Advice columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

I met this guy in a different city, and we had a few great dates.

One night I was casually Googling his name. Very innocently — I swear — I just thought I could see his work projects or something like that. But I came across an article about the trial of his father for murdering his mother. I am absolutely sure it is him.

I feel like I invaded his privacy, and now he doesn’t have a chance to tell me on his own time. But I also feel a little scared. He mentioned very briefly that he had a difficult family that he wasn’t ready to talk to me about yet, but I wasn’t picturing anything close to this.

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

We are so casual at this point, but I don’t think I want to stop talking to him just because of the sins of his father. But I am a little scared. How do I bring this up?

Wish I Never Googled

No no no, it’s good that you Googled. It’s there, it’s public information, it’s practically reflex for bored Web surfers, and it’s just common sense to use this basic tool on someone new.

Obviously it’s a flawed tool, too, since it treats bogus and bona fide equally — plus, you can truth-squad Aloysius Derwhinkle better than you can Mike Smith.

But this is the world we live in now, and I don’t think any practical adaptation to new things involves constructing your own little bubble and pretending nothing has changed. Instead, adapt by pegging your expectations to reflect reality: know that some information you dredge up will be false, or unwelcome, or premature; know others are Googling you; and know the results might divert the flow of a new relationship.

So, what now? If you had the goods on me, I’d rather you told me upfront. Knowing something this explosive requires a lie of omission to conceal, so I would feel deceived if you feigned ignorance. Also, I expect people to Google, so it’s not a dark confession.

If you decide to tell, then assure him first that you do respect his desire not to discuss his family yet. Then say it never occurred to you that “difficult family” meant news coverage, and you Googled him one bored evening.

Then say you’re not asking him to explain, but you wanted him to know that you know because anything else felt dishonest. Then you listen and watch carefully.

That is, if you keep seeing him. I don’t think it’s right to rule him out based on this alone — otherwise there would be a lot of lonely people doing life sentences for other people’s mistakes. However, don’t retreat from hard questions and scrutiny just because you feel bad for him. If you’ve now had an “aha” moment about something that didn’t feel right about your dealings with him, then heed it, don’t rationalize it away in an effort to be “nice.”

You’re already one step into the “nice” mistake: feeling guilty for Googling public information, really? Please read “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker. It’s great at explaining the hazards of being too nice — plus de Becker himself is the product of a violent home.

Tomorrow: The riddle of the Google.

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