Concern over personal information after googling.
July 13, 2012 4:28 PM   Subscribe

I googled someone I've been dating for almost 3 weeks and discovered that they had a sibling die in a work related accident just over a year ago. Now I feel I have deeply personal and traumatic information about them without it having been given freely and not sure what to do with it.

It's creating an odd conversation dynamic where when they mention their sibling (as in "My sibling and I had a great time at Disney World when we were kids") I don't feel comfortable telling them I know their sibling recently died, but I certainly can't ask them questions about their sibling as if I don't know (feels weird, I'm a horrible actor).

I'm not sure how to proceed, should I let them know I know? And how would I do that?
posted by Dynex to Human Relations (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Why not just say that you googled them?

Chances are, they've googled themselves before and know that comes up (unless you found it 20 pages back, or through a long chain of searches or something).

Even if they haven't and don't, chances are they're aware that they might be connected to the story in the media, and that it's public information someone could find out.

Just spill the beans. It's going to get more and more awkward if you don't.
posted by Sara C. at 4:31 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I can't think of a context where it'd be appropriate to bring it up. If they ever bring it up, you can nod sadly and say "I did Google you back when we started going out, so I did know that, although it wasn't the sort of thing I'd hoped to find out. I figured you'd tell me when we got to that stage." Then sympathies, etc.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:32 PM on July 13, 2012 [29 favorites]

they're waiting for the right time to bring it up; they don't want to randomly insert it into conversation, it's not a fun topic, and maybe they don't feel like they're at a point where that kind of intimate revelation is appropriate. bide your time, pretend you don't know.
posted by slow graffiti at 4:32 PM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

The reaction you get to admitting you already know personal information about someone is entirely dependent on (1) how that particular someone feels about their privacy and (2) how well you're getting along with that someone. It's intimate and potentially even sweet if you are getting along buuuuuut can be seen as creepy and weird if you are not trusted. So yeah, try to feel out what state of getting-to-know-this-person you're in and take it from there?
posted by beekept at 4:50 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Don't lie and pretend you don't know. I've lost a sibling, I know what it's like.

"Dearest, I googled you the other day."
"uh huh. I read about your sibling...."
"That must have been the most horrible thing for you. Can you talk about it?"

Your new date's loss is still fresh and they may not have had the time to develop a way of bringing it up. If you are honest and bring it up for them, it could help them discuss it and bring you closer.
posted by Kerasia at 4:51 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If this is bugging you, this might work:

"Hey, um, you know how pretty much everyone googles other people they're curious about? Well, I have to admit I googled you and now kind of feel like I was prying, because it mentioned what happened to your sibling a while back. I wanted to be up front and say I'm sorry if that was invasion of privacy, because I only expected to find really basic points of public interest."

In other words, they're probably mostly over it by now, making it OK to admit you know, but still embed the content of your discovery pretty deeply and make it clear you were driven by your curiosity about them and interest in them, not by some more prurient or invasive concern.

But if you can just forget it, that'd be ideal.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:52 PM on July 13, 2012 [13 favorites]

I dunno, it's a tough thing to sit on having that kind of information, especially if it's already making the conversation odd. You have the whole "don't think of an elephant" thing going on. The last thing a new romance needs is something bubbling just under the surface.

I'd say bring it up, perhaps in the context of confirming it was actually them. Something like "Hey I googled you and something came up that I didn't expect to find, about an accident. Was that your family?" Most likely they'll either share the details or say they're not comfortable talking about it. Either way, then they know you know, although they don't know how *much* you know, which is fine.

Wait to bring it up until the conversation turns to your backgrounds, or about family. Not when they pick you up or you pick them up? "Hey, I found this thing..." :)
posted by punocchio at 4:54 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I don't feel comfortable telling them I know their sibling recently died, but I certainly can't ask them questions about their sibling as if I don't know (feels weird, I'm a horrible actor).

It may help to reframe this in your mind. Talking about the sibling without making any allusion to his death (whether by words, tone, facial expression, etc.) is not acting as if you don't know. It is acting as if it is not appropriate for you to make any allusion or acknowledgment of that yet. Which it's not.

You do that in situations like this out of respect for the person and wanting to give them total control over of, when, and how they will have to discuss or be reminded of those things. You give them the chance to talk about their sibling in a totally normal or happy way with people without having to look at facial expressions of pity or awkwardness. It has nothing to do with lying or acting whatsoever.
posted by cairdeas at 5:02 PM on July 13, 2012 [9 favorites]

I think Googling people is considered fairly normal in most circles these days, or at least isn't considered creepy anymore. I also think your prospective partner is well aware that info about their sibling's death is out there on the internet should not be surprised you would find out. Kerasia's take seems like the right one to me.
posted by mkultra at 5:03 PM on July 13, 2012

Yeah, just say you googled him. Even "I googled you and this horrible thing came up - was that your sibling or some namespace collision? I'm so sorry if it was."

