The interwebs can be an awkward place. It used to be the on the internet, no one knew you’re a dog, but now someone can, within minutes, not only find out what breed of dog you are but what brand of collar you wear and also your credit score. Some would say that this is a liberating freedom from the social norms that have inhibited human expression for centuries. Those people are rude. The rest of us live in a constant state of trepidation about how to transfer their real-word manners into the realm of Facebook, eHarmony and Youtube videos of chimpanzees riding Segways. The Internet Etiquetteist can help with your questions, drop him a line.
Dear Internet Etiquetteist,
I have a profile on a frequently used dating website, to keep things anonymous let’s just call it Ok Cupid. My main interest in the site is reading the profiles of random strangers and determining all the reasons they wouldn’t actually like me and how early on they will try to tell me about their childhood traumas/gross medical problems. I find it super fun. Unfortunately, San Francisco is small enough that sometimes I accidentally click on the profiles of people I know. This makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable because the site tracks everyone who looks at your profile and lets them know that you’ve been stalking them.
How do I deal with this? I feel like I should send them a quick message saying, “I hope you didn’t notice I looked at your profile but if you did I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to invade your privacy.” But that seems kind of weird. I don’t want to see them at social functions having us both know that I looked at their sad, lonely online dating profile. What should I do?
I Am Not A Creepy Stalker, My Job Is Just Really Tedious And I Get Bored Easily
The last thing you should do is apologize to people you’ve stalked online when you see them in person, especially if you’ve been stalking them in the online date-o-sphere. Online dating profiles are kind of like cover letters in job applications–it’s where people attempt to put forward an idealized version of themselves.
In a cover letter, it’s okay to pretend that you’re a whiz with InDesign and your biggest flaw is that sometimes you’re too much of a perfectionist because no one ever going to hire you anyway, not with that BA in Comp Lit, but when you put on your online dating profile that you’re “caring, considerate and compassionate,” there’s a part of you that really wants to believe that, no matter how long the trail of corpses of failed relationships lingering behind you is.
If someone with no intention of dating you is looking at your profile for a reason you don’t know, you’re probably going to assume that their intent was to mock you. Here, the “you” that they’re mocking isn’t the “you” that spent all of last Saturday hungover, wearing sweatpants, watching reruns of Ghost Whisperer and ordering delivery Chinese food twice in one day. They’re mocking the version of “you” that you hope is most deserving of another person’s love and affection.
This is like watching an awkward 13-year old in a striped polo shirt asking an equally awkward 13-year old in black and white checkered leggings to slow dance and then letting them see you silently chuckle to yourself before they get a response. To people with no actual problems, this is literally the worst thing could ever happen.
This is why, under no circumstances, should you approach your inadvertent victim at a party, give them an avuncular punch on the shoulder and say, “it’s funny that you said you loved to go hiking on Ok Cupid because the farthest I’ve ever seen you go outdoors is the back patio of Zeitgeist.”
Sending them an email about it is even worse because, without the vocal medium’s inherent ability to give context through inflection, the easygoing sentiment you’re hoping to project will most likely be lost to ambiguity. Imagine reading that Zeitgeist quip and having no idea if were a joke.
The best thing to do here is to pretend it never happened and hope they’ll chalk it up to random chance or, at worst, harmless internet stalking (which it was). Heck, maybe they’ll never notice it in the first place.
If you want to stalk in complete anonymity, simply make a pretend profile that you use elusively for stalking. If you see someone you actually want to take to the back patio of Zeitgeist, message them with your real profile.
Look, I made a sample fake profile. It’s easy:
I’m a regular guy who’s just plain tired of the bar scene looking for a normal, level-headed girl for dinner, drinks and…who knows… 😉
What I’m doing with my life
I’m currently unemployed and live in a basement apartment that doesn’t get a lot of natural light.
I’m really good at
Getting tough stains (red wine, Kool-Aid, etc.) out of clothes, carpet and the back seat of my white, 1995 Ford E-Series Van with tinted windows and no license plate.
The first things people usually notice about me
Aviator sunglasses, generic hoodie, leather gloves, faint red traces around the edges of my black workboots.
My favorite books, movies, music and food
Catcher in the Rye, Catcher in the Rye, Catcher in the Rye, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. (Heart you Harry Potter).
The six things I could never do without
1. My iPhone
2. Diet Coke
3. My white, 1995 Ford E-Series Van with tinted windows and no license plate
5. Music (music is the best!)
6. Mrs. Renfro’s Raspberry Chipotle Salsa
I spend a lot of time thinking about
[DECLINE TO STATE]
On a typical Friday night I am
Not standing by myself at bars waiting for opportunities to smell girls’ hair. There’s no way I spend my Friday nights doing that. Nope.
The most private thing I’m willing to admit
When I was a kid I used to take stray cats that lived in the neighborhood, lock them in a mailbox, hit it exactly 15 times with a baseball bat and then light it on fire. LOL!
You should message me if
COME ON, I NEED THIS!!!!!!!!1
Did you see what I did there?
There are two types of people who use online dating sites: people who are probably serial killers and people who are definitely serial killers. The more you make your fake profile trend toward the latter, the less likely you are to get random lonely hearts trying to set up dates with your fabricated persona.
Now, I feel a little morally ambiguous about encouraging fraudulent OK Cupid profiles. If it were any other dating site, I’d say do whatever you want all the time with no thought to the consequences. But, I get the feeling that OKCupid is less a dating site than it is a giant social experiment that the sociology grad students who use the site to gather data for their dissertations and occasionally post Nate Silver-esque statistical analyses of the results on their blog. (Heart you Nate Silver). I’m reticent to mess with their data because they probably have a ton of debt they need to pay off and the sooner they can finish their dissertations and start looking for a faculty spots at bucolic liberal arts schools that won’t mind if they half-ass the teaching portion of their duties and still let them get on the tenure track the better.