Several years ago when I was living in Washington, I met a man the old-fashioned way: tipsily, in a bar. Then I ruined my chances with him the new-fashioned way. I Googled him.
On this particular night, my roommates and I were out at a place that had karaoke, something that either brings out the best or the worst in people. It had certainly brought out something in a very tall and lanky guy who was looking my way.
Soon we were talking and flirting. Emboldened by alcohol, I complimented his rendition of “Sweet Child o' Mine.” More talk. He said he was from Chicago originally. Liked to run. I told him (perhaps more than once) that I'd smoke him on a run. I told him I had been an English major.
“Oh, English?” he said, “My dad's an English teacher.”
He called a few days later. We set an date. That's when I made my mistake: I Googled him.
Within minutes, buckets of personal data poured out: his undergraduate Ivy League GPA, his sister's name, where he earned his MBA. I read a series of published business essays by him, then stumbled upon track-and-field competitions he had competed in, and how phenomenally fast he ran a mile.
My stomach sank. I had swaggered about how I could outrun one of the fastest milers in the United States.
The day of our date he drove us to a fancy, low-lit bar on U Street, where cool-looking couples held long-stemmed glasses and leaned toward each other meaningfully. “What would you like?” he asked.
“Wine, please.” My mind was swimming with all the information I had on him but did not yet know officially: the 3:59 mile he ran, his favorite hamburger shop, the neighborhood he grew up in, business philosophies, travels.
The three glasses of wine I downed muddied my memory. Now that I secretly knew he was a top runner, my first goal was to revise my previous assertion of being a good runner myself.
He gave me the perfect opening when he smiled and asked, “So, you like to run, huh?”
“Oh, no. Hate it! I mean, I run like a cow, you know?”
“Oh,” he said, looking disappointed. “Oh, well, I run pretty seriously. I ran in college.”
“What did you run?”
“I'm a miler.”
My mind was like a checklist, ticking off each already-known fact I made him spill. “How fast?”
He shrugged. “Well, I was always around a four-minute miler, but I did actually break the four-minute mark recently.”
I took a fortifying gulp of wine and thought: “Well, you broke it by one second. In any case, probably better not to mention my high school personal best of 6:15.”
Then I realized I hadn't even reacted to his startlingly fast time. Startling, that is, if you hadn't learned it days before. “Wow, that's fast!” I blurted too late. “Ever train for any big races?”
He then mentioned a major competition I already knew about.
I widened my face in speechless surprise. Abruptly changing topics, I then said, “So, you went to the University of Chicago?”
“Yeah, that's right. Business school. I guess I mentioned that the other night?”
Had he? I couldn't remember. We smiled at each other the way people do when they're having a bad time but want to seem as if they're having a good time.
He then told me some complicated story involving his brother. When he finished, I said, “So, it's you, your brother, and your sister?”
“Did I tell you about her?”
“No, no. Do you have a sister?”
The night unraveled from there. My memory and confidence were both officially shot. Did he tell me his undergraduate GPA, or did Google? Was his sailing trip part of our conversation or detailed in one of the business columns by him I had read? Everything swirled together.
Later, after he mercifully dropped me off, I tried to convince myself that it had actually gone well. That was just how dates went, right? The confusion of information with regards to what you Googled about your date and what you actually discovered during the date? Par for the course.
“I think it went OK,” I told my roommate.
Over the next few months, I invited him to three of our parties. He came to none. Finally, on the fourth invitation, he said, “You know, I'm actually going to be out of town for the next month.”
Nowadays, my advice to friends is: Never Google a date. No Facebook, MySpace or Technorati, either. There's something to be said for the spontaneity and authentic facial expressions of utter ignorance.
I realize it's hard to resist the impulse when we live in an age of nonstop access. But in the long run it's a little less interesting, isn't it?