When does stalking a lover online go too far?

As the saying goes, a crush is just a lack of information. But in the era of unlimited access to the lives of others, a crush now turns into a quest for information.

“(When I have a crush on someone), I continue Instagram and click on relevant profiles until I find them to see if we have any mutual friends. Then either I make a cover Google research or continue LinkedIn for information“, tells Lily*, a 23-year-old woman in San Francisco, to Mashable.

Others don’t stop there. They are looking for Spotify, Tic Tac, X/TwitterAccounts, Venmo and Strava; look at Zillow and Whitepages; and browse the social media accounts of your friends and family members.

“I don’t feel like this crosses a boundary, because people have a responsibility to know what’s going on about them. I took my Max Preps Sports profile and wrote from college” , said Kate*, a 23-year-old who works in Wisconsin politics with a propensity for stalking her crushes online, told Mashable.

The good and bad sides of online harassment

Online harassment can be defined as a broad range of information gathering practices that are frequently targeted at research rather than simple observation. It should not be confused with cyberstalking, which uses social media to threaten or harass a target, or with stalking where the target is aware of and becomes fearful due to unwanted attention and harassment. The awareness that others may stalk you online is a widely accepted part of modern dating. On the positive side, it can serve as security measure when I meet someone dating app – you can reverse image search to determine whether or not your partner is a catfish, see if you have any friends in common and, if you know their full name, check police reports – and a litmus test of compatibility.

“It’s completely normal to want to know someone you’re interested in,” Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, an independent research group in Southern California, tells Mashable. “You want a sense of security and (know) whether this relationship has potential or not. This is all perfectly normal. Employers do it, college admissions people do it. The Internet is how you do a background check on someone.”

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Kate thinks her bullying makes her a better conversationalist. “It makes me good at asking questions when I’m dating, even though it’s crazy to know that you did x, y, and z when you were 17 thanks to (a) Google search.”

According to Rutledge, using online harassment to deepen a relationship, as Kate uses it, tends to be healthy because you’re invested in building a real relationship with a person. You start to run into problems when your research leads you to spend an unhealthy amount of time online, engaging in social comparisons, and adjusting to what you think this person might be interested in based on their social media.

“Feeling like you have to mold your social rep to fit yours and something that person would like is a huge waste of time. The most damaging thing is that you are now giving up your power. You are allowing your self-esteem to self and your identity to be whatever you find outside,” Rutledge said.

If you don’t translate this harassment into a relationship with the person you’re interested in, you may engage in something akin to a parasocial relationship. “Even if you have met someone or know about them, you don’t actually have a real/reciprocal relationship. You use that media information to create one, just like you would in a parasocial relationship,” Rutledge explains.

Kate doesn’t form parasocial relationships with her love interests, but she still feels “stressed keeping all this information about them, waiting for them to bring it up in conversation.”

Rutledge warned that online harassment can quickly become unhealthy and dangerous. She compared it to catastrophic scrolling. “When it starts to worry you and you become too invested in this person that you’re stalking, but you don’t get any new information, you start to spend an unhealthy amount of energy in a virtual space,” Rutledge explained.

Emilie, a 25-year-old living in Brooklyn, New York, has gone too far down the rabbit hole. “I was once attracted to this guy and checked (his social media) too often. I looked at his tagged photos on Instagram and Spotify playlist updates. I thought the songs would tell me what ‘he felt. I found his Twitter. When (I) started going through several of his social media platforms, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m pretty obsessive.'”

Lala, a dating educator who posts on Instagram under the handle @lalalaletmeexplain to its 245,000 subscribers and hosts the dating podcast It’s not you, it’s them…but it could be you, attributes this behavior to limerence. Coined by psychologist Dorothy Tennov in her 1979 book Love and LimerenceLimerence is basically a crush on steroids.

The danger of limerence

Tennov wrote that limerence, a mental activity that occurs spontaneously, is characterized by intrusive, obsessive, and persistent thinking about your “limerence object.” Lala explains that limerence can lead to checking your crush’s social media every two hours.

A limerent person creates fantasies based on all the information they have gathered. “Imagination is incredibly powerful, so when we visualize things, we actually experience them physically,” says Rutledge. “There are neurotransmitters that are all firing, which makes it a delightful experience that keeps you coming back. But that doesn’t give you the skills to translate it into an actual relationship.”

“Another particularity of limerence is that we put them on a pedestal. We don’t see any of their faults and we try to be like them,” explains Lala.

Lily engages in online harassment the most when she and her on-again, off-again boyfriend are going through a period of silence. “I check his Snap location and Snap score. His Snap score and active status when he hasn’t responded to me is the most paralyzing. I feel horrible when I’m on Snapchat,” Lily says. This too is consistent with limerence. Tennov wrote: “Limerence lasts as long as the conditions that support both hope and uncertainty. »

“When you recognize that it’s limerence, you can do something about it,” says Lala. “If you’re about to check their WhatsApp status for the 10th time today, you might say to yourself, stop. It’s limerence, you don’t need to do that. There’s no news information.” Even if there is East New information, if you feel like it’s hurting you or missing out on your own life to look at someone else’s social media, it would be nice to stop.

One way to set boundaries in line with yourself is to change your WhatsApp Settingsso that your WhatsApp status, whether online or last seen, no longer appears.

Rutledge echoed the importance of self-awareness about how you feel and why you engage in certain behaviors. “You have to think, ‘Why am I doing this? And is this actually going to help or hurt what I’m trying to do?'” she explains. “Once you know what your goal is, it’s much easier to judge whether a given behavior is going to help or harm. But that means you have to understand what you want, and that means you have to be careful about what you want. what you’re doing.”

Lala and Rutledge note that people with an anxious attachment style or vulnerable to abandonment may have more difficulty disengaging from these behaviors.

*The name is a pseudonym to protect confidentiality.

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