Online dating has become such a social norm it seems like meeting a mate by chance in a bar is now the exception. Online dating does work—many successful marriages have started that way—but there is a degree of uncertainty to it. The Internet allows anyone to fabricate a gender, age, location, and appearance. So how do you enter into this realm with confidence?
First, set the right intention: don’t intentionally deceive anyone. What you send out affects what you get back—karma holds true in virtual worlds. On a related note, post an honest profile photo. And then follow these five rules to keep yourself safe in the online dating world.
1. Don’t be hyper-textual
Although it’s convenient and fast, texting is a cheap form of communication. It leaves no room for nuance or meaningful silences in a conversation and it’s impersonal. To get to know someone with any degree of depth, you must meet in person. After you have chatted online and spoken over the phone a few times, ask to meet this person face to face.
It can seem like you are getting close to the other person through texts (or sexts)—it’s quick ego gratification—but meeting in person more often than meeting in digital spaces will deepen and broaden the relationship. How much information is actually transmitted with a winking smiley face in a Facebook chat? And how much better is it to be winked at in person by your crush? Casual touch is crucial for transmitting empathy and desire and that exchange is lost in a texting relationship.
2. Don’t meet in the suburb where you live
Meeting outside of your suburb accomplishes a few things. First of all, it takes you out of your routine a little, which is good when meeting someone new. It makes the date more of an adventure if you have to travel a bit and enter into a new place. If the date goes badly, at least you can say you tried out a new café.
And if you choose to meet at your favourite pub in your suburb and the date goes terribly, now that pub is tainted with bad memories. And what if the bad date decides they want to start hanging out there? Confer with your date and pick a place that’s convenient for you both, but on neutral ground.
3. Keep your family in the loop
The next few rules employ basic common sense. Tell some friends or family where, when, and who you’re meeting with. You might even casually mention to your date that you do this—“I told my best friend we’re having dinner here, and she said she’s jealous.” How they respond lets you know a little about their character.
4. Don’t reveal your home address until you trust your date (they can wait)
This rule applies to any Internet exchange, be it Craig’s List, Grindr, or Match.com. Anyone can pretend to be anything sight unseen, so please take this reasonable precaution when dating online.
Beyond being basic protection from axe murderers, con artists, and stalkers posing as good dates, keeping your address private helps the relationship proceeds at a reasonable pace. When your date picks you up and drops you off at your home, there’s always an awkward moment when you must invite them in, or not. Keep some agency in the relationship and hold off on revealing your address.
5. Always meet new dates in public areas where there are lots of people around
On a related note, meet new dates in well-populated public areas. It’s a safety measure, and it’s insurance against a total date malfunction, for lack of a better term. If the date just tanks, but the other person doesn’t seem to get that fact, you can tactfully bow out in a public place more easily than you can somewhere private.
Although it can seem intimidating to set off on a course where you have to hide your address and alert your family to your weekend plans, that’s the state of our world. It’s wise to take precautions in any unfamiliar territory. The Internet is huge, vast, and anonymous but you can find joy and companionship in online dating.