39

Background

About 15 years ago I used to frequent a particular online forum and had made many friends there. I still have contacts for most of these friends. One friend in particular though, despite being us being very close, was never allowed to give out contact info to people she met online, so we only chatted in the forum. After a few years, life happened and I ended up moving away from that forum to other things and we lost contact.

Recently, I was remembering old times and decided to go back to the forum for a nostalgia trip. This reminded me of my old friend I hadn't talked to in about 12 years, and I wondered what she'd been up to, but she hasn't been on the forum in years so there's no way to contact her through there.

I wanted to see if I could track my friend down. In short, I used a combination of saved post history on the site and a publicly accessible image hosting account with identifying information, particularly the school they attended, to find her on Facebook. Her online persona and real life were pretty well separated, and I was only able to find her because I have practice with finding security vulnerabilities.

Despite us being close friends from a long time ago, I don't know if she ever intended for me to know her true identity. I don't know if she's kept in contact with any other friends from the site, we didn't have any mutual friends that I was close enough to that I could go through to confirm this.

I didn't do try to find her with the intent of contacting her, I just wanted to see if I could. It actually took a lot of effort, if I had to do this just to get back in contact, I probably wouldn't consider it worth it. I have done similar things in the past, of identifying people based on their online presence, but have never contacted anyone afterwards.

Problem

Now that I have a way to contact my close friend from so many years ago, I'm tempted to do it. The idea to find her in the first place came from wondering what she's been up to. I would like to catch up and possibly maintain an online friendship (assuming it was mutual). I want to explicitly state that there are no romantic feelings/intentions here, our relationship has always been purely platonic and I have no interest in changing that. That being said, I'm a male and she's a female and we are just about the same age.

I've considered just reaching out and asking if she is $username from the forum. She may or may not recognize me immediately, as my first name and hometown are public on Facebook and known to her, but I also have a very common name and currently don't live in the same city/state I did then. If I mention the forum, it's likely she'd recognize me; if I just sent a friend request, I'd guess maybe not but it's possible.

Regardless of my approach, I think one of the first questions she would ask is "how did you find me?", and this is where I'm stuck. The methods used can easily be considered stalker-ish, and though I know I'm not trying to be a stalker, she obviously doesn't and the facts are pretty damning.

My question is, is there a way to contact my friend, explain how I found her and then assure her I just want to catch up, without being seen by her as creepy or a stalker?

  • 6
    Is the forum still active and does it have a way of alerting users to a new message? Even if she hasn’t been active, if the system sends an email to a user when they have a new message or they’re tagged in a conversation, that might be a first route that would be less creepy. – AsheraH Aug 25 at 11:05
  • 2
    @AsheraH No, unfortunately there are no email alerts or anything that would let the person know they have a message. That was a thought I had as well. – user30288 Aug 25 at 11:08
  • 2
    @gerrit Sorry if the wording is confusing. I'm using "real life" here to refer to her Facebook profile, since (while being online) it is a more direct representation of her real self than a mostly anonymous forum that's not connected to any pictures, relatives, etc. The purpose of my statement was that the forum profile didn't directly share identifying information the way that a Facebook profile does, indicating the possibility that she intentionally did not want them to be linked in any way, and thus that me finding her could be considered "without consent". – user30288 Aug 26 at 7:42
  • 4
    Hello network visitors! Please note that IPS is fairly strict about using comments as intended. Comments are only for clarifying and improving the question. Partial answers or general thoughts about the situation may be deleted without notice. If you'd like to write an answer, make sure to check out our posts on How do I write a good answer? and citation expectations first. Thanks! – Ael Aug 26 at 12:39
  • 2
    What does "I was only able to find her because I have practice with finding security vulnerabilities." mean? – bob Aug 26 at 14:34
59

Regarding sounding creepy

You could try to contact her in the lines you described.

Problem, you didn't obtain this info with her consent nor with the consent of anybody that knows her. She's unknown for as far you are concerned, and using that contact info in any way that is, is not respecting her will to remain anonymous to you.

You can't act on that without being creepy and that means telling the truth will sound creepy, so either you clear that fact, or you are creepy and lie, which sound like a terrible start for the relationship. And what kind of lie could you expect to make? Would you involve encounter with a possible friend, she could check at any time your version of the story.

Boundaries are like this, you can't have a cake and eat it too. You could gamble with odds she won't ask or won't care you tell the truth, and Tinkeringbell's answer clarifies well how to maximize chances, but in my mind there are other reasons not to play the gamble.

Regarding relationship making and nostalgia

I have similar experience of online people that counted much on my personal life, as they learned to accept myself and eventually influenced in a good way many decisions I made as a young adult.

When I came back years later I realized they left forums and I was left with no way to contact them, and I had no grey-hat tricks to pull off to change that.

