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.