Stop rewarding 'romantic' stalker behaviour online

A love struck Reese McKee (above) tries to find 'Katie'.

A love struck Reese McKee (above) tries to find 'Katie'.

A young man meets a young woman on New Year’s Eve. She’s crying in the street and he takes it upon himself to cheer her up. Some hours later, after they’ve reconnected with her friends and had a night on the tiles, they part ways at 6am. “Find me,” she says, and disappears into the night.

No, it’s not the synopsis for the new Julie Delpy/Ethan Hawke vehicle Just Before Maccas Opens, but rather a tale spun by Reese McKee, a New Zealand bloke who is trying to find a woman he thinks might be The One.

"I got the idea to use Facebook in June but the timing wasn't right,” he says of his newly minted Facebook-assisted campaign to find his ‘Katie’. “I think this time of year people have hope for the magic (of Christmas). If nothing else, it would just be great to get in touch with her and say 'thank you'. To say 'Hi, how are you doing?'."

A Facebook page set up by Reese McKee to look for Katie.

A Facebook page set up by Reese McKee to look for Katie.

McKee made sure to decorate his search for love with details of his own romantic misadventures. He’d given up on love, see, until he met this girl. (Nobody seems to question the fact that this burning desire to meet her again was lukewarm enough to take almost an entire year to get cracking.)

Naturally, the citizens of the internet have reacted with a chorus of “aww” and vowed to help McKee track down his mystery lady. Gawker and a variety of other news outlets have helped McKee’s story circulate. “This is beautiful! The world needs more magic, I hope you cross paths with this lovely again, she left footprints on your heart and that is enough reason to be reunited with her,” writes one fellow Romantic™ on McKee’s Facebook page.

Through all this, however, few people have stopped to consider this very real possibility: what if “Katie” doesn’t want to be found?

A woman’s saying “find me” in real life is quite different to what that might mean in a romantic comedy context. Who’s to say that “Kat” didn’t say “find me” in the same way one might give out their long-since-disconnected home phone number or an email address with one letter missing?

That may seem unnecessarily brusque but sometimes it feels kinder than saying, effectively, “have a nice life” after an evening that was reasonably diverting but not in any danger of becoming something more. Generally speaking, if a woman really wants a dude to “find her”, she’ll give him her mobile, home phone, email and friend him on Facebook.

One of the few voices of dissent amid the “greatest romance ever”-type frantic “sharing” comes from Amanda Hess at Slate’s XX, who posits that we (“we”) are just as guilty as McKee of glorifying creepy behaviour as something touching or romantic.

“It’s about all of us concocting a real-life Love Actually plot in the service of facilitating some guy’s international womanhunt,” Hess writes. “If Reese had just been like, ‘I am looking to hunt down a woman. All I have is her name, general location, and this photograph she never consented to be blasted across the Internet,’ we would all probably be like, ‘Dude—leave Katie alone.’ But thread in a few personal details about hurt, heartbreak, and personal discovery, and we’re all asking, ‘Do you recognize this face?’ in the service of remedying Reese’s (deeply thematic) sense of loss.”

Whatever this mystery woman meant by her sign off to McKee, she now finds herself (sorry) in an untenable position: if she does reconnect with McKee, only to demur, the great rom-com-brainwashed horde will likely decry her as unfeeling, even ungrateful. She must be some sort of cold-hearted cow if she doesn’t appreciate that sort of huge romantic gesture, right?

Perhaps you remember the granddaddy of “man seeks mystery woman” stories, back in 2007: Patrick Moberg set up a web presence in order to track down the “NY Girl Of My Dreams” (dot com), who turned out to be Australian expat Camille Hayton. When the couple broke up - of their two-month-ish relationship, Hayton said, “The situation was so intense that we bonded in a way that you could mistake for being more romantic than it was” - more than a few commentators sniffed that Hayton, not Moburg, was a cruel opportunist (among other less printable epithets). 

Stunts like McKee’s and Moburg’s, and all the ones that came in between them, go beyond a “missed connection” listing or newspaper personals ad and shoot the search for romance into the stratosphere, inevitably because the searcher didn’t have the gumption to ask a person on a date - or simply say “hello” - without thousands of internet users to back them up. They are “romantic” in the same way that showy wedding proposals are “romantic”: they’re all about the spectacle (Guy Debord would be proud), and the entitlement of the searcher.

