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Don't Just Stand There--Google

Today's dating mantra: Before you go out, go online and run a search on your prospect. But it's hit or miss.

February 09, 2001|HILARY E. MacGREGOR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

About two months ago a friend set me up on a blind date. We met for lunch. He was sweet, provocative, charming, self-effacing, brainy and adventurous. He had no overt hang-ups, tics or crippling complexes, and he had a fine, thick head of hair, which is something to take into account when you're still single in your 30s. In short, he seemed like a great guy.

He told me he was a "screenwriter." Well, no self-respecting woman in this town believes that one. Out of deference to his feelings, I didn't even ask if I'd recognize any of his projects.

Reader, I Googled him.

I typed his name into my computer and cast my virtual net into cyberspace. I used the hottest search engine around to dredge through a billion Web pages in less than a second. I almost fell off my Aeron chair when I found that he was . . . actually successful. My detective instincts are nothing unusual for a girl on the prowl in big-city America. You never know if a hot guy who buys you an apple martini in a hip L.A. bar will turn out to be an unemployed bisexual vacuum cleaner salesman with two ex-wives, six children and a rap sheet out to here. Googling is a tool that every savvy single should have in her repertoire.

"I always Google before dates. It is a must," said a 24-year-old researcher at a high-tech magazine in San Francisco, who asked not to be named for fear that someone would Google her. "One time I Googled (actually Nexised and Googled--I'm in research) and found out that my blind date had done the same for me . . . ." They did not go out again. Turned out that Googling each other was about the only thing they had in common.

When Bonnie Powell, 29, an Oakland journalist, met her photographer boyfriend at work two years ago, she didn't know much about him. So before they went out, she Googled him. She stumbled on a lengthy magazine profile that mentioned his astrological sign. "I amazed him on our first date by saying, 'You are a Pisces,' " she said. "He said, 'How do you know?' and I said, 'I don't know, you just seem like one.' " He was blown away. She didn't tell him she'd Googled him until two years later. They are still together.

So what is a Google?

Any mathematician--or schoolchild--knows that a googol is a one followed by 100 zeros. Sergey Brin, president and co-founder of Google Inc., was a math major and chose the name because it is a metaphor for the vast reach of the search engine. Cindy McCaffrey, vice president of corporate communications for the Mountain View-based company, said there is no way to track how many people use the Google search engine to conduct anonymous Internet sleuthing, but judging by letters and anecdotes, she said, lots of it is going on.

"People have been Googling each other for a long time," McCaffrey said. "But it has just come into its own as a verb."

My anecdotal research would indicate that the profile of a typical dating Googler is this: female, single, under 30, in the computer or research business.

Speaking generally, girls Google guys, and guys Google themselves. (That, said McCaffrey, is a "vanity search.") Men said they don't tend to Google, because if a woman is a babe, no bad data in the world could forestall a date.

"Google is my search engine of choice," said Michael Edland, 41, a Los Angeles computer expert. "But I think if you talk to women rather than men, there are more Googlers. They are more likely to think, 'Is he a serial killer?' If guys do it, I think the only thing they might be thinking is, 'Maybe she's an ex-stripper.' And that might be a good thing."

Women, by contrast, want to weed out losers, and give themselves a sense of control.

A 20-something online wedding writer from Manhattan put it this way: "Guys don't really care that much. They don't really want to know your story. They are more interested in the next date, physical contact."

She said the personal information that litters the Internet can be so random that you have to be a little romantic, and a little boy crazy, to derive much satisfaction out of most Google background searches.

"It appeals to a certain personality," she said. "I need to know what is coming next at all times. I need some semblance of control over my emotional life. Some people like to let life happen naturally. I'm not that way." Most of her searches, she said, don't yield anything too juicy, "But every once in a while you get a home page, and that is like, 'Jackpot!' "

In rare cases, with a hometown or alma mater to narrow down the field, a Google can reveal whether a guy is misrepresenting himself or even lying like a dog.

"I actually met someone this summer who was in college, who told me he was 21," said the compulsive Manhattan Googler. "I had just turned 25, so there was an age difference, but no big thing. We went on a few dates and then I thought, OK, it's time to Google."

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