In the Millennial age, men and women have a nasty little habit of trolling through each other's social media channels when they meet (or before meeting) someone new. Facebook "stalking" (read: not literal stalking... there's a big, big difference) is your way of researching a potential partner. Some see it as doing their homework before a date, to get a better idea of who the girl is, what her interests are, what she's like. This is good to some degree. You can see if there are any immediate red flags, but it can also be deterimental to your date.
A study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking found this to be especially true for people who are socially anxious. When undergraduate students looked someone up on Facebook before meeting face-to-face, they were more nervous—likely because they already had expectations before the first conversation even took place.
But if you're thinking 'science be d*mned,' and you want to—or can't help—but peruse through a girl's Facebook profile before a first date, you should know some rules of conduct first. We spoke with Bela Gandhi, founder and head coach of Smart Dating Academy, a full service personal consulting firm that provides busy, successful professionals with dating coaching and online dating consulting. Here, she exposes the minefields in the battlefield of Facebook so you can use social media to your advantage and hopefully not to your demise.
Oh, and if you happen to make it past the point of being strangers, you're official Facebook friends, and have been dating for a few weeks: "All is fair game!" Gandhi says. "If a life event happens to her, you should mention it (or she may think you don't care)," she adds. Social media is huge in the dating game—for better or worse.
If you see her in "compromising" or "too-close-for-comfort" photos with other guys, that's a big indicator she's not ready for a serious relationship. Worst yet, she's fine that you know and can see! In a relationship, Facebook gives you the opportunity to watch what she does, not just hear what she says Gandhi adds.
Create boundaries before you browse
Limit yourself to only checking out some of her basic info. If you're Facebook "friends" or her account is public, you can read how old she is, where she works, and where she went to school. Most Facebook users provide this information in their "About Me" portion of the site. Ghandi says you can also see if there are red flags. If religion is a huge make-or-break factor in a potential partner, or a behavior like smoking is, check to see if there are any indicators on the main page of her profile. Just know that stumbling upon a major turn off can deter you from giving her a chance; but, hey, if it's a deal breaker, it's a deal breaker.
Don't click through every photo she's ever posted
"You don't want to go back to page 27 and get sucked into rabbit holes," Gandhi says. You just want to find basic levels of connection. "You can check out her Facebook likes/interests, and have that information in your 'back pocket' if you need it, but never show that you've done too much research on a first date—it will definitely make you look creepy," she adds.
The problem with going too far back into the annals of her Facebook history is you can form an unfair picture of what she's like and "create your own bad stories that probably have nothing to do with reality," Gandhi says. You think you're getting the full picture, but she's grown and matured from her college spring break album and, sure, she's going to look like a chronic partyer if all her tagged photos are ones from dinners and late-night soirees. Even if her profile pictures are flooded with selfies, give her a chance in-person before you peg her as a narcissist and break off the date. Oh, and the guy who's always posting on her wall? That could be her cousin for all you know, so step away from your computer and set your phone down before you ruin your chances.
Want to know a sure-fire way to turn her off before you even meet? "Accidentally (or purposefully) liking old photos on Instagram or Facebook," Gandhi says. "That's super creepy." When you're "stalking" someone new, you must click with discretion. "Liking" that picture of her on vacation in Bora Bora from 97 weeks ago, or worse, commenting and adding to a conversation she had with her sister about renovating her bathroom is not cool. Not only do you blow your entire cover (she knows you're "stalking," and you're deep in her social feed), but it's unsettling for her to think you've taken a glimpse at years of her life—especially when you're still a relative stranger.
Keep a poker face
Even if she ran a marathon or just adopted a new Pitbull puppy, confess nothing. "Play it cool," Gandhi says. Use the information to start conversations like, 'What are you most proud of?', 'What do you like to do outside of work?', or 'Are you a cat or a dog person?' These questions are hugely revealing about her as a person, and she'll obviously have a lot to say about them because they relate to things she's done in the past, present, and will do in the future.
The bottom line is you don't want her to know that you've done your research. "One of my clients had a date interrogate her based on what he saw on Google on a first date," Gandhi says. "That's 'game over.'" Never indicate inside jokes she has with other people, places she's traveled to, or any other tidbit that shows you've been on her social accounts. "Women are super sensitive to that," she adds. You don't want her first impression of you to be that weird, or worse, threatening guy who knew everything (or thought he knew everything) about her before the appetizers hit the table.
Never familiarize yourself with her family and friends via Facebook
If she starts to talk about her brother, and you identify him by his first name when she never told you, congratulations, you've officially reached the ultimate level of creepiness.
Ask her about her family—how many siblings she has, what her parents do for a living, what her nationality is—instead. Don't breach her privacy and rummage through her "Friends" either. Of course, if you have a friend in common that introduced you two, ask about when they first met and how they know each other. But other than that, don't mention the girl who's in the majority of her profile pictures, or anyone, by first name. Date number two will never come.
Moral of the story: Keep your Facebook browsing to a minimum. Enjoy the in-person reveal of stories and fun facts, rather than getting carried away on social media.