Are you excited about the prospect of dating or meeting someone online? Have you heard about people who married their online sweethearts – but heard horror stories too?
The most recent nightmare made the news when one loony Seattle man set up what he called the “The Craigslist Experiment”. Posing as a woman, he posted a raunchy ad with a blatantly sexual photo and then invited responses. Men responded all right – that was no surprise. The surprise was when Mr. Experimenter posted their pictures, real names, work e-mails, phone numbers, and physical addresses online, for all the world to see. Ironically, the guys who answered the ad were upfront with their personal information – just as they have been asked to be to preserve women’s safety. And they got clobbered for it.
So maybe online safety tips need to apply to everybody equally now – men and women alike – at least up to a point. Eventually, the men do still have to be more forthcoming, but by the time they reveal, they should know more about who they’re coming forth to meet. Online dating is supposed to be fun – it’s supposed to be hot or romantic fun, depending on what you’re looking for. It is not supposed to be about exploiting privacy, humiliation, or worse. So how do you enjoy the game, yet do it safely?
Here are rules for safer internet dating. Like sex itself, dating is never safe 100%, but it can be safer – especially if you use the right kind of protection.
- Stay clear of anonymous sites that don’t require registration to join. Better yet, stick with those that charge a fee. It’s a small safeguard – people can use friends’ credit card numbers or even stolen credit cards – but at least it’s a start.
- Never send provocative photos to a stranger. If at any time you decide to share photos with somebody, don’t send anything you wouldn’t want your mother, your boss, or your clients to see. Make sure that you know the person very well before you send anything intimate, and that you can trust their discretion.
- Use a service that has an anonymous remailer so that your email address is not visible. If you do choose to email directly, get a separate email account, one that you only use for online dating. Never provide your real name, address, work address, phone number, personal website URL, or any other identifying information. Be sure your email signatures are turned off so you don’t accidentally send them. Cut off communication with anybody who tries to pressure you for this information, unless you are absolutely comfortable divulging it.
- Take your time getting to know someone in email before you go to the next level. Be on the alert for inconsistencies and inaccuracies. Check photos, but beware of folks who wear sunglasses – they might do so because they think they’re being cool – but they also might have something to hide. Ask outright: are you married, or is there anyone who would not be very happy if they knew you were talking to me? It’s true that anybody can lie – but very often people do admit the truth when they’re asked directly.
- Talk on the phone when you’re ready to, but don’t share your phone number. Either get their phone number and make sure to disable your caller ID, or consider both of you getting a Skype number and talking online discreetly and anonymously. That way you can have a voice or even video chat without giving up any identifying information, and you can tell whether a meeting will be worthwhile.
- If something feels wrong – anything feels off – or you don’t trust someone for reasons you can’t even pin down, at least trust your gut. Your instincts are there to protect you, and usually, if you get the willies, there’s a reason.
- When you do finally meet, make it at a public and busy place. Coffee at a popular café is the best bet, wedged in between other appointments so you can ensure that the date-time is limited. Then, before you make the next date, use this opportunity to get the personal data that you need. If you’re a woman, look at the man’s driver’s license, his home, and his work phone. Ask if it’s OK to call at home and at work. A man who protests too much is waving a red flag in your face. No matter how charming he otherwise is, he either has ego issues that will come back to bite you later – or worse. Move on. If you’re a man, give the woman the benefit of the doubt on this score – respect that she is sharp enough to look out for herself and that she likes you enough to go this far. If you’re a woman with a woman or a man with a man, obviously you can’t use gender to determine who reveals what when. But you can also suggest one more public date, or, if you’re contemplating a sex date, ask for references. Seriously!
- Take your own car on the first few dates and always arrive and leave separately. If you do go to your place or their place, arrange a safe call with a trusted friend who has all the information about your date, about where you’ll be – who knows everything you know about that person. Call the friend at prearranged times. No matter how enamored you are of your date, or how compromised by wine and wooing – make that phone call. If you do not make it, arrange for your friend to call you, and if he or she is not satisfied that you are safe, immediately call 911. Some people think that safe calls are overkill – but especially in circumstances where you are anticipating first-time sex play or are out of your home city, they are essential. In fact, the cautions that apply to online dating could apply to any meeting of new partners. While liars and cheaters are known to ply their trade on the internet, they also pop up at nightclubs, at parties, and even at the coffee shop down the block. Sometimes even well-meaning friends can be fooled and hook you up with a loser. The most predatory man that I ever met was someone a trusted friend had fixed me up with! So you never know.
- Here’s special advice about dating on sexually-oriented or alternative sites. All the above safeguards apply, of course, but there are a few more things to watch out for. Beware of someone who gets started in email trying to top you or bottom to you, who calls you Mistress or slave or bitch before they even know you, or who types your name in capital letters and theirs in small, or vice versa. Also, beware of someone who confuses the dominant and dominates. You’ll see ads saying “I’m a true dominate.” Huh? This kind of posturing denotes inexperience, self-delusion, or both. But not knowing the difference between a noun and a verb is inexcusable.
void people who send what looks like form letters that make no reference to anything in your profile. Avoid those that are all about what they demand of a slave, submissive, or fuck buddy. Even on sex-oriented sites, expect to be treated with respect – as a person first and a playmate second.
Once you connect with someone, move slowly from email to phone. On the phone, make sure to ask all the questions you asked in email all over again to check for inaccuracies. Pay attention to the kinds of responses that flag lying – like indirect answers, inconsistencies, long pauses, sudden bursts of anger, or extreme reactions to ordinary questions.
Men should assume that any woman who implies he can have her in right this instant is a pro or a setup. Women who post pictures of their blushing privates – as the Craigslist experimenter did – are also flagging trouble. If you’re a woman, don’t do it. You don’t need to do that to get attention. If you’re a man, avoid those ads. Someone who is not thinking about her own security is not someone you want to get involved with.
If you do make a play date, have it somewhere at least semi-public, where there are others you can trust, at least in the next room. Safe calls on both sides are important, and a really good idea. Ok, so you’re excusing yourselves to make calls every half hour. It’s something you can laugh about it later. The point is that we’re better off listening to what our mammas always told us – better safe than sorry.