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Associated Press
Melissa Ellard shows off her Hinge profile.

Dating – online or in real time?

You know that awkward moment when you run into someone and she tells you something you already know because she posted it on Facebook or Twitter yesterday?

If you’re like me, you feel obligated to act surprised anyway, like, “I had no idea you just got back from a Caribbean cruise. How was it?” (Even though all of her photos showed up on my timeline last night, and she posted that she was seasick five out of six days.)

“I was seasick most of the time,” she says, and I pretend to act surprised again.

It’s an act most people in my generation have perfected by now because these scenarios keep coming up, and it’s getting worse. Now Facebook has something called “Nearby Friends” that allows us to see which of our Facebook friends are in close proximity to us at any given moment.

Oh, good: Now if I don’t talk to you on a regular basis, and we aren’t actual friends, I have to act surprised when I run into you at the grocery store, even though I knew you were there.

I say all of this like I’m one of those pessimistic people who might warn you not to “give too much away” on Facebook because someone might try to rob you or steal your identity.

But that’s not my concern. In most run-of-the-mill relationships, knowing what you’re doing is not a big deal, and if we aren’t actual friends, I’ll probably just scroll past it.

It’s the deeper relationships on social media and social apps that boggle my mind, and nothing has been more troublesome to me than mobile dating apps. The Journal Gazette published an Associated Press article last week about apps such as Tinder and Hinge that help singles find one another.

When I was newly out of a relationship, my friends suggested that I use these apps to meet people around town, but I could never bring myself to do it. Maybe it was the feeling that someone I’d like would never use these apps, or maybe it was an underlying fear of online dating that held me back. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I was reading this article with a high school student visiting The Journal Gazette last week, and she pointed out something that got my attention.

In the article, a cute 23-year-old named Melissa Ellard is telling the world why she uses the mobile dating app Hinge, and she says: “When I meet someone, I want to know everything about them before I go on a date with them.”

That’s when the student, Kelsey McDonald from Canterbury High School, turned to me and asked: “Isn’t that the point of dating in the first place – to get to know someone?”

“That is the point,” I said. “That’s what makes dating fun.”

It hit me then that my problem with mobile dating apps isn’t the apps themselves. Actually, I have a number of friends who’ve met great significant others online with apps such as Tinder. The real problem is the impulse to “know everything” before the first date.

Now that a wealth of information is available on social networks, we sometimes get the false impression that we’re better off researching the people we’re interested in before we date them. We think if we can gather enough details about their lives or flip through enough Facebook photos, we can convince ourselves it’s either a match made in heaven or it’s not worth our time. Then we can bypass the dirty work of discovering who they are in person, and shop around without risking anything.

But dating without risk isn’t romantic. Actually, it’s like grocery shopping. And trying to know everything about potential dates before dating them is as calculated as knowing exactly where that person is in the grocery store, so I can strategically walk down the same aisle and pretend like I need help getting a big box off the top shelf.

I don’t mind pretending to act surprised when I run into random acquaintances, but I don’t want to pretend to act surprised on a first date. I want to meet the real you in real time. Because if I “know everything” about you before we meet, what will we have to discuss over dinner?

Kara Hackett is social media writer for The Journal Gazette. To see more of her work throughout the week and participate in the conversation, go to www.journalgazette.net/coffeebreak, where this column first appeared.

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