I've gone on my fair share of crappy first dates, and I'm sure you have, too. I've suffered through a companion with an extreme lack of conversational skills and social awareness, someone who was practically making love to his CrackBerry the whole time, and an adult male who had a weird obsession with the Jonas Brothers (don't ask).
If only I had done some background research on these people before going out with them. I might have saved myself a little heartache and a lot of eye rolling.
Before you invest time (and money) into getting ready for your next big night, poke around online to learn more about exactly who it is you're taking out. A few precautionary measures can spare you the first-date jitters--and perhaps even a disastrous marriage.
The Basics: Social Networking Sites
If all you have is a name, then Facebook is a great place to start. Your prospective date might already be in your network, meaning that you have access to their entire profile (if he or she hasn't adjusted Facebook's privacy settings). Pictures, occupation, stories written on the wall, who's on the friends list--all of these things give you a good peek into a person's life.
What if the privacy setting is limited to "friends only"? Relax, you're not out of luck. Just because the profile itself is viewable only to people on the person's friends list, that doesn't mean you can't access its information.
Applications for Facebook such as Photo Stalker and Photo Surfer let you anonymously browse through the photo collections of people who are not listed as your friend. Applications like this work only on albums that "everyone" can view, but Facebook has that as the default setting. So if your prospective date wasn't savvy enough to change the setting, lucky you--now you can see what really went on during that wild weekend trip to Cabo.
You might want to scroll through some past tweets to look for evidence of questionable taste; a tweet like "OMG I luv the new Owl City song!" will help you determine compatibility.
Even if you're not on the person's friends list, you can see their current occupation listed on LinkedIn. If they're described as a "distributor of pharmaceuticals," you might want to investigate.
You can snoop through tons of other networks and public sites, as well. For starters, try MySpace (if the person still has a MySpace page, that's a deal breaker right there for me). Map-based sites like Foursquare, Postabon, Yelp, and the new Google Buzz are also good to check out. Just a few minutes of browsing through these pages can tell you where someone likes to eat, shop, work out, get coffee, or meet up with friends for drinks.