Question: I know that just about everybody Googles their dates before going out with them the first time. Unfortunately, when you Google me, the first search result is a photo where I'm showing, how shall I put it, way too much skin. My ex took the photo (we thought it was hot) and later posted it (he was hot under the collar). My question is this: Do I try to explain the photo to a new date before we even go out? Wait for him to bring it up? Pretend I don't know it's there?
Answer: Let me start by reminding you of First Date Rule Number 1: "Don't invite your skeletons along too soon -- they make for a crowded evening." Whether it's your involvement with AA, a prison record, or a long history of psychotherapy, keep hot topics in the closet until you've established some intimacy or connection. It's all about gradual disclosure. That's not bad manners; it's just good sense.
But in your case, you may (and should) break that coda because of First Date Rule Number 2: "When meeting someone for the first time, assume that you will be Googled -- and pretend that you haven't Googled them." Your photo is no ordinary skeleton, if only because it's just a click or two away. Sometime early on in the date, cop to the reality without being defensive: "There's something that I'd like to explain to you. You may have seen a nude photo of me on the Internet, which was posted by an ex of mine. I've certainly learned a lot since then." If you want to try some humor, add this: "It's really amazing what Photoshop can do for a guy." After that it's really up to him to decide whether to let it go, or let you go.
I decided to check in with Mr. Manners' resident shrink, Dr. Larry Tonberg Edwards, a clinical psychologist with an LGBT practice in Oakland, Calif., to get his always-surprising point of view. He did not disappoint:
We all bring a history to the table and revealing the foibles of one's past is an authentic way of sharing imperfection. It's also a means of quickly discovering important information about your potential partner's character. Their response to your candor will reveal qualities of empathy, forgiveness, irony, and humor (or not!), which are indispensable in the forging of a romantic relationship.
Then, it's time to go on the offensive, since you can take action to push that revealing photo further down on the search page. This is not only wise when it comes to romantic prospects, but also it's just as important when it comes to job or apartment hunting. (You really don't want someone from HR finding that picture when running a quick search on your name, now do you?) The trick is to create alternate pages that Google will deem even more relevant to your name than your risqué photo. As those pages rise to the top, they'll push the photo down -- perhaps even into the ignominy of the second page of results.
A good place to start is by setting up profiles on major services like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Those pages tend to do very well in search results and could take the top slot pretty quickly. If you can buy the domain for your name and create a little site for yourself, that's even better. The site will also rank higher than a mere photo in search results and will also push down any offending blog posts, tweets, or videos. Just look what happened to Rick Santorum: thanks to Dan Savage's heroic efforts, searching for "Santorum" still points to the decidedly un-Republican site called spreadingsantorum.com, which carries the word's "frothy" definition.
And you thought your photo was a bad link.
If you want to speed things along, there are also a number of online companies, such as Reputation.com, that will (for a fee) help suppress "negative content" because, as that site notes, "[p]eople aren't just searching for you, they're judging you." I wouldn't be surprised if they're working with Mr. Santorum right now.
This column originally was published on Advocate.com.
Steven Petrow is the author of Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners and can be found online at gaymanners.com. Got a question? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact him on Facebook and Twitter.