Emerging dating paranoia

When Adam asked me to guest blog on “Dinner, Movie — and a Background Check — for Online Daters“, I promised him I would do it. And then I read the article and couldn’t think of what to say about it. I’m something of a self-proclaimed expert of internet hookups (as anyone who reads ClueChick, my blog, knows) but that’s pretty much never in the kind of context where a background check would make sense.
This whole article seemed like a bit of a non-starter for me. On the one hand, come on, people, are we really this paranoid? And on the other hand, if only people would stop being lying jerks, we wouldn’t need this sort of thing. But I kept thinking about it (and Adam kept bugging me to write this post), and I’m opinionated enough that if I keep thinking about something, I’ll eventually come up with some things to say about it.
So, first, it’s really a shame that people should ever feel the need to do a background check on someone they think they want to spend the rest of their life with. I mean, come on! If you can’t trust this person to tell you the truth, how can you trust them to do all those other minor things about lifelong partnership, like, oh, I don’t know, tell the truth, be respectful, share a life? Call me crazy, but isn’t this getting things off on the wrong foot?
On the other hand, as the article indicates, plenty of people discover things about their mates by doing this check, so, apparently you can’t trust everyone. (Damn!) Well, that’s not news, and there may be a place for this sort of checking up on a new lover, but I wonder about the validity of the businesses providing this service. After all, despite the entirely trustworthy business and information practices of businesses from MasterCard to your local hospital, I have to wonder if I really trust a big corporation to tell me the things I want to know about the person I want to love. Is this really the best way to go about digging for information? I’m not sold.
Finally, and perhaps the biggest issue, to my eyes, is the possibility that people will use this sort of thing instead of common sense tools like their brains and hearts. Yes, a background check might pull up some tidbit of information that I might otherwise never know, but it can’t tell me that my newfound love is the person I want him to be. A lack of data, after all, is not necessarily a positive finding.
So, call me old-fashioned, but I’ll be sticking with the good old getting-to-know-you routine. And, sure, that means I’ll pester your friends for information about your past, but you can be sure that my friends will expect the same from you.

6 thoughts on “Emerging dating paranoia

  1. You could say the same things about any “new introduction” pattern, which is I guess why Adam thought your post appropriate for a security blog.
    There is a big problem with our field (and maybe elsewhere) in that self-marketing forces us to lie.
    Consider employment. Why is it so hard for employers to get a feel for the potential employee? Why is it that they have to do background checks? Why can’t they trust an interview? Why do some places conduct a separate interview with each and every team member you might be talking to, and only accept you if you impress everyone?
    An aggressive marketing culture eventually ends up drifting to one where the message is meaningless, which then means there is no way to actually do due diligence of integrity based on the person’s own representations. Background checks then might be one of the tools that fill in, but the wise employer has to look further, as background checks aren’t that reliable.
    As time goes on, this pattern becomes more embedded in our internal code, to the point where we lie about more things than just self-marketing, and we can neither recognise the lies nor where they are useful or appropriate.
    Hence dating. If you feel like dating is becoming like a job interview, it may be because there is an underlying factor that has caused both to respond.

  2. How long until we start getting stories of people who can’t get a date, because of that nasty identity theft that happened to them five years ago?
    Anecdotally, I can think of one woman I know who married a guy she met in grad school, and then went through a sequence of unpleasant surprising disclosures (“Ah, you lost that job. Oh, that was when you went bankrupt. I see, so it was because of the drug habit. Around the same time you went to jail for drugs.”) spread out over several months, up until the time he went (back) to jail and she divorced him. Perhaps she would have been happier if she’d done the background check.

  3. Since Adam accidentally flagged one of my trackbacks as spam a couple of years ago, I have to manually note that I’ve added my own thoughts as a former dating industry insider over at Not Bad for a Cubicle.
    @Iang
    You’re describing a problem with signaling mechanisms in general. I think we discussed this a year or so ago in comments over at fc in the specific context of the value of certifications such as the CISSP in the security hiring process.

  4. Chandler,
    Thanks for your comment, and sorry, but we hit 99+% tb spam long ago, and so have turned the durned things off. What anyone was doing designing them like that after 2000 or so is beyond me.

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