Dating While Journalist

Single and looking Hannah Docter-Loeb asks journalists if their sleuthing has wrecked their dating lives. 

I’m known among friends as being good at looking people up — especially potential dates. I can figure out a person’s high school track records or whether they made the Dean’s list in a matter of minutes using their LinkedIn. As a journalist, these sleuthing skills are part and parcel to my profession. But they’ve also started to bleed into my journey through the vast world of dating apps. 

And I’m not alone in my cyberstalking ways — at least according to the journalists who responded to my call-for-sources on the Study Hall Listserv and Twitter. Some journalists I spoke to said that they used reporting and vetting tactics in their own search for love. Emily Thompson, a grad student studying journalism at New York University, has looked up people’s voting records. Bea Forman, an editor at Billy Penn, reviewed Venmo transactions to investigate her boyfriend’s dating history. Plus, as former Study Hall Digest writer Allegra Hobbs pointed out in her 2019 essay, it’s the norm for journalists to share a lot about themselves online and make themselves — and their interests — easily accessible. In fact, it’s part of your brand.

Reporter or not, dating is a high-risk, high-reward activity, and there’s no shortage of horror stories that make preemptively investigating our romantic prospects seem totally reasonable and necessary. But are journalists condemning themselves to their flop era by posting about their personal life online and mixing love and work?

 

Tell Me About Everything You Wrote

I admit that I personally have only dated with the aid of the internet and the apps, save for a high school boyfriend. But I’ve heard about the mystique that existed before you could Google your date: stories about meet cutes, classified ads that actually resulted in life-long love, and friends playing matchmaker. But, having ditched paper index cards for algorithms that suggest and rank compatible partners, making personal information available online has become the norm even outside news media professions.

Occasionally, after seeing my job on my dating app profile, a romantic prospect will mention something I’ve written about in what I believe is an attempt to make conversation. “I read Slate, maybe I’ve read some of your work?” a guy once texted me on a dating app. (Don’t ask me which app, I don’t remember.) Before I had a chance to respond, he followed up with a quip sourced from an article I wrote, “I learned that you can’t take ballot selfies.” Unnerved by his small foray into journalism, I let his message expire in my inbox and briefly reflected on how many other matches may have skimmed my clips.

Other journalists recounted similar stories of feeling like an influencer after their date admitted they’d conducted their own background checks.

“One time I matched with someone and then the person wrote back ‘Oh my god, I’m your biggest fan. I looked you up on Google and found everything you wrote. Tell me everything about your job,’” Yara El-Soueidi, a freelance culture journalist based in Montreal, told Study Hall over the phone. “It freaked me out.” 

Elly Belle, a Brooklyn-based writer, has seen this to the extreme. After several negative dating experiences that made them concerned for their safety, they decided to no longer tell people they’re a journalist upfront, or at least until they’ve been able to get a “vibe check” based on how the person treats them.

“I know as soon as I say I’m a writer or journalist, they are going to Google me, they are going to have access to all my social media and all my public profiles, all my personal essays, every article I’ve ever written, and suddenly there’s this extreme intimacy imbalance,” they said in a phone call. “Someone has access to all of this information about me and they can do whatever they want with it.

But in a field that emphasizes building your online presence and brand, there’s no real way to avoid making your life publicly viewable.

And it’s not just potential dates that you can run into on dating apps. James Russell, a freelance writer in Fort Worth, Texas, said that he’s frequently downloaded and deleted various apps because he’s dissatisfied with the dating pool, but also because he would happen upon sources from his reporting. “I would be like ‘Shit, I really don’t want them to see me,’” Russell said. “It’s just as bad as when you don’t want to see that person you peripherally hung out with but don’t like.” 

 

Is This A Date Or On-The-Record Interview?

If it’s tempting to research your date, it’s even more difficult to keep the date from transforming into an interview. When I’m getting to know someone on a dating app or on a date, I often have a ton of follow-up questions up my sleeve to keep the conversation flowing — a tactic I’ve learned through reporting. 

Talia Adderley, a culture reporter in Montclair, New Jersey, said she also often finds herself asking lots of questions on dates. Though she used to apologetically explain to her dates that she’s prone to being a little nosy due to her profession, she now just embraces it as part of her charm. 

However, she’s noticed recently that she can’t tell whether the dates she’s talking to are actually good conversationalists, or whether she’s the conversationalist bringing it out of them. It’s especially annoying when the conversation only goes one way. “I start to get pet peeved when men cannot hold conversations or ask questions back,” she shared.

But Adderley also emphasized how journalists tend to feel like they have to be plugged into the 24-hour news cycle. Many of us are chronically online, she said, spending our days perusing Twitter for article ideas and therefore know something about almost every discourse topic, big or small. “I try to not fault people for not knowing about certain things that are going on right now,” she said, adding that she tries not to bring up politics or current events because she finds herself getting turned off if the person doesn’t know anything.

 

Let’s Swap Google Docs: Dating Other Journalists 

 Dating someone who understands the daily grind of journalism and all the niche little topics that accompany it — someone already familiar with topics like Herschel Walker’s abortion receipts, who already knows about internet phenomena like Spitgate — could be really nice. Or is it?

The journalists who spoke to Study Hall had differing opinions. While Adderley said she would be open to dating another journalist, El-Soueidi is a bit more hesitant. 

“I don’t think a journalist can date another journalist, personally, because it’s two people living together basically always talking about the news, always thinking about the news, thinking about something they’re going to write,” she said. “There’s competition in this job, too.”

Chris Roberts, who has been a journalist for 17 years and has dated within the field, shared similar feelings. Journalists already take a lot of work home, he said. To have to come home to someone who is doing a similar thing, he believes, is “a lot.” 

But that shared interest can be a boon.

Kat Tenbarge, a NBC news culture reporter, is dating another woman reporter, Anna, and emphasized that the common interest makes aspects of their relationship simpler.

“We both have a shared understanding of the internet, which makes it easier,” Tenbarge said. “I think if I were to date someone who had no concept of the internet, it would be a lot of explaining to them how my life revolves around some of these things. But I don’t really need to explain anything to Anna about how the internet works or what’s popular online. She’s very in tune with all of those things.”

As for the question of competition, Tenbarge says that she and her partner are very supportive of each other. Although there is some overlap in their work, it’s different enough that they’re not directly crossing paths. She also believes that gender often plays a role in competitive dynamics. 

 

Don’t Love Me For My Brand

Chatting with other journalists — some of whom have been in the dating trenches and industry longer than I have — has sparked thoughtful conversations about what it means to date as a chronically online, early career journalist. 

Time and time again, I’ve heard that journalists need to create their own brand to stand out in the industry, and this concept of becoming a brand undoubtedly seeped into my quest for genuine romance. On dating apps, I tend to explicitly offer only certain bits of information about myself that I feel are important parts of my “brand” so to speak: my hometown, my alma mater, my religious background, and my profession. Dating app culture is inherently about curating a version of ourselves to present to others, at least initially.

But I don’t want to be pigeonholed into one or a few things. While journalism is my chosen profession — and some of my acquired skills will inevitably seep its way into my dating life  — it shouldn’t be my sole personality trait in dating. To me, the different aspects of a profile should only be starting points for conversation (or if you’re like me, fodder for a background check). Yes, us journalists love to talk about what we do, and at times it can feel all-encompassing. However, there’s a lot more to journalists than our jobs and there’s a lot more to me than what I’ve written. I’d love to share more, but that conversation would have to be off-the-record.