At some point I felt really sad about that fact I didn't get a chance to thank them for what they did for me as well as get updated on how things were going for them... we sometimes act careless about our online relationships, that's a sad fact.

Also, I sometimes tried to nostalgia trip with some people I have kept as Facebook friends, that I can say was clearly not worth the effort. We never got to the point of sharing a deep connection or even share a few good souvenirs: we spoke about what we became briefly, like we would as two unknowns, and made our ways separate.

In the greater frame, I think nostalgia about lost connections is especially difficult when aging because we realize we changed and won't ever go back on things we now regret: not exchanging contacts, not making this step of "I like you, let's be real friends". Feeling powerless is one of the reasons focusing too much on the past is not without negative effects on the mood.

The reason you found this person special, belongs to the past, and is long gone. 12 years later and in a different setting you'd face a complete unknown. The reason you gathered in the past is gone.Bringing up memories of the online forum, even if somehow that person is also willing to make a nostalgia trip, will bring nothing back to life. Any relationship you'd make would be one you could make with a stranger, and there is no reason to believe it's going to be very fulfilling.

If anything I'd look at it as a lesson, there are plenty of other people that can become just as special and you could maintain relationship with in the future.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    There are exceptions, I reconnected with someone from ten years ago, and since then one year passed and it's still great, we communicate quite often, despite that ten year gap. (we did meet a few times before, but most of our time was spent online) – vsz Aug 26 at 19:40
  • 8
    The first part of this answer is good, but the second part is not an answer to the question and is of debatable value in any case. Reconnecting with a past friend might be like forming a relationship with a stranger, and it might be unfulfilling. On the other hand it might not be either of those things. If you don't try, you'll never know. – JBentley Aug 27 at 10:35
75

I'm not easily creeped out though some people have managed to. The people I'll be talking about below aren't people I have lost contact with for over a decade, some of the people on my Facebook were relatively random strangers I met during online gaming or on SE and who decided to find my profile and send me a friend request, others were classmates I've never been close with or lost contact with for a few years. In several cases, these were people that 'puzzled' together enough pieces of information I dropped over time to guess at my Facebook profile, without me giving them my name to search for directly.

I think that, as long as you're open to the answer being 'no' and can respect that, you have as much of a chance as any other random person from her past that can send her a Facebook message or friend request. Arthur makes a good point about nostalgia and relationships that I can confirm. Keep in mind that while you were good friends 15 years ago, a lot has changed... you may either need to build up a new friendship or you'll spend a few weeks catching up and realizing you don't have much in common anymore, in which case you should probably be willing to just let things go as well.

What I wrote below doesn't guarantee someone will never find you creepy (people have different tolerances for that), but I hope it'll give you some things to consider to make you come across as non-creepy as possible.


I've considered just reaching out and asking if she is $username from the forum.

If you are going to reach out to someone online, make sure they know who you are too, and do so first. I've had a few people track down my Facebook over the years, and while I generally don't mind being contacted, I have a small list of things I look for in such messages to determine whether they are worth my time and not 'too creepy':

  • I want to know who you are
  • I want to know where I should know you from
  • I want to know that I'm the person you're looking for and you're not confusing me with someone else
  • I want to know why you've hunted me down on Facebook.
  • I want to feel assured that you are aware I have a choice in this matter and would accept it if my answer would be 'no'.

The best messages I've had, had all these things. And since you admit she might not recognize you, instead of asking her if she is who you think she is, introduce yourself as user30288 from $forum. Then go on to mention that you're looking for $username you met there years ago, and that a nostalgia trip made you go look for them in the hopes of catching up. Then add something that expresses your hope that they are open to catching up and as such you've sent them a friend request on Facebook, and a line that apologizes in case you bothered them or the wrong person.

Basically, structure your message in such a way that it doesn't make her feel like she is obliged to answer any questions, and preferably don't ask her any questions at all except for sending the friend request.


I think one of the first questions she would ask is "how did you find me?", and this is where I'm stuck.

If you're worried about this, include some information about that in your introduction as well. I've found that I'm more easily creeped out if there is too much detail. Consider the difference between:

"I'm trying to find Tinkeringbell from Stack Exchange. I've found an account with the same name on $fullsitename.domain, and from there I managed to gather I'm looking for $fullfirstandlastname that went to $fullschoolname in $place, just like you state on your Facebook profile."

And:

"I'm trying to find Tinkeringbell from Stack Exchange. Another publicly accessible profile with that name on another site had some details that led me to think this may be her Facebook profile".

The second one does admit you did some tracking, but at the same time it doesn't reveal exactly how much you found out about this person (which is, IMO, the creepy part of being able to track people online). At the same time, you don't leak any information about which profile or information you found in case you have the wrong person after all. I often feel much more relieved if I can pretend I'm not who you're looking for without worrying you might send my information to 10 others as well in an attempt to find me.

All in all, come across as someone that realizes there are boundaries in this world, and give her an opportunity to communicate her own. Send her 1 message that puts the ball in her court, and 1 friend request, and wait. Don't try twice if she declines, if she asks you any questions in return, answer them honestly, and if she agrees to be Facebook friends, great!

| improve this answer | |
4

I would go honest, simple, and direct.

"I am username from forum. I am looking for username from forum. We were good friends once, and I'd love to get in contact with her again. If you are, and would like to get in contact info is

contact stuff"

That's not creepy, and it leaves it wide open to her. If she doesn't want her real identity knows, or just doesn't want contact, she doesn't need to reply. If you don't get a response, you're basically done.

If she responds, and asks how you tracked her down, tell her. As simply as possible. "I remembered you talking about school, so I looked up people form your school" or something like that. If it's long, start with "It was a bit of s process....". And state your reasons like "Those were good times, and I'd love to rekindle that friendship"

What's creepy is insisting on still contacting if she doesn't want you too, or hiding things. If you keep to that line, I think you'll be fine.

I've probably done the "out of the blue contact" thing about a dozen times over the last 5 years or so. At least half of them got no response. I've never even considered pushing it after that. half of the rest have ended up with a couple emails back and forth and then petering out. And I have two friends who I still get in contact regularly that we are glad I reopened the relationship. I tend to only maintain a small group of friends compared with most people I know, though. so you might have different results.

| improve this answer | |
3

If your other friends want to reconnect with her too, perhaps you should invite her to join all of you in a group chat. This would reduce the chance she would think you have some creepy personal agenda.

In any case, since you were very close, you have some insight to her personality and you can make use of this.

Some time ago I was contacted by someone out of the blue under similar circumstances and I was delighted.

But sometimes people will react differently. If you've ever broken into a cold sweat when you receive a message which is daunting in some way (like a surprise exam), well, some people might react like that. It's unpleasant but they'll get over it after a while, and it's your choice whether to risk this.

As for questioning how they found me, it didn't even occur to me to ask. If I had, and they admitted to this kind of thing, I don't think I would have found it creepy, just persistent.

Here are a few of the factors behind that:

  • I'm a trusting, not suspicious, person
  • I'm somewhat gender-blind
  • I felt I knew the person well and they had never been creepy
  • Their introduction made their motivations clear
  • Their tone was consistent with how they used to talk
  • I hadn't had major changes to my identity that would distance me from past connections (perhaps you can tell from her FB profile whether she has changed a lot)
  • I had previously wanted to reconnect with them and a few others, but did not really have any way to do so
| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    I don't think your first advice would work given that OP said that "we didn't have any mutual friends" – Ael Aug 26 at 7:28
2

I agree with Arthur HV's complete answer. If you want to base a relationship on a lie to begin with, it is not respecting her desire, let alone her trust if she wills to maintain a relation with you based on your lie.

I am working on attachment issues which I regularly discuss with my psychologist. I am bringing this up because it makes me try to contact people from the past or become attached to certain past moments in my life which seem meaningless to these other people (maybe we just shared a good semester and cup of coffee or two) but not to me and I have strong nostalgia and desire to contact them just to know how they are doing. I have experienced multiple reactions from people ignoring / blocking me, to some shallow responses, and some others willing to engage into conversation and keep in touch.

Learning from this experiences and reactions I will start my message with:

Hello X, I know it has been a long time, I hope you are doing great! I remember in the past we [shared Y and Z experiences] and I have really good memories of the time we spent we together [doing A], so I thought I might look you up to see how you were doing after such a long time! Please excuse me if you find this inappropriate, it's never my intention to make you uncomfortable, feel free to ignore this message if so. As much as I would like to catch up, I will understand how you feel and respect your decision! All the best, Celius!

The point I am trying to make is that you should always let the other person know of your intentions and let them know you will respect their decision to not engage with you, making them feel safer and less creeped out. Best of luck with this person, hope you get positive results, but more than anything, respect their decision and live happy with it, it's their freedom!

| improve this answer | |
0

I don't think anyone mentioned this, but you're not obligated to reveal who you are. Assuming you're not looking for an in person relationship, if you find out what forum she is on now then you could attempt to restart the friendship under a new identity. See if you get along now like you did before. If not, then it's probably not worth trying to get back in touch with her anyway.

In general, I don't think it's all that creepy to tell her that you were digging through some old accounts and saved files and you came across some Internet accounts from the past and tried to get back in contact with some of the people. Say hi and that you've been digging through old stuff and found her name and keep it casual that way.

She likely won't remember if she gave out any of her contact information, either intentionally or not, from such a long time ago, so initially it won't seem creepy when you contact her.

| improve this answer | |

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.