Five Social Networking Mistakes Daters Make

In a world dominated by social networking sites, getting to know your date should be easier than ever, right? Not necessarily. Watch out for these five common mistakes.

By Theo Pauline Nestor

t seems like everyone knows someone who connected with someone online these days. Whether it’s a new “friend” or your long-lost high school sweetheart, social networking sites have made finding people easier than ever. But the very qualities that make these sites fun — their exponentially growing populations, the way they allow us to rifle through the lists of people we
One of the most common mistakes is “friending” someone too soon.
barely know (or don’t know at all) — are also dangerous in more ways than new daters can imagine. Use these dos and don’ts to avoid becoming yet another social networking casualty.

Don’t “Friend” Dates Too Soon
When you’re fresh on the dating scene, one of the easiest and most common mistakes is “friending” someone too soon. If you’ve just started to date each other, really give it serious consideration before you send out or accept a date’s friend request; after all, you can wait before you decide without losing the invitation. If you know you don’t want to be “friends,” just ignore the request (the person does not receive a notification).

If you’re on the fence about it, hold off until you consider these ramifications:
  1. Your new friend could potentially see all the posted photos of you and any photo someone else “tags” you in… and let’s face it, you’d had a few drinks when you decided to do the Chicken Dance on the banquet table at your cousin’s wedding last summer.
  2. Your new friend can scroll through all your profile posts and status updates, current and present, as far back as you’ve been on the site (unless you have protected or deleted them). Cached versions may be online and searchable, too.
  3. When others comment on your posts, status updates or photos (and how much control do you have over what others will say?), your new friend might be able to see those, too.
  4. If things don’t work out between the two of you romantically, your date will remain your online friend and able to watch your life activities from a distance until one of you severs the connection (or blocks the other person, which can be a rather nerve-wracking process in itself).
Do “De-Friend” Each Other Immediately If Things End Badly
Breaking up is hard to do, but de-friending is both easy and necessary if you don’t want your ex skulking around, watching your comings and goings and commenting willy-nilly on photos and the like. To de-friend someone, just enter his or her name in the search box in your list of friends. You’ll be asked to check a box (or click an x, or something similar) and then verify the deletion before the process is complete. The “removed connection” won’t be notified that you two are no longer connected on the site unless he or she visits your page again. I know what you’re thinking: But what if we get back together? If that happens, you can always send another friend request. But if you don’t (or if the person is strange, gives off a stalker vibe or scares you for whatever reason), you might want to take the extra step of asking your friends to delete any connections with your ex to keep tangential information about you private. Blocking your ex is another option, which guarantees you won’t be getting any plaintive messages or IMs after the fact.

Do Use “Relationship Status” Features Carefully
You’ve met The One and you’re ready for the world to know it! You’re excited and eager to share the good news, but think twice before you change your visible relationship status. This option offers a range of possibilities depending on the site; you can be mysterious and list nothing, show yourself as perpetually single, linked to another person specifically, or some bizarre passive-aggressive version of being in a relationship — take, for example, the cryptic-sounding “It’s Complicated” or “Swinger” options. (A friend of mine accidentally changed his status to “It’s Complicated” and received a very concerned message from his confused sister within 20 minutes.)
Limit your online comments on your date’s photos, updates and postings.

Displaying that you’re “In a Relationship” lets others know you’re seeing someone, but you don’t have to let everyone know that person’s identity. There are some obvious advantages to this kind of status update: your friends can choose to connect with your new significant other if you identify each other in your profile and potential suitors will (most likely) be stopped in their tracks.

However — and this is a big however — if you break up, you are going to have to change your status to something else or continue living the lie online. If you’re changing your status, be mindful of the timing — or prepare to face the potential consequences! One story of two teachers (who were dating while teaching at the same school) should serve as a warning: he deleted her as his girlfriend on Facebook before he actually broke up with her in real life. The rumors ricocheting around the teachers’ lounge at work are how she learned she’d been dumped rather than from the man himself. Most social networkers, however, probably err in the opposite direction by dragging their feet before doing a status update announcing the split. This is partly because many of us have seen such updates accompanied by a disturbing broken heart icon — or a litany of bombastic comments posted shortly thereafter.

If you’re in this position, you can change your relationship status without telling the whole world if you adjust your privacy settings accordingly beforehand. Knowing how to control who views what information on social networking sites is a crucial skill to have when you’re actively dating; take time periodically to revisit your privacy options on each social networking site and update your settings as needed.

Don’t Be a Social Networking Stalker
Of course you’re curious and want to lurk around your new flame’s profile page, but don’t make it obvious. Develop these skills so you don’t accidentally blow your cover:
  • Never mention stuff in conversation that you learned exclusively through your beloved’s profile if it took significant digging to unearth.
  • Limit your online comments on your date’s photos, updates and postings (in fact, consider not interacting with each other visibly at all).
  • Use chat functions with discretion. Instant messages popping up unexpectedly can be obtrusive and — in my opinion — a bit annoying. Remember, just because you can have constant contact with someone doesn’t mean you should.
Do Think Twice About the Content You Post
Remember to treat everything you put on social networking sites as public knowledge (even people you’re not friends with could potentially be looking at your page). When you’re tempted to whine about your day, consider the image you’re projecting to the world. You only get one chance to make a great first impression.

Theo Pauline Nestor is the author of How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over (Three Rivers Press) and a regular contributor to
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