getting to meet them face-to-face? The chances are slim. Because when you know everything, you kill the mystery and rob yourself of all the excitement and anticipation that comes with first dates and if you already know everything, how will you ask thoughtful questions to forge a connection?

In fact, a great portion of U.S. single adults seem to agree that stalking social media before you get to meet your date in person is a big turn-off. Based on findings from a survey of 1,910 single adults administered by EliteSingles, 25% of women and 41% of men hold the belief that investigating before the first date diminishes the sense of intrigue, dampening the overall experience.

You make up your mind about your first date

We often stalk people to help us avoid making mistakes on our first date. Unfortunately, when you stalk your first date on social media, you inadvertently fall victim to preconceived bias. According to a 2012 study in the Journal of Neuroscience, it takes a mere few seconds to decide on potential relationships and whether we are romantically attracted to someone based on a combination of physical and psychological compatibility. 

So, if your first interaction with your date is by stalking them on social media, then you are robbing yourself of those crucial first few live seconds with them. Seeing their pictures online, reading their posts, and watching their videos and reels may lead you to make up your mind about them before even meeting them in person.

The risk entailed in this is two-fold. Firstly, given that on social media, people put forth the reality they want others to see, your love at first sight will be with the polished-up version of the person you will ultimately meet. Courtesy of filters, proper lighting, and beauty apps, you may feel attracted to a person that does not really exist. So, when meeting them in real life, disappointment and disillusionment set in, and it all goes south from that point on. Secondly, you may decide from the get-go that you do not like the person on social media and hence not give them a fair chance.

You could ruin your date chances if you get caught

Nobody likes a stalker. The thought of your potential first date stalking you on social media likely has you cringing. So, even though you may believe that a little bit of innocent snooping around to prep you for the actual face-to-face meeting is warranted (to keep you safe and all), it can actually ruin your date chances if you get caught.

Imagine accidentally liking a picture, or leaving your mark behind when viewing a story. Or, imagine even taking a screenshot that alerts your prospective beau (because, you know, sometimes we want to share our gorgeous-looking dates with our besties and get them excited along with us). 

In the 2018 JDP survey, 17% of participants admitted they feel "weirded out" when they discover their date has been researching them online before meeting in real life. Even though 63% of respondents say they would not feel embarrassed if their date discovered their "investigative" activities, there is a chance that the date will not find it so cute. So why ruin something that's potentially great before it even begins?

It heightens your arousal

According to the Daily Mail, 75% of women and 59% of men will stalk someone on social media before their first date. However, let's suppose that you are doing it for safety purposes only. Let us even assume that you still manage to hold on to the excitement and enthusiasm despite killing the mystery. There is still another factor that might tip the scales against Googling your date: Stalking can make you nervous.

A 2014 study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking suggests that Facebook exposure on your date's profile will make you more aroused when meeting in person, especially amongst people with social anxiety. While one would hypothesize that "stalking" someone before the first date will put you at ease by providing increased comfort and confidence, the opposite can actually happen. The psychological arousal of participants measured by the galvanic skin response indicated increased arousal and anxiety. But why does this happen?

One theory is that the initial interaction on the internet causes the "stalker" to start ruminating about the date, forming anticipations, and making assumptions that the actual in-person meeting might not live up to. Moreover, the more a person snoops around, the more they might experience feelings of inadequacy and negative self-perception, as they constantly measure themselves against the looks, experiences, qualifications, and life of their prospective date (despite the fact that all of these might just be a very-well made façade).

It gives you a false sense of control

First dates bring the excitement of the unknown. Nevertheless, humans are also wary of the unknown. When we are not sure what to expect, we feel anxious. In our attempts to minimize the negative feelings, we try to gain some control over the situation by trying to get to know as much as we can before the date to prepare ourselves for what to expect.

However, stalking someone on social media will only give us a false sense of control because we can't really tell ourselves what to expect based on what we discover online. So, in our attempt to decide whether or not we will like this person and gain some sense of control over the unknown, we are relying on data that may prove to be false or, at the very best, favorably skewed.

Professor of Psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Eli J. Finkel, Ph.D., tells Huffpost, "You're trying to suss out: Will this person and I have a connection? Actually, there is no evidence that we can assess that online. You think you know what you want, but what you really need is to sit across from each other and get a beer." 

Unfortunately, when we try to decide beforehand, we might lull ourselves into a false sense of control by feeling that we know what we are getting ourselves into, when we really don't.