It's not stalkery to google someone for a couple of weeks, I don't think.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:07 PM on July 13, 2012

People Google people all the time. I would let him know (honesty, especially in a beginning relationship, is always the best way to go) and say what you've said here. You found something deeply personal and most likely traumatic, and if he'd like to talk about it, you're there, but don't force the issue.
posted by xingcat at 5:22 PM on July 13, 2012

Yes, people Google people all the time but it's also not your place to be deciding when someone wants to talk about this stuff - and three weeks is too early. Plus you have no idea whether they are over it or not. Let them set the pace with it - after all, it was their sibling who died. Everything else is really irrelevant in the scheme of things.
posted by heyjude at 5:30 PM on July 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

Plus you have no idea whether they are over it or not.

That was perhaps awkwardly phrased. But really, Googling people is commonplace and when there is something notable in those results, it is disingenuous to pretend you do not know it. "Hey, I was bored at work and Googled your name. I read the news about your sibling and I want you to know how sorry I am for you and for your family." Three weeks is not too early to be honest.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:37 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

In other words, they're probably mostly over it by now, making it OK to admit you know...

You should totally bring it up to your date, but s/he's not over it.

Having lost a sibling, I can tell you that it's not something you ever really get over. Maybe you don't think about it every day after a while, but it's still pretty fresh after only a year. It's not the end of a relationship. Their brother or sister, someone they grew up with, died. Let's try to avoid expressing the recovery from the grief that causes in terms of "getting over it."

It's something you can ask about, because it's part of who they are, but at three weeks in, it's maybe not something they were comfortable bringing up yet. You can broach the subject in two ways:
  1. My brother does x and y. How many brothers and sisters do you have?
  2. I Googled you and really wanted to say I'm sorry about your brother/sister.
Neither of those would offend me. The amount of detail your person would be comfortable going into depends on them, but don't push too much with the requests for details if they're not volunteered.
posted by phoebus at 5:47 PM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

I once had a professor who was just top-notch in every way. Brilliant, kind, highly productive, a great teacher. This professor was VERY highly esteemed by the faculty and the students. From time to time, they would make reference to this and that event earlier in their career.

One day I was Googling this professor. I'm not sure how long it took me, but I came across something very odd. I kind of followed the thread, and unraveled the story. In the '70s, my professor had held a very prestigious, high profile job. In that job, my professor had committed a freakish crime. He attempted to frame someone for something that would have gotten them sent to prison. He was arrested. Found not guilty by reason of insanity. Diagnosed with a severe mental illness. Spent time in a mental hospital.

When I found this out, then what? When my professor brought up past events from his career, was I being dishonest by not raising my hand and mentioning the things I had found out in front of the whole class? Was I being dishonest by not breathing a single word about this to anyone the whole time I was there, even though anyone could have Googled it? Would I have been dishonest by totally shutting down conversation of this if anyone had brought it up to me?

This is not dishonesty. This is discretion.

If the only reason any adult would ever not bring up a sensitive topic is that they didn't know about it, then maybe keeping quiet about something you know about might then be deceptive. But that's hardly the only reason to do so. Discretion is another.
posted by cairdeas at 5:47 PM on July 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

This very thing happened to me when dating someone last year (except instead of a sibling dying in a freak accident, it was the person's mother who died and it was my mother that did the googling because she's worried about baby killers or something).

I chose to ignore the information since I hadn't wanted it in the first place, and that's the course I recommend you take. So much better to let the information come to light naturally--and how it comes out, how you respond and how they respond to you, will tell you a great deal about the potential for this relationship.
posted by librarylis at 6:21 PM on July 13, 2012

3 weeks?!! Mind your manners, jump way back, let it roll naturally. This is on you, and not yet your business. Act accordingly.
posted by thinkpiece at 6:38 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

But really, Googling people is commonplace and when there is something notable in those results, it is disingenuous to pretend you do not know it.

You don't need to pretend you don't know. You just have to not bring it up. Give this person the space to talk when they are ready to.

We all have painful experiences in our lives we don't necessarily want to be talking about a few dates in.
posted by Greener Backyards at 6:42 PM on July 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

I personally would say (at an opportune quiet moment where maybe there aren't a ton of people around in case there's crying), "I have a small confession -- I googled you, and I saw the story about your sibling. I'm so sorry for your loss."

Someone I was hitting it off with enough to date for three weeks would be comfortable with my level of forthrightness, and keeping that kind of "secret" makes me really uncomfortable and awkward. I'd try to make clear that I was just letting him know that I knew, and that talking or not talking about it further was entirely up to him.

I don't think it's wrong to choose to wait for them to bring it up, though, if you're comfortable doing that. I think either choice can be driven by compassion and tact, and you should make the decision based on your internal moral compass, whether it feels more right to you to be forthright about it, or to be discreet about it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:25 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Part of the issue may hinge on exactly how *hard* you googled your date's name. That is, if he has an unusual name and the event that took the sibling's life was especially publicized or unusual in nature, then you'll probably have an easier time coming clean: "Well, I happened to google your name recently, and the second hit was a NY Time obituary from last year that sounded like your sibling...." The conversation that results may no doubt still be awkward, but in our technology age I can't see such behavior coming across as that bizarre and/or creepy on your part.

On the other hand, if you had to do some "digging" (and, yes, definitions will vary), then it seems likely the costs of saying at this point will definitely outweigh the benefits.
posted by 5Q7 at 7:26 PM on July 13, 2012

I generally believe honesty is the best policy, but if your date is mentioning this sibling in conversation, I think it would be natural to ask questions like where does s/he live, what does s/he do for a living, etc. It might feel a bit disingenuous and, personally, I would probably just tell the person I'm dating that I came across this information while Googling, but it might provide a more natural way to disclose this information. I'm actually kinda surprised if your date is mentioning the sibling, s/he hasn't also mentioned the sibling has passed away. Perhaps it is too raw or intimate, but is it possible this is not your date's sibling?
posted by katemcd at 7:28 PM on July 13, 2012


"... NY Time[s]"

"... saying [something] at this point"
posted by 5Q7 at 7:29 PM on July 13, 2012

"Three weeks" as in 3-4 dates over the past 3 weeks? Or, seeing each other every other night, constant calling/texting, "boy, this looks really promising...". If it's the former, forget you saw it until things pick up some steam. If it's the latter, bring it up. I think it's safe to say that everyone googles the people they just met/started dating, but we don't necessarily fact check with the source or report all the findings.

Please ignore "...they're probably mostly over it by now." In fact, do just the opposite - assume that the topic is still very painful, because it probably is.
posted by she's not there at 7:37 PM on July 13, 2012

Phoebus' response brings to mind the reality that, by three weeks in, I typically know how many siblings the person I'm seeing has, their age(s) relative to my girl/guy, where they live, and the like.

It's possible that this person is just really touchy about the whole thing, and talks around it so as not to have to mention it. But certainly it wouldn't be rude to ask (neutral) questions if they're bringing up the sibling independently but simply not saying whether this person is alive or dead. I mean, surely you're allowed to say, "Oh, you have a brother? Is he older or younger?" etc.

This also lends credence to the idea that this thing you found is not your date's family. Either that, or things are really not developed enough to talk about something sensitive like the death of a sibling.
posted by Sara C. at 7:56 PM on July 13, 2012

As another person who lost a close family member, phoebus's second suggestion is what I'd prefer to hear: I Googled you and really wanted to say I'm sorry about your brother/sister. It's kind, honest and straightforward. We never "get over" losing loved ones, but life goes on.
posted by anadem at 8:38 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a traumatic past event as a first-page google result. I have already assumed that every guy I date and every employer knows about it. That said, it would not be ok with me if they brought it up independently. If I bring it up and they say "yes, I saw when I googled you," that would be (and has been) fine, but it has seemed really intrusive to make the choice for me to discuss my past trauma. Not mentioning everything is not "lying", it's being a considerate human being.
posted by brainmouse at 9:21 PM on July 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

But really, Googling people is commonplace and when there is something notable in those results, it is disingenuous to pretend you do not know it.

Oh, I'm not saying pretend you don't know - god, I've had that done to me and it's extraordinarily weird. No, I just meant, there's no need to bring it up before they themselves mention it.
posted by heyjude at 9:41 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Googling people is commonplace and when there is something notable in those results, it is disingenuous to pretend you do not know it.

There is a difference between knowing and feeling the need to discuss. You can know stuff, consider information in your decision making for example but still keep it to yourself. If it comes up you can acknowledge your previous knowledge if it's appropriate to do so and if not you can again just keep quiet. But there is no need to raise something just because you happen to be aware.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:18 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth I'm also voting for discretion based on the idea that it's not up to you to decide when to bring up such a personal and sensitive bit of information and 'Not mentioning everything is not "lying", it's being a considerate human being.'

I understand this is making you uncomfortable, knowing what you know, but think about how uncomfortable it may be for your date if you bring it up before they have chosen their own moment and their own way to talk about it to you. In my mind that's really a no-no. I think you should live with your temporary discomfort out of consideration and politeness.

If and when they bring it up, you could then maybe confess you knew it from google, but it'd be fine to also omit that altogether -- if and when that moment comes up, maybe you will feel you will be more inclined to concentrate on expressing empathy and gratitude for the trust involved in such a personal revelation, rather than thinking about unloading your own discomfort. That in my mind wouldn't be dishonest of you, it would be extra-considerate and consideration wins over "need to tell everything" (which is not exactly equivalent with "honesty" anyway).
posted by bitteschoen at 5:44 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

You want to bring it up because it will make YOU feel less awkward. That is not the right motivation. If he wanted to talk about his deceased sibling he would bring it up. Wait.
posted by desjardins at 11:02 AM on July 14, 2012 [7 favorites]

"You want to bring it up because it will make YOU feel less awkward. That is not the right motivation. If he wanted to talk about his deceased sibling he would bring it up. Wait."


Maybe there's part of you thinking "OMG! I know this thing and it's intimate and I want to share..." but it isn't yours to be shared with until he shares it with you. Just let it go.
posted by 2oh1 at 3:14 PM on July 14, 2012

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