In our Love App-tually series, Mashable shines a light into the foggy world of online dating. It is cuffing season after all.
Thanks to the internet, a quick Google search on literally anyone can help you paint a picture of them before you ever meet in person. Which can then help you decide if you even want to meet them.
It’s called snooping. And yes, at least to a point, it’s totally acceptable behavior — especially in the world of online dating, where we’re constantly swiping and matching with people we might otherwise never cross paths with. Stranger danger is still a thing.
But snooping goes well beyond matching with someone on Tinder. It’s easy to make a habit out of checking a love interest’s online presence, whether you’re in the dating phase or a full-blown relationship. And, unfortunately, even after breaking up.
So, how do you know whether you’re going a bit too far?
I took it upon myself to figure this out by doing what one naturally does: sending out a request to fill out a Google form with questions on all the different types of snooping habits.
HELLO EVERYONE BUT SPECIFICALLY SNOOPERS(WHICH IS RLY ALL OF US) if you’ve snooped on ppl you met on a dating app, and then continued to snoop while dating them I’d love to speak with you for a story!! plz slide on into my DMs. im also going to say snoop one more time: snoop.
— Brenda Stolyar (@BStoly) February 5, 2020
After reading tons of answers, I’ve come to one conclusion:
We are all the same.
However, that doesn’t mean we should be encouraging one another’s habits (which, of course, depend on each individual and how they feel).
I also must preface this by saying that I am in no way qualified to give relationship advice. My own romantic life is sort of a shit show. For good measure, I reached out to Dr. Andrea Liner, a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships, for her expert advice.
Read on for all the ways we snoop, and what we can learn from it.
1. Snoop at first match
Matching with someone on an app is definitely exciting, even if you know that person isn’t going to be your soulmate. But it’s important to remember you’re using dating apps that are based solely on visuals. It can be important to do a little bit of fact-checking right off the bat. Not to harp on the serial killer angle, but maybe you can start by vetting them for anything that might seem suspicious or criminal.
Also be wary of the dreaded catfish, or someone posting as someone else. (Some people who responded to my Google Form said they check their match’s Instagram account to make sure they’re not being catfished.) It’s also possible your match doesn’t look the way they’ve presented themselves as looking. And, while I’m all for giving someone a chance, it’s OK to admit you’re just not attracted to them and save yourself some time.
If it’s not their appearance they’re lying about, it might be a double life they’re hiding.
Colleen (who preferred not to use her last name), a 28-year old from New York, wrote about meeting up with a man who not only forgot to mention that he had a wife, but was also about to become a father.
“I one time snooped so deep on someone I found their pregnant wife’s baby registry. Needless to say, I didn’t know he was married or expecting a child,” she explained. She didn’t meet up with him again after that.
“Needless to say, I didn’t know he was married or expecting a child.”
So, yes, sometimes an intense social media snoop can be helpful instead of harmful. And checking out how someone behaves on social media can tell you more about them than whether they’re telling the truth. What better way to get a sneak peek of someone’s thoughts than scrolling through blurbs on Twitter?
If they think they’re funny but you think their jokes are cringey, you may want to nip that date in the bud.
2. The first-date snoop
You’re about to meet in person. Essentially, you have two options: receive tidbits of information on this person based solely on conversation via the dating app, or do some digging yourself. But not too much digging. This is where it’s important to be strategic.
This might take a little manual self-control, lest you end up on your match’s dating profile one minute and, the next, on their aunt’s nephew’s cousin’s Facebook page wondering if you’ll ever end up joining them for the annual family Christmas vacation they’ve been taking since 2006.
“If you find out too much without their knowledge, it makes for some really inauthentic conversation, because you have to pretend to not know things or it’s awkward,” Liner, who also wrote the book #Adulting, explained. “And there’s a kind of beauty to the natural unfolding of a relationship, and when people feel comfortable sharing deeper things about themselves.”
It’s important to leave a little room for mystery. Instead, familiarize yourself with what your date looks like (am I the only one who has that anxiety of walking up to the wrong person?), scroll through their dating profile again, or read through your conversations if you’re nervous about small talk.
