Before we start…you need to recognize that the only way to stay truly safe in a dating situation is to not date, period! There are always risks in dating, especially when you date strangers (blind dates, first dates and cyber-dates). In addition, teens should not be cyberdating. There are special rules for teens online. These tips are just for those over 18 years old.
Cyberdating is a little different from the other first dates, though. When you first meet a cyberdate in person, offline, you feel as though you know them – the normal first date precautions are often tossed to the wind. You know their favorite actors, authors and foods. You know everything they have told you, but they may not have been telling you the truth. You do not really know them. So treat them as strangers, use all the normal precautions you use with strangers, even cute ones. You should not give any more information to a first cyberdate than you would to a stranger you meet on a plane, or in a club, or in a bar.
Women tend to lie about their weight or age, while men tend to lie about their income, level of baldness and athletic condition. Teenagers pretend to be older than they are. The one rule you can count on is that everyone lies a little. So, keep an open mind.
That photo they sent you may be five years old, heavily doctored up with a graphics program, from when they used to be thin or when they had hair, or of someone else altogether. The best thing about the Internet is also the most dangerous – a person’s personality can show through, what you are inside gets a chance to shine without getting overpowered by what you are outside. But, the cues we use in life; body language, dress, personal hygiene, tone of voice…the way we judge the truth of statements…are lost in cyberspace.
Take your time, use your head and be careful!
However, that said, many people have found love online so, if you’re still interested in trying to find your soul mate, here are a few safety tips:
Do not believe everything you read online
You can be anything or anyone you want to be online. I keep trying to get people to believe that I am tall, blonde and gorgeous! (So far, no takers…). That cute brunette 24-year-old guy may not be cuter, may not be 24 and most importantly, may not be a guy. There is not truth in advertising protection when you date online.
Do not give out personal information online
Personal information that would let someone find you offline would never be shared online. Your full name, where you work, where you live, your phone number (see my note on giving out your phone number), your fax number…these should not be shared online.
Use an online dating service that uses an anonymizer or re-mailer to mask your real e-mail, or set up a Hotmail or other free account just for dating online. Cyber romance can quickly turn to cyberstalking – it is better to be able to terminate that particular account than to have to set up a new main account, and notify everyone you know.
Take your time – do not rush into things
Take your time to try to get to know the person online first. Everyone can put their best cyber-foot forward in the first couple of e-mails. Being consistent is tougher. Make sure you keep the old e-mails to compare the information they give you. In one e-mail, they might tell you they work for the postal service, in another that they are a student – make sure you check out these inconsistencies. They could be taking night classes, or they could just as easily be lying.
Do not be rushed, and do not rush the other person. Let the relationship develop online until you are comfortable with each other – take your time. Ask your friends – sometimes they are not blinded by the same rose-colored glasses you might be. What you considered cute might ring differently to them. This might seem like dating by committee, but it helps you keep perspective.
Especially when we have been hurt before, we think that we have now found the perfect checklist for a partner. When we see these points in the other person, we forget to explore the other points. Life is more than satisfying a “how tall are you, where do you live (geographically-desirable), if they want or don’t want children, or have or don’t have children, how much they earn, what religion they are and whether they like romantic movies and Touched by an Angel…” checklist. Values, experience and all the baggage we carry needs to be explored – this takes time. Give it the time it deserves.
Honesty is the best policy
When you go to one of those dating site, they ask you your height, weight, religion, income…lots of personal stuff. In addition, maybe you are not as thin, tall or make as much money as you want to. Maybe you have not been to church or a temple or mosque in thirty years. Maybe you are afraid that if you tell them your mother is living with you (or even more embarrassing, that you are still living with your mother…) no one will want you.
However, if you start out lying, you will be caught, eventually. If you want to shave a few pounds off, or use an older picture…okay. Nevertheless, confess once you think the person might be more than a one-time romance. Do not bait and switch, it’s the surest way to end a promising relationship.
This is not the time to explore your fantasies of being a different person than you are…save that for later.