Most of all, though - just like the rom-com situations that inspire these kinds of stunts would be if they lept from the screen into reality - they’re just creepy, and the sooner the internet stops rewarding creepy behaviour with misplaced celebration, the better. 

 

33 comments

  • "...about the spectacle (Guy Debord would be proud), and the entitlement of the searcher."

    They are about the spectacle, but it usually has very little to do with the searcher or the proposer. It's more about them reluctantly participating in a cultural narrative of 'romance' constructed by an industry for which they are very much not the target market.

    If you want to halt the narrative, aim at the target market,and be explicit who is being aimed at. Don't dance around it. We're talking the Twilight fans, the '50 Shades' readers, the Mills & Boon fanatics, the people who sit and watch reruns of Sleepless in Seattle, the Jane Austen fans who think they really want Mr Darcy, and all those other people who never bother to engage in enough self-reflection to understand that their fantasy is not what they want in reality.

    Commenter
    DM
    Date and time
    December 09, 2013, 8:45AM
    • Your opinions are valid, but have you read Jane Austen? I wouldn't put her work alongside of Mills & Boon & the others you list.

      Commenter
      AmyG
      Date and time
      December 09, 2013, 9:04AM
    • The women who vocally criticise the boundary-abnegation and abusive control underpinning these romantic texts are often called "bitter" (ref: first comment).

      It is upsetting because we are being dehumanised. Even in the texts pushed on us and sold to us ultimately as training manuals for succeeding in this culture hate us enough to think we are merely objects to be earned by some deserving man who "fights" for us enough. And young men pick this up and think that if they believe they deserve something, like a relationship with a specific person, that they should get it, and if we don't give it to them we are bitches and harpies who won't give a good guy a chance. What ever happened to what we want? (And yes, we know what we want: it just doesn't match what these crap books and movies/douchebag guys say we want.)

      Give me a bucket. Twilight makes me sick.

      Commenter
      bec
      Date and time
      December 09, 2013, 9:50AM
    • "Give me a bucket. Twilight makes me sick."

      The fact that the Twilight movie series has made over 3.3 billion dollars at the box office (not including the books, DVD sales and merchandising) suggests there are many people who feel differently. And it's those people who drive the popular culture and narrative.

      Commenter
      DM
      Date and time
      December 09, 2013, 1:29PM
    • Popularity is not really a sound argument for something being morally right. Foot-binding was incredibly popular amongst certain classes of the Chinese up until about a hundred years ago and there's no way that deliberately permanently crippling and harming women in the name of male sexual attraction is ever morally justified.

      Commenter
      bec
      Date and time
      December 09, 2013, 2:26PM
  • Lighten up please - this is one of those nice moments that doesn't need to be ruined by being over analysed.

    I also love how the most awkward picture of the gentleman in question was selected with a facial expression that makes you doubt his disposition.

    Can we get a flickr of cat pics now please? This -is- the Internet, right?

    Commenter
    Adrian
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    December 09, 2013, 8:52AM
    • I agree Adrian.

      This is such a cynical point of view, and the photo chosen purposefully adds to the creepiness.

      So what if she doesn't want to be found? He's not putting any personal information out there that you can't get on Facebook or Twitter and that will harm her in anyway. If she doesn't want to talk to him she simply needs to say no. What's the harm?

      Commenter
      rowleyha
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 09, 2013, 4:05PM
  • Yeah, because being picked up by some inebriated sleazbag at a pub is sooo much better!

    Commenter
    spadeboy
    Date and time
    December 09, 2013, 9:04AM
    • Maybe this is a 'Serendipity' thing that might have actually worked if he'd got his act together a bit sooner.

      There was a Canberra public servant who met someone at a party and emailed a whole department to find her. That was a disaster.

      So what is a romantic way for men to meet women Clem?

      Commenter
      B3
      Date and time
      December 09, 2013, 9:16AM
      • Now if the girl had said "here's my number call me" ... or "had fun but not interesting in hooking up again" our young man would not be facing any sort of dilemma but nooooo .........

        Commenter
        agile
        Date and time
        December 09, 2013, 9:24AM

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