The snooping turned out to be a hilarious way to realize he actually just really sucked as a person.
Give the snooping a break on this one. You’re about to go on a date. Let yourself snoop in person, instead.
They ghost you while you’re waiting for them.
One time, a roommate of mine got stood up by her Hinge date. (This also happened to Mashable’s own senior culture reporter, Rachel Thompson; it led her to coin the term “cloaking” for this behavior.)
When my roommate came home, we feared something terrible had happened to her date. Because, well, we’re good people.
I suggested we snoop his social media to see if he’d been active. We checked Twitter and Instagram only to find that he was just fine. Minutes later, she checked her Hinge app and noticed he’d blocked her.
Was she bummed? Not really. The snooping turned out to be a hilarious way to realize he actually just really sucked as a person.
3. Snooping while dating
You two have made it past the first date. In fact, you’re continuing to go on dates regularly! At this point, you might be talking to and seeing each other enough that you don’t need to snoop.
But sometimes the conversation gets a little bland. It’s okay to snoop if you’re looking for some inspiration.
“I’ll run through their social media again to see what I’ve missed and use that as an opportunity to ask them about themselves. Fun vacations, hobbies, etc.” Marc (who preferred leaving his last name out), a 30-year old, wrote. “But also, when you’re actually dating someone, hopefully you’re just interacting on social media… like sending each other memes.”
There was one pattern I noticed for almost everyone at this stage: People like to snoop on the ex of whoever it is they’re dating.
There was one pattern I noticed for almost everyone at this stage: People like to snoop on the ex of whoever it is they’re dating.
After all, no one likes to talk about their past relationships while still in the beginning stages of dating. And the person on the other end probably doesn’t want to hear about it. So snooping might be your next best bet. (I’ve certainly done it way more than I’d like to admit.)
One person who preferred to be anonymous admitted they check to see if the person they’re dating still likes his ex’s Instagram posts, and vice versa. Another anonymous source said she snooped fully through the ex’s social media profiles, but stopped after about a month.
Sara Hoffman, a 27-year-old editor in California, wrote about how she fell into the habit of snooping on a guy who she felt she never had any real closure with. When Sara saw he was back together with his ex, she started to snoop on her as well.
“It never made me feel better. It only made me feel insecure and tanked my self-esteem. But I did this for years. It was not healthy,” she said. “I am proud to say I have not snooped on my current partner’s ex, and I think that is what we call ‘growth.'”
4. The “in a relationship” snoop
I consider myself “lucky” to have never experienced a relationship where I felt the need to snoop on my significant other’s social media activity. But I’ve watched friends become obsessive over checking who “likes” their significant others’ Instagram photos. Before it was (thankfully) removed, I had other friends who used the “Following” tab to creep on their partners’ activity. I’ve even watched them keep a close eye on their S.O’s location via Snap Maps.
So, when I first added this question to the form, I was scared of the answers I’d find.
I consider myself “lucky” to have never experienced a relationship where I felt the need to snoop on my significant other’s social media activity.
I was relieved that almost everyone seemed to agree the snooping should stop after the the relationship is exclusive. Some even said they stopped as early as after the first few dates.
But everyone’s circumstances are different.
Melissa Martinez, who responded to the Google Form, wrote, “I’ve gotten back with exes that I didn’t fully trust. In those relationships, it took a while to let go of the past and stop checking in on what they’re doing. I’ve also reached the point where I felt secure and comfortable in the relationship and all that slowly stops.”
The words “secure” and “comfortable” are important here. If you’re in a full-on relationship, you should be able to communicate with your partner rather than settle for the alternative of finding it out on your own.
Under this section on the Google form, Hoffman answered, “I think it starts to get unhealthy when you start obsessing over the life they had before you. There is snooping for fun, and there’s breaching trust,” she said.
According to Liner, it’s important to look at the reason for the underlying behavior. If it’s something in your partner’s behavior that’s making you suspicious, it’s important that you address that with them.
If it has to do with trust issues you’ve developed from being hurt in the past, it might be worth it to consider finding ways to cope with it on your own or through therapy.
“In a healthy relationship where both people are relatively healed from previous traumas and can trust each other and have good communication, snooping is just not necessary. It’s not even part of the equation,” Liner said.
