Little Talks: Online Research

A series of short stories about a relationship starring a fictional couple who live rent-free in Scott’s head.

Scott Muska


“How much did you know about me before you met me?”


I’m sitting on her couch on my laptop, online sleuthing some of the people who work in the marketing department of a company I may soon interview with for a freelance project — as one does — while she does her thing in the kitchen. You may think I should be in there helping, but please believe me that this would likely be good for neither of us. There’s a tacit agreement that I stop for ingredients and beverages on the way over and she turns said supplies into dinner. (I like to call it “supper” because it annoys her to no end, which I don’t get, but I guess it’s one of those weird trigger words like “moist,” which is a common one. She just hates the word for no real discernible reason, and so I use it frequently to get her goat, because we like to have fun here.)

I do the cleaning afterward, which is mostly dishwasher loading, an appliance she has at her apartment that I do not have at mine, along with a more functional and updated kitchen, so if we’re not ordering out we usually make the choice to stay in at her place. I do not enjoy this post-meal cleanup (who does?) but it’s the least I can do since I get in her way during the meal-prep process if I try to include myself, as I barely function well enough in the kitchen to do anything more strenuous or helpful than slicing a tomato or something.

It’s good to know when you’re not going to be any kind of help at all, and to accept it, I guess.

So we converse in slightly raised voices across her spacious studio while we both do our respective work.

“I mean, before our first date. What’d you know about me? Or think you knew about me, anyway?”

“Are you being a spy on the internet again?”

“Might be. Channeling my inner Harriet. You know my relationship with Google has been one of the longest, most intimate and significant of my life so far. Maybe also one of the most intense. I don’t know.”

“You do know your way around an online search. I’ll give you that.”

“Thank you. I used to work out. And am very proficient in SEO optimization. To be honest, going in on LinkedIn Premium might be one of the best ongoing investments I’ve made in my life so far. Being able to check out profiles without people knowing it? What an excellent feature.”

“Be still, my heart.”

“I thought that might get you going. In most scenarios I find it prudent to do some research. You’ve got to be prepared.”

“I assume you apply this to the dating aspect of your life, then.”

“That I do. Don’t you?”

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t.”

“I think it’s just part of keeping up with the times, really.”

“And a mode of self-protection. Or self-preservation, maybe.”

“That too. I would always tell myself I wanted to be surprised — that I didn’t want to know too much about a person going into a first meeting, but then I was also never really able to help myself.”

“I’ve found you’re not great at resisting impulse.”

“I’m working on it but yeah, no argument here.”

“I guess maybe it’s best to be armed with at least some information.”

“Same. So, yeah — did you Google me before we first met?”

“While we were talking on the app? Most definitely.”

“Was it for better? Or worse?”

“You’re here right now, aren’t you? I think that kind of speaks for itself.”

“True. I’m glad my online presence didn’t initially scare you off to the point you no longer wanted to meet in what they call ‘real life.’”

“I won’t lie — it came close. Very early on in the proceedings I read one of the self-fellating things you wrote about a woman who said she was weary of your online presence.”

“She meant wary, I think. Also, ‘self-fellating?’ That’s rough, man.”

“Yes, she did. Unquestionably. But I easily picked up on what she was throwing down. People confuse that word all the time. To the point it’s almost pretentious to judge them for it. You write about yourself — and the people who come into your life — a lot, and I didn’t know exactly how I felt about that.”

“I get that. My private life is sometimes a public joke. And that’s not for everybody.”

“I wondered a little bit if, depending on how things went when and after we met, you’d write about me. Maybe that’s vain. I don’t know.”

“Yeah, sometimes that’s a thing.”

“I didn’t know if I wanted you to write about me or not. I guess I couldn’t have known. It all depended on how things went. I wondered if something significant enough would happen for you to post about it on Medium or wherever the fuck.”

“If I did I would have changed your name.”

“Yeah, but I would have known it was about me.”

“Or at least loosely influenced by you.”


“Fictional realism.”

“If that’s what you want to call it. Kind of an aside, but do you ever read some of the comments people make on your content?”

“All the time.”

“Do you dwell on those things?”

“Infinitely. They’re not something I can shrug off or forget about. I’ve lost so much sleep over negative comments. Though it does get a little bit less excruciating the more it happens. It’s like a strange form of exposure therapy or something.”

“Interesting. But now I really want to know what you figured out about me before we first met.”

“It was a lot.”

“Where did you even start?”

“First, by finding out your full name.”

“That’s creepy.”

“Yes, sure, but also resourceful. You had your first name and your profession on your profile so I just plugged those two into LinkedIn and found you in no time. I knew where you worked way before I got to ask you where you worked during conversation.”

“Do you think that’s sort of a lie of omission?”

“It’s something probably not great. But doing this kind of search isn’t, I think, uncommon. And I thought it was better to talk with you about your profession in a way that seemed organic than being like, ‘HEY I KNOW WHERE YOU WORK.’”

“LinkedIn Premium will either save or end us all.”

“You have a great headshot, by the way. I feel like headshot day has to be the best day at the office. Everyone dresses for the job they want or feel like they have — how they want to be perceived by an outside audience.”

“I guess that’s true.”

“Then, after finding out your full name, it was off to the races. I found your Instagram and I’ll tell you what — I don’t think I’ve ever had a lighter touch in my entire life. I had to take care to not like any of your posts or watch your story. Casual lurking is a delicate game.”

“I did the exact same thing with your profile. And I’ll note that your grid is absolute chaos.”

“I’m not great with photography. Or curation.”

“It wasn’t a deal-breaker.”

“That seems evident.”

“Oh — I definitely found your Twitter, too.”


“Yeah. I felt like your voice on there was a little bit too pleased with itself and that you were probably not as funny as you thought.”

“I’m a try-hard when it comes to seeking likes. Won’t deny that. It’s one of my fatal flaws.”

“That seems a little melodramatic.”

“Have you met me?”

“Yeah, I guess this all tracks.”

“I found your Twitter too, and I immediately thought it was pretty funny, but also that if things didn’t work out I’d find a way to reframe my thinking and find a reason to hate everything you posted and every quip you made. And you know I’d have kept checking. Maybe forever.”

“Not great at letting that stuff go, huh?”

“I’m working on my capacity to accept rejection. But, wow, we really did know a great deal about each other before we saw one another’s faces in a public place, huh?”

“We did. And also, I should bring this up: One of the first things I read of yours was an essay about how the first time you had cyber sex, it spurred from a discussion in an AOL Animorphs-themed roleplaying chat room.”

“Oh god.”

“Did that actually happen?”




Scott Muska

I write books (for fun, and you can find them on Amazon), ads (for a living) and some other stuff (that seems to magically show up on the internet).