Online dating gets a bad rap, mostly because people who go about it foolishly wind up being very vocal about how terrible it is. In fact, there are some very simple (but VERY NECESSARY) steps you can go through to ensure a dating experience that is no more unsafe than going on a regular/conventional/offline date. These are not absolute guarantees of perfect safety or happiness, but they sure do help you avoid sticky situations.
Keep in mind that when you meet a potential date in ‘real life’, i.e. offline, you will usually have had at least one face-to-face interaction with them—that’s how you figured out that you wanted to date each other in the first place, and probably how the initial asking-out occurred. But with online dating, that first interaction (which tells you a LOT) doesn’t happen until the date clock has already started. So the rules and timeline for things needs to be a little bit different to accommodate the Internet medium.
1) Use an anonymous email account! Don’t use your real/full name when signing up for any online dating account, and don’t put your real/full name into the email address itself. (Examples: “John.Single@gmail.com” = bad. “John.S@gmail.com” = better. “Johnlikestoski@gmail.com” better still. “email@example.com” = best.) Don’t graduate to using your ‘real’ email account with someone until you’ve met them at least once and gotten a positive vibe, and you both would like to continue seeing each other. Don’t give them your MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. account until you know each other better. And for goodness sake, DO NOT use your work email. You can visit Tech Tips to make email more online dating friendly.
2) Be cautious about what digital images you swap. Only send pictures that you would be comfortable seeing show up out there in the great wild e-world, since you have no control over what happens to a picture once it leaves your outbox. If you’re uncomfortable revealing any image of yourself on the Internet, that can make online dating a little trickier, but it IS still possible! Get in touch if you need help with this.
3) Be equally cautious about giving out any social networking info. Profiles like Facebook contain FAR too much personal information that you don’t want to display to someone you don’t know well yet. Remember, people you correspond with on the Internet are still total strangers, so don’t go giving them access to any and every detail about your life. Even though you might like to browse someone’s profile/page before you meet, hold off and save some of that discovery for first-date conversation instead.
4) Meet in a public place for the first couple dates. This means you don’t go to your date’s place and have them cook you dinner on your first date, or even your third date if you want to be super-safe. It’s a good idea to have at least one pal know about the specific date and time of your first real-life encounter with someone you met online, just to play it safe. It’s fine to pick an intimate booth in a cozy restaurant, but you should technically be on public ground, with at least one employee in the joint in case anything crazy were to happen.
5) Keep tabs on your drink. In an ideal world, no one would ever have to worry about this tip. But sadly, we are far from ideal. Make sure to monitor your beverage—retrieve your own drinks from the bar, and don’t leave your drink alone while you hit the restroom. These are just precautions, but they are important ones. (And really, you should have already mastered this art while partying in ANY situation with a bunch of unknown people, i.e. a big house or frat party, a singles bar, etc.) This goes for daters of all genders and orientations! Just be aware and prudent.
6) Arrange your transport ahead of time. If you wind up in a situation where your creepy-vibe-giving date winds up driving you home, you’ve failed me! Make sure to make very specific transportation arrangements. For example, “My car is in the shop so a friend is picking me up. She has to get me at X o’clock since she works early. Sorry if this puts a damper on things, but she’s doing me a big favor!” Anyone who pushes back about this is bad news. Remember you can always slip off to the bathroom and call a taxi or a friend (who already knows you’re on this date). And daters, don’t be pushy if you’re just trying to make a romantic move. Your date might be genuinely interested in you, but declining that ride home for valid safety reasons. Pressuring is not sexy, so just be understanding that perfect end-of-date chivalry has to make some concessions in the digital age.
7) Don’t have someone meet you at work or home. Don’t even necessarily tell them exactly what/where your place of work is. It’s fine to mention your neighborhood, and chivalrous inclinations like wanting to pick a lady up or take her home are lovely, but should be avoided at first. Where you live and exactly where you work is personal information, and nobody should make you feel like you absolutely must give it up. If your date wants to deliver flowers, that’s lovely; they should still want to deliver them in a month when you’re happy to provide an address.
8) Don’t get overly physical right away. Getting hot and heavy right away tends to lend itself to winding up in someone’s home or a hotel room. These are simply not options for those initial dates, as much as you might feel a chemistry connection, so try and keep the physical contact reasonably restrained (i.e. above the belt, at most) until you get to know the person a bit better. This is a good tip for any dating scenario, of course, but it’s crucial for online stuff. Sometimes you will have had hot and heavy e-flirting before meeting up, but try to remember that drawing out the anticipation can be fun, too.
9) Trust your gut! If you get a bad vibe during an in-person meeting, trust that instinct. Sometimes there are near-subliminal cues that your instincts are picking up on, and it’s worth paying attention to those. If you get skeeved out by a date, make sure to set physical boundaries to avoid getting trapped in an end-of-the-night embrace, or in a situation where you feel like you can’t decline an invitation to someone’s apartment, etc. When you truly feel unsafe, it is far more important to be safe than to be polite.
10) Don’t feel bad or awkward about following any of these rules. Anyone who is a respectful and savvy date will not be overly pushy or aggressive about making you break them. If they are, they are not a person you should be dating anyhow. And I’ll be honest; I myself did not always follow these rules. But realistically, I should have; I cringe looking back at how sketchy some situations could have been in my single days. I know it’s cliché, but it is absolutely better to be safe than sorry!