Don’t Be Shy, Ladies-Google Him! Check Out His Search Engine First

On a recent, freezing December night, I met a great guy at a bar in midtown. He was thick-haired and handsome, smart with a good sense of humor and, on top of that, he was an excellent dancer. As I waited inthe coat check line, we flirted and exchanged business cards. A few hours later, I Googled him.

Like many of my twentysomething peers in New York’s dating jungle, I have begun to use Google.com, as well as other online search engines, to perform secret background checks on potential mates. It’s not perfect, but it’s a discreet way of obtaining important, useless and sometimes bizarre information about people in Manhattan–and it’s proven to be as reliable as the scurrilous gossip you get from friends.

So after the bar encounter, I took the thick-haired guy’s business card, logged onto Google.com and tapped his name into the computer. You never know , I thought. He seemed nice that night, but he could be anyone from a rapist or murderer to a brilliant author or championship swimmer. This is Manhattan, after all, and you’ve got to stay one step ahead of the dating game–even if it takes espionage.

But the thick-haired guy’s unusual name got 435 hits on Google.com–a virtual jackpot! Most of the hits linked to sites touting an author of business books, which was both promising and curious, because while my guy was smart, he was only 26 years old and had talked excitedly about reading The Fountainhead and American Psycho. But another Google hit linked to a site that chronicled a family reunion in Ireland which my growing crush had attended.

My heart raced. Romantic trips to Ireland! Business books! I had given my guy a good old-fashioned Googling, and he had potential !

Other city dwellers have made similar discoveries. With Googling, it’s easy to find out if a new crush has ever made news, has ever been published or, on the flip side, has ever been indicted for securities fraud–or worse, posted love letters on a Backstreet Boys fan site. You can find an old term paper from college, an editorial in a high school newspaper, even an embarrassing photo from a family wedding.

“I do it all the time,” an attractive blonde said on a recent night at Eugene when asked if she had ever Googled anyone. “Everyone does.”

Well, maybe not everyone, but it’s clear that a lot of people are Googling in New York these days. In October, Missy was invited to a party at a Central Park West apartment belonging to a thirtysomething man she didn’t know terribly well. Before going to the party, Missy Googled him. She discovered that he was a successful venture capitalist who had graduated from Harvard Business School. “A big VC, went to Harvard,” Missy e-mailed a friend. “We should DEFINITELY go.”

Or how about Ben, a 24-year-old research assistant who Googled a romantic interest and found out she was a registered marathon runner in California. As a result, he asked her to go jogging on their first date. Unimpressed, she turned Ben down, but the two eventually ended up dating (and still are).

Then there’s Rachel, a 23-year-old who has researched more than one man on the Internet. One time, she went online and discovered that a man she had met at a party–who merely told her that he’d started an Internet company–had in fact sold his stake for a cool $10 million. Inspired, Rachel began seeing the man, though the pair eventually broke up.

Recently, Rachel turned to the Web after meeting a handsome journalist at a Christmas party. “I went on Foxnews.com to look at his bio,” Rachel recalled. “And [I] found out that he went to Hopkins and is a Beatles fanatic and obsessed with Watergate. I made sure to mention those things over dinner.”

But herein lies the hazard of online research. While brushing up on someone’s personal history online has its benefits, Googlers must be cautious about going overboard and calling attention to their Web investigations–no one wants to be seen as an “e-stalker.”

I once busted someone for Googling me . One night at dinner, a writer I met asked me about a story I had written in The Village Voice five years ago. I was caught completely off-guard. “I never told you I worked at the Voice, ” I said.

The guy, who turned out to be a great friend, blushed. “I Googled you,” he confessed, adding: “I do it to everyone, to see what they’ve done.”

Alas, I got kind of tripped up myself when I began a torrid e-mail affair–or e-ffair–with the thick-haired guy from the bar. In one e-mail, I asked him if he had ever written a book, since I had seen his name attached to all those business books when I Googled him. No, he responded, but there was a gay writer in Los Angeles with exactly the same name. Oops!

Generally, it’s better to let your more incendiary Google discoveries go unmentioned, especially if you think the relationship stands a chance. That’s what one 24-year-old fledgling filmmaker did after he Googled a European woman he met while studying abroad–and learned, to his horror, that the woman’s father was a highly influential businessman who had been assassinated during the Cold War. Stunned, the filmmaker never brought it up with the woman.

Sometimes, Googling reveals a little too much information. Michael, a now-unemployed dot-commer, recalled falling truly, madly, deeply for a bikini-clad blond actress he met on the beach. After a few promising dates, Michael Googled her and learned that the woman was also a “sexpert” for a television show. Intimidated by his discovery, Michael pretty much froze, making one bad move (a closed-mouth kiss) before the romance veered into friendship.

“She’ll drop me a stupid e-mail once in a while,” Michael grumbled. “Like, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ or ‘Let’s get a cookie.’”

Even worse, a good Googling can trigger harsh feelings of insecurity–especially if the Googled party turns out to have a far more impressive résumé than the person doing the googling.

Take Matthew, an artist. One afternoon, he Googled a woman he had a crush on and found out she was once at a party attended by Salman Rushdie. He also found some academic articles the woman had published. They were “pretty good,” Matthew recalled.

Then, like many of us have done at least once, Matthew decided to Google himself. Not much, he discovered. Almost nada, in fact.

Matthew said his ego took a good jolting, and he rued his decision to Google his crush. “It’s very off-putting to find out that a person you’re interested in is much more famous than you are,” he explained. He’ll never mention the Salman Rushdie party. “It’s too embarrassing,” he said. “There’s no way I’d find out that kind of info if I hadn’t Googled her.”

Curious George.com

Lost amid the fuss over Hachette Filipacchi’s Jan. 4 euthanizing of George was the monthly’s decision to quietly snuff photos in its lively Internet bulletin-board community.

The day the ax fell on their print counterparts, Georgemag.com’s staff posted a message on its online politics forum. “While George magazine has regretfully had to cease publication, the Web site and these forums will remain open,” the message read. Then came the sucker punch: “However, due to offensive postings by a few people we’ve had to cut off the ability to post images.”

The party was over. But what a party it was.

Presumably, when the editors of George magazine decided to add an online bulletin board to Georgemag.com, they envisioned it would evolve into some kind of free-form, high-toned political discussion, an Agora for cyber times. Maybe William F. Buckley Jr., toweling off from tennis, would hasten over to his laptop to see how Robert Reich had responded to his last posted zinger. Maybe a bleary Bill Bennett would rattle his keyboard until the wee hours going mano a mano with a caffeinated Michael Kinsley on the left coast.

But, alas, unless Mr. Buckley has been working under the alias of White Trash Slut, or Mr. Kinsley lurked behind the moniker PinkPuffyNipple, it seems that those rarefied types never showed up on Georgemag.com. Either that, or they were scared off by the Web site’s regulars, BitchFace the Great and GunSquirrel.

Let’s take a little trip down memory lane via Georgemag.com’s political photography salon. On Jan. 3, Real Tired–who claimed to have a large cache of automatic weapons–posted an old topless shot of Paula Jones. “I don’t care what anybody says, she had a body…,” he wrote.

The following day, Real Tired returned to answer White Trash Slut’s riposte–”Why don’t gun freaks ever have girlfriends?”–by posting three shots of nude Asian models, and a shot of another Asian model attired in a camisole, eating an ice cream cone.

Frequent visitors to Georgemag.com will also recall the pithy musings of Nop Is An Asshole, who liked to post multiple images of Krinkov machine guns. “Krinkovs anyone?” Nop inquired. There was also the memorable FeistyHag, who asked the political magazine’s readers, “Any of you want to sleep with a mature, attractive lady?” and added a shot of a saggy, topless sixtysomething woman.

Finally there was GOD himself, who brought the house down on Jan. 4 when he posted a photo which appeared to be a Japanese woman with her legs behind her head, unburdening herself onto her own face.

That was too much, even from GOD. A day later, Georgemag.com pulled the plug.

When the no-more-photos edict came down, emotions varied. Real Tired whimpered that “to not alllow [sic] images stunts creativity and I fear will close off a humoroious [sic] outlet.” But BitchFace Jones (formerly known as BitchFace the Great) was livid. “I leave you to rot in your own filth, as I will be devoting more time having sex with Nop and less time to spamming this pathetic excuse for a discussion forum ….

“Let the name BitchFace Jones go out to all corners of the cyber community, and let all tremble at the mere mention of my name, for you have surely seen a demonstration of my mighty powers.”

“We are continuing the [Georgemag.com] Web site,” said Anne Janus, vice president of corporate communication at Hachette Filipacchi. “We’ve had a loyal, politically savvy group of people who regularly log on for the open forum.”

–Andrew Goldman