Friday, September 19, 2008

Internet dating: 12 tips to keep you safe

A girlfriend of mine…I’ll call her Brenda…dropped by the other day. She knows that I met Hubby over the internet, and that I was Fat and Fiftyish when we met. She’s considerably younger than I was when I was last single, but she’s a robust young woman, and the mother of a six year old boy. She’s divorced and has now been single long enough to have recovered from the worst of the shock of finding love letters from her husband to another woman saying they could be together just as soon as his permanent residency came through and he could ditch his wife.

So we sat around the dining room table, Brenda and a friend of hers, Anita, chatting about blind dates, internet romances (Anita wanted the story of how Hubby and I met), and drinking our tea. As the conversation progressed I began to realize that neither of these smart, savvy women had any idea how to protect themselves while conducting an internet search for Mr. Right. Having successfully navigated those perilous waters myself, I offered them some advice, amazed at their surprise over these common sense tips. Here’s what I told them:

1. Don’t use your real email address.
Conduct all of your searches and email/IM and other internet correspondence from an email address you have taken expressly for this purpose. You can use a yahoo!, hotmail, or gmail address. If the guy turns out to be a stalker…or worse…you can abandon the email address he knows and resume your search with a new disposable email address. Oh…and when you sign up for the email address, do not give out real information about yourself! Fake name, fake address, etc. You do not want to give a web-savvy stalker/hacker anything to track you with.

2. Don’t give out your real phone number. You can get a “throwaway” phone, a prepaid, if you feel you must give a guy your phone number, but never give out your real number(s) to anyone. That web-savvy stalker can track you down from your real telephone numbers, so don’t leave yourself out there. You can change the SIM card in one of these phones, getting a new phone number that the unwelcome cannot get.

3. Don’t use your real name in advertisements or in contacts with new men.
Use an alias, one that is relatively outrageous, so it is obvious that it is an alias. Try to choose something that can be shortened down to a cute nickname he can call you until you are certain he is safe to reveal your true identity to (which should not be in the first few weeks of knowing the guy). Something like “FluffyBunny” or “Lambiekins” or SugarBerry have opportunities for nicknames that he can call you by. Pick something that reflects you…not who you think you want to be…who you are. If you are 5 feet tall and weight 300 lbs, don’t call yourself WillowyWanda…that sets up a false expectation and will inevitably result in disappointment for you both.

4. Use a picture that does not show your face and body clearly. You don’t want the scary stalker dude whom you refused to meet recognize you at McDonald’s, do you? And sexy pictures are a bad deal all the way around…unless, of course, you are trolling for one-night stands with strangers. If you post a picture showing lots of cleavage (or more), don’t be surprised if the guy expects more than coffee and a chat on the first date…if you are advertising your body, he’s going to expect to get some of it.

5. Do not send pictures of yourself to a man you have not yet met. Two reasons: scary stalker dude (above) and…are you sure you want to be rejected or selected as being worthy of dating based on your looks alone? Do you want to be involved with a man who won’t consider your whole persona before judging your value as a potential date? It’s your choice, of course, but aside from the safety factor, this is a good way to weed out the shallower members of the opposite sex…the ones who don’t care if your brain works or if you would make a great mother to his future kids…the ones who only care if your face it pretty, your boobs are big, and your girlie bits are available to him.

6. Don’t be too eager to meet. Remember, the man on the other computer may be completely unlike the “person” with whom you are corresponding. If you can pretend to be a tall, willowy blonde just breaking into a modelling career, he can be pretend to be an investment banker with a Ferrari and a six-pack. Give yourself the luxury of time…engage the man in email and IM conversations and keep a level head…he may be everything he seems…and then again, he may not even be close.

This is also a good test of his true personality and intent. A man who is respectful of you and your feelings won’t pressure you to meet before you are ready. He won’t pressure you to send a picture, engage in “off colour” conversations, or try to manipulate you into doing something you don’t want to do or something that could present a possible danger to you. If he decides that, on the basis of a few conversations, he loves you…that’s a red flag. If he says “no picture, no more contact,” that tells you that a) he’s shallow and b) he selfish and manipulative. You can tell a lot about a person by how he reacts when he doesn’t get what he wants. Give yourself the luxury of enough time to discover if the man is a louse before you take the time...and expose yourself to possible meet him.

Do not allow flattery or promises or declarations of love sway you away from safeguarding your safety.

7. Do not give out personal information about yourself. You can tell him what you do for a living, but don’t tell him where you work, worship, shop or hang out. If there is only one Tae Kwon Do studio in your town, then don’t tell him you take Tae Kwon Do lessons…if there are 30 of them, it is safer (but not entirely safe) to reveal that. Don’t tell him what part of town you live in (he may decide to hang around the local supermarkets looking for you).

8. Meet in a public place. When you finally do decide to meet him face-to-face, make sure it is in a public place. And I don’t mean a bar or nightclub or cosy, intimate restaurant. Make it a brightly lit place with lots of traffic. Nothing says safety more than bright lights and lots of witnesses! Make arrangements with a friend to call you within an hour of when you have arranged to meet. That way if the meeting is going badly, you can pretend some emergency has come up, make your excuses and apologies, and get gone.

9. Get there first. Arrive early…half an hour early. Order your