Then there was the comment on the Google form, written by a close college friend, that made me smile so wide I immediately looked around the office after reading it to make sure no one noticed my embarrassing grin.
“He also confessed he stalks my Instagram just to look at my face too :).”
Snooping while in a relationship doesn’t always have to be so dark, Michelle Klejmont, a 24-year-old from New Jersey, pointed out. Her comment: “I’m always looking at my boyfriend’s Instagram and looking through my camera roll at pictures and videos of him just because it makes me happy to see his face,” she explained. “He also confessed he stalks my Instagram just to look at my face too :).”
And with that, my faith in love and relationships was slightly restored.
5. The tortuous post-breakup snoop
We have reached the worst one of all, snooping on an ex. I can speak from experience — it’s soul-crushing.
Those who took my little quiz agreed that it sucks. But it’s also clear, based on the responses, that snooping on an ex is par for the course.
“It’s completely natural,” Liner said, “I always say, as humans, we don’t do what’s best for us. Even when we know what’s best for us, we do what’s easy or comfortable or familiar or going to scratch that immediate itch. So yes, [it’s] very normal. And i think it is very common, unfortunately, because it’s so available.”
After spending so much time with someone, it can be pretty daunting to suddenly cut off all forms of communication. Especially if you’ve been through a lot with that person. Snooping might help you feel close to them again.
And, while it definitely helps to ease that feeling of “missing” them in the moment, you never know what information a minor snoop may lead to.
You know, like seeing they deleted all their photos of you from their Instagram (speaking from experience, all I can say is, ouch), or that they’re in a new relationship. All these things can trigger pain all over again.
If you can’t block them, it might help to unfollow them. Seeing them on your news feeds can act as a trigger, leading you to snoop when you weren’t even thinking about that person.
This probably sounds insane, but I once asked an ex-boyfriend to block me on all platforms as a way to help me move on. He didn’t oblige, but at least I tried. I unfollowed him on everything instead.
It’s also important to be kind to yourself. Snooping is often part of the grieving process.
“Relationship loss is a loss, so there is grieving involved. And sometimes, we want look back on those memories, like old photos and video clips and letters and what not,” Liner said. “Use it as fuel, but be wary of getting too pulled back into it, because there’s a line between healthy grieving and staying stuck and refusing to move on,” she explained.
She suggests making a list of the things that you miss, so you can look for those same qualities in a future partner.
“After [a] breakup, snooping can be pretty unhealthy. Once someone is in the past, maybe it’s best to leave them there,” Klejmont later wrote.
It may be easier said than done, but I wholeheartedly agree.
If it gets super tough to stop yourself, Liner also suggests identifying what triggers you to snoop.
“Maybe you’ll notice a pattern that you only feel tempted to [snoop] when you come across something the two of you used to do together …[or] it’s only a ‘when you’re drunk kinda thing,'” Liner explains. “Pay attention to what you’re feeling and the motivation for looking.”
Once you identify that, you can think of a healthier alternative, like calling a friend.
“A lot of times our impulses go away quickly if we ignore them for a few minutes. So if you can shift your attention to something else, that can be helpful,” Liner said.
Don’t forget to check in
Regardless of the relationship stage you’re in, make sure that, while you’re checking in on someone else, you’re checking in on yourself, too.
According to Liner, it’s important to try and reflect on whether you’re doing this because of your own past.
“If there’s no evidence you should be doing it, you need to ask yourself ‘Do I have some unresolved issues that I need to work out? Either at least with a friend or a professional,” she explained.
And, if you’re snooping because the person you’re seeing is giving you reasons to be suspicious, it’s something you need to address with them.
“Basically, any time you’re tempted to snoop, ask yourself: ‘Is it me or is it them?’ And, usually in either case, you probably shouldn’t do it and process that another way with another person,” Liner said.
As much as we certainly shouldn’t snoop, sometimes it’s just inevitable. As Sara Hoffman added on the Google form, “We all snoop, it’s okay to admit that! But make sure you’re not breaking your own heart in the process.”
And with that I say: Safe snooping, y’all!
Read more from Love App-tually: