I recently matched with a girl on Tinder who I’m pretty interested in. She’s cute, we have nice conversations, and we’ve been on one in-person date that was a lot of fun. The only sticking point is that I’m pretty much positive that I’ve been following her on tumblr for years. I had initially followed her because she posted about some books/shows that I like, but I’ve also been privy to random personal details about her life, including some stuff about mental illness. I unfollowed her blog as soon as we started talking, but I still feel like I’ve been unintentionally stalking her. I really don’t know what to do in this situation. Is it worse to bring this up or to pretend like I don’t have this prior info about her? If I should bring it up, what’s the least-bad way to broach the topic? Or should I just accept that this is too weird and stop seeing her?
Friend, friend, friend. First, I want to congratulate you on finding a cute person whose company you enjoy! That’s a big win and should be celebrated as such.
Now that we’re in this celebratory mood, I want to encourage you to take one (1) deep breath. You have not committed some huge faux pas by following this girl online, and you haven’t “unintentionally” stalked her. (It sounds like you may not even be completely sure it’s her, and more to the point I think stalking is, critically, a crime marked by intention.) I don’t want to put words in your mouth (or emotions in your brain, I guess) but your letter seems to be coming from a place of guilt on your part, and I want to reassure you: you have nothing to feel guilty about at present! In fact, having been on a few dates with people whose social media I’d followed before we met (or whose writing I’d read online before I knew them), I think that this probably happens to people a lot more than you’d think.
With that bit out of the way, I think what we really need to discuss is whether you feel that the knowledge you have of this girl’s Tumblr is coloring your interactions with her, and how to break the news to her.
As we all spend more and more of our lives online, and because the queer community already feels exceptionally small, I think it’s definitely worth setting boundaries around interacting with someone’s social media before you’re in a relationship with them. Social media personas are just one facet of a person’s life, and if you place too much stock in what someone is sharing online, you may be hemming in your understanding of their whole personhood too early. Do you feel like this is the case? Are you relating to her based off of information you’ve found on her social media? Are you trying to play up certain parts of yourself to match the info you think you’ve gleaned about her online? Given that you’ve stopped following her already, I feel like the answer here is no, which is a great place to be! If you can separate her social media persona from the real, flesh-and-bone person in front of you on these dates, then I suspect she’ll be able to separate the fact that you were once a follower of hers if you two continue to date. I think it’s even a good sign for things the two of you have in common, since you mentioned you started following her due to a shared interest in movies and books. I think it’s great to focus on that piece, more than any perceived creep factor on your part.
If you’re okay with it, I’d like to talk about me for just one moment. I used to be a chronic over-sharer online (I loved to act out on Twitter, man those were the days) and any time someone I knew in real life brought up my internet presence to my face, the strongest feeling I had was slight embarrassment! I definitely play up certain parts of my personality online because I think of it as my own personal space, so being confronted with the reality that anyone from my roommates to my coworkers to my dates are adding that information to their perception of, and interactions with, me was sometimes uncomfortable. Ultimately though, I’m the one who decided to put that personality out there! There’s no way to know if your Tinder girl feels the same, but I think everyone who posts a lot understands on some level that people they interact with in real life might be seeing their posts and learning something about them from those posts.
I think the best way to alleviate yourself of some of this stress that you seem to be feeling is to just rip off the band-aid and tell her! I know most advice column answers are just “communicate!” but I really do think in this case, that’s the right answer. You’re still early enough in your interactions that it could be a very straightforward conversation, and to me the only way to create an actual boundary-crossing situation here would actually be to keep the fact that you followed her from her, especially if you ended up taking actions based off of that information (like deciding to stop seeing her).
Ultimately, only she can decide whether it’s too weird to continue dating someone who has seen this specific side of her before ever meeting her. If you were to stop seeing her, what would your reasoning be? “Sorry, I think I already know too much about you, so for your sake I’ve decided to take myself out of the equation”? To me, that sounds like robbing her of the agency that you’re worried you’re taking from her in the first place.
This only has to be as big of a deal as you make it. You can do a whole “I have a confession to make” conversation, but I really think that might be more than this situation calls for. Personally, I would probably approach it a little sheepishly: “This might be silly to bring up but I realized… I think I used to follow you on tumblr?” She might think it’s funny or she might feel a little bit vulnerable or exposed and from there, you can gauge what other information you need to share (like you unfollowing her as soon as you realized, your eagerness to respect her boundaries, etc). As long as you’re honest, and you aren’t using the things you know about her from social media as a cheat sheet for dating her, more than likely she’ll just be glad you told her and you two will be able to move forward, getting to know each other’s whole personalities, not just the ones on the Internet.
Good luck out there!
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.