Start with a phone call
You should move from fantasies and chatting online to a phone call before you meet offline in person. The safest way to do this is by using a public phone. Set up a time for the call, and give the other person the telephone number of the public phone. Once you are comfortable enough, you can share real phone numbers, but make sure you have caller ID service. If things go sour, you can always block their calls. It also lets you know what their number really is. If they block your caller ID, do not accept their calls.
When you do meet, do it with a friend and in a very public place
The first time you meet in person, bring a friend. Meet in a mall, or fast food restaurant. Plan for a short first time get together – coffee or a soda. Tell them in advance that it will just be for a few minutes, so they will understand. Treat this as a blind date, only with more care. In a blind date someone you know knows this person, in a cyberdating situation, no one really knows this person. If they insist on meeting you alone, do not go.
Then compare what this person told you about himself or herself online – does it match reality? If not, find someone else. Remember the honesty thing (I am not talking about a few extra pounds, a little less hair, or a few years here or there…) Use your head – you might be lonely, but you are still safe.
Tell a friend
Make sure someone knows whom you are meeting, where you are going and when you are coming back. (Someone other than the person you take with you.) Store all of the e-mail conversations, and let your friend know where to find them. If anything goes wrong, they will be the source of information on how to locate the person you have been chatting with.
Never leave or go home with them
You can extend the meeting to dinner or anything else in a public place. However…PUBLIC is the operative word here. Remember when your mother told you never to get into a car with a stranger? Do not go home with them, to a private place of any kind…not for a while. Take this slow, even if you are not used to taking dating slow…this is special.
Report any attacks or threats to law enforcement
If things go wrong, whether you followed the rules or not, do not be embarrassed to go to the police. Give them all the facts. If you do not report this person, they in all likelihood will do it again. You are allowed to say “no” and have it respected. If anything goes wrong, it is not your fault.
Learn more about protecting yourself and your privacy online and offline
We have a lot of information at our Web site, and many classes you can attend online to teach you how to enjoy cyberspace safely. If you have a special question you need answered, feel free to write to Parry directly(E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Do not be embarrassed to insist on the following rules
Your safety is the most important thing. Anyone who cares about you will respect you for being careful. Safe cyberdating, like safe sex is just smart! Although we hope that the person you meet online is your true soul mate, we want to make sure you are safe. It’s like defensive driving – even if you are the best driver in the whole wide world, there are all those other drivers out there to worry about. This is defensive cyberdating. MOREOVER, IT IS JUST PLAIN SMART!
Make sure you’re using a reputable online dating service or chat
Most will give you a free trial period. Make sure that you can use all of their service during that free trial. Make sure they use anonymizers or re-mailers, to mask your real e-mail address. Some people at the end of the free trial give out their e-mail address to allow the other person to find them when the free trial is over – make sure it’s an e-mail account you have set up just for this purpose. Do not give out your Web site address if it contains personal information, or personal e-mail address.
If someone makes you uncomfortable, report it to your dating service right away. Make a copy of the message, and keep copies of anything you found offensive so they can check it out. Many also have an e-overlocking feature to keep you from being harassed from someone. Try not to make your essays provocative. Cyberflirtation escalates quickly and it is almost impossible to step back to a less amorous level.
If you have a problem with your service, contact them. If they will not help you, contact WiredSafety.org. We do not endorse any services, but have found that match.com and matchmaker.com seem reputable and have a safe cyberdating area.
If you are being cyber stalked or harassed – get help!
WiredSafety hosts one of the leading cyberstalking help groups online. If you need our help, visit their Cyberstalking Self-help area or just send an e-mail to WiredSafety.org Cyberstalking and Harassment Division via contact form. Do not respond when the cyberstalker contacts you. Just ignore them – most of the time they go away. Never share a photo with anyone online you would not want broadcast to 120 million people all over the world. Often cyber romances end in one party cyberstalking the other. Do not give them any ammunition. When the old-fashioned “for a good time, call Sally” is posted on one bathroom wall, the results can be horrible, when it is posted on the Internet’s cyberwall of sexual UseNet groups and chats, it can be very dangerous!
Therefore, have fun, but be smart…and do it safely!