Social media is a great resource for the business-minded. It’s great for keeping in touch with loved ones who don’t live nearby. The archives of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram serve as convenient digital keepsakes. For relationships and dating, however, using online platforms is a different machine that ranges from harmless to anxiety-inducing.
One time I was texting someone I was seeing and wanted to keep the conversation going. Without thinking twice I asked if he was on social media. I regretted it immediately. I knew I’d just taken our relationship to another level, if only within the bounds of my overactive imagination. He replied with his handle and said, “Give me a follow.” Stalking inevitably ensued.
I uncovered each corner of his profile measuring everything from wit and ability to publicly display emotion, to grammar and personal style. I couldn’t help myself. I overanalyzed, connected dots, and took mental screenshots. When my friends wanted details about him I directed them to his page. It was actually pretty handy. We exchanged likes and direct messaged each other casually. It was smooth until one of my friends pointed out a picture of him with an anonymous woman. “Who’s that?,” she asked me. The post hadn’t stood out to me before. It seemed innocent enough. There was nothing overtly sexual or romantic about it. The caption wasn’t any more revealing than the photo itself. It was a sole snowflake emoji.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “Could be a friend or family member.” My friend told me I should ask him about the photo. “No way,” I said. We’d only been on a couple dates. It didn’t feel appropriate to press him about it. It wasn’t like we were exclusive. I forgot about it for awhile, then noticed it disappeared weeks later. I realized he must have had some emotional investment in the girl in the picture if he cared enough to take it down.
The same young woman appeared on his account again later, this time in motion. At first the videos were ambiguous. A pool hall here, another outing there. The clearest image of all was a seconds-long clip where she suddenly came into the frame and hugged him. I’d seen enough. I unfollowed him. My eyes felt poisoned. I realized all the speculation could’ve been avoided if I’d never asked him for his handle in the first place. Ignorance is bliss, but I was the cat that curiosity killed. When the next guy I went out with asked if I wanted to follow him on Instagram I said no. “We're not there yet,” I told him.
Still, online profiles are hard to escape. On Tinder (and probably other dating apps too) there’s an option to link Instagram to your account. It enables people to explore the ins and outs of a date’s life before even having a conversation in person. It’s challenging to resist the urge to do some “research” before linking up with a match. Last night I told my roommate I had a date planned with a comedian, and I was trying not watch his YouTube channel before meeting him. She totally egged me on. “Everyone stalks before meeting,” she assured me. So we watched one of his stand-ups. It was hilarious and made me look forward to meeting him even more. But it could’ve had the opposite effect.
To be safe, going forward I'll opt out of following romantic interests early in the game. But ultimately I think a person's intentions will translate in his or her behavior. If a guy or girl is into you there won't be any vague posts with secret someones. If there's nothing to hide--no harm, no foul. At the same time you've got to protect yourself by preparing for the worst case scenario. Are you ready to potentially see content you don't want to see? I'll pass on clicking that follow button.