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Romantic CRB checks: Searching for love

Checking out a date's online profile before a meeting can be hazardous, as Rhodri Marsden found out
  • @rhodri

"So, you're an archaeology lecturer?" As soon as I said it, I knew I'd made a tactical error. My date was indeed an archaeology lecturer – I hadn't insulted her or anything – but I wasn't supposed to know because she hadn't told me yet. The only reason I knew was because I'd done a Google search for her name – just out of curiosity – but as a result I'd become encumbered with information that betrayed that curiosity.

For some people that might not have been a problem (indeed, they might have been flattered that I'd bothered doing the research) but in this case it caused a raised eyebrow. "How do you know that?" she asked, and I was forced to perform a sheepish confession. "Aha," she said, sternly. "And what do you do for a living?" she continued, thus making a point and causing the balance of power to swing heavily in her favour.

This is becoming an easy trap to fall into. Online dating has, of late, tended to eschew the screeds of personal information, life histories and lists of holiday destinations that once dominated people's profiles. On Tinder, for example, people will frequently state little more than their height and some banal assertion of their positive state of mind, e.g. "Life is for living". It's not much to go on, and if you do happen to exchange a few emails and become aware of each other's full names, it's hard not to succumb to inquisitiveness and perform a cursory online search.

But unlike dating profiles, which are kept tightly controlled in an almost North Korean-like presentation of the truth, with photographs obsessively screened for unflattering lighting, double chins or errant pimples, the information available online about you can be beyond your control. There might be pictures taken from unauthorised angles, idle gossip from idiots or worse; potential suitors might see you through a prism just as distorted as your dating profile, but not necessarily in your favour.

Of course, that's not something anyone can do much about, and outside the frivolous world of dating it has become a hot topic. There's an ongoing debate surrounding "the right to be forgotten" by search engines, with EU data protection law recently forcing Google to offer European citizens a form where we can request particular links be removed from its index.

The facility isn't meant for use to massage our online reputations in order to make ourselves appear more attractive to the hottie we're meeting for a drink on Thursday, but it's quite clear from anecdotal evidence that people fret over the lack of control they have over their Google presence. The John Smiths of this world won't be as concerned as the Virginia Foulkes-Badgers, of course, but to achieve complete invisibility on the internet in this social media age represents something of an achievement. In fact, it looks almost suspicious.

It's understandable, perhaps, that we've developed an almost neurotic opinion of how we're perceived as a potential date; after all, the internet has made the dating pool so colossal that you can be instantly rejected for a misdemeanour as minimal as wearing brown shoes or supporting the wrong football team.

But as we all know, real-life attraction is a far more curious and unpredictable beast than the tickbox world of the internet; when a date clicks, the very idea that we ever worried about withholding (or supplying) excessive (or limited) information feels preposterous.

In a recent article for New York Magazine, writer Maureen O'Connor – who herself confessed to an instinctive urge to perform online searches for her dates – discovered that the majority of her friends had wised up and generally didn't. "Stalking online dates is a fool's errand," as she put it.

So perhaps it is now our duty, as 21st- century daters, to abandon the romantic CRB check, take a leap of faith and just... see what happens.