Froma Harrop: A fine romance: Online daters hire private eyes


Froma Harrop



She was a lawyer, noisy but nice. He was a Marine, quiet and even nicer. They seemed an attractive, comfortable couple, so I was greatly surprised when -- after he left to use the men's room -- she leaned over to me at the next table and asked, "What do you think of him?" 


They had connected through Tinder, the hot dating site known for emphasizing pictures. This was their first meeting. 


"I think he's a prince," I responded, not knowing what else to say. 


Internet dating wastes little time on what used to be known as courtship. These quick matchups often lead to a clean break ("not interested"). Or the two move in together the following week, which is not a be-my-valentine sort of thing but cohabitation. 


That said, I know some very happy couples who met through dating sites. A few are even married, to each other. 


Online dating is efficient, to be sure. For one thing, it vastly expands the number of potential mates. For another, it requires two people to exchange some words before meeting in the flesh, so to speak. This pre-meeting conversation can add some depth to the encounter not found in the typical bar pickup (though that, too, can lead to bigger things). 


The downside is it encourages corner cutting in the getting-to-know-you phase. Sadly, many cads and adventuresses find sport creating fictional online versions of themselves. 


As a result, private eyes are enjoying a surge in assignments to verify the claims of strangers their clients have found online, according to The Wall Street Journal. Millennium Investigations in Chicago, for example, says it now gets about 100 requests a year to do premarital background checks, up from a handful a few years ago. 


In one case, an Ohio widow in her 40s asked a Cincinnati detective to report back on an ex-boyfriend she had re-encountered. After a highly charged weekend in upstate New York, the two talked marriage. He told her he was a widower and had to return home to San Francisco to tie up personal loose ends. 


She had AAA Detective Agency find someone to follow the man in San Francisco. It was learned that the man was residing happily with a living wife. Obviously, the widow had not been entirely comfortable with the ex-boyfriend's story. Otherwise, she wouldn't have hired an investigator. 


The odd part is that she would even entertain the idea of marriage without having seen the guy's home, met his friends, connected with his family and petted his dogs. Calling in a detective so early in a relationship would seem an outsourcing of the courtship process. 


Of course, romantic partners with secret second lives well predate the Internet, though largely in fiction. In "Downton Abbey," Anna learns that her beloved Mr. Bates is still married and spent time in prison (for a crime his wife committed) -- not from Bates but from his mother. 


Victorian novels are famous for such intrigue. In "Jane Eyre," we learn that Jane's amorous employer, Mr. Rochester, has a wife. Furthermore, said wife is living on an upper floor of the grand house, insane and chained. 


Suffice it to say, these heroines weren't living in the information age. It's really hard these days to hide a shady past or a living spouse. 


On the other hand, detectives say, the ease of finding some information may lead to the demand for more information. Google searches can act as a "gateway drug" to asking a professional to investigate further. 


Discussing marriage with someone just met in cyberspace represents more than a skipping of courtship. It shows that someone -- to be utterly unromantic about it -- is not doing his or her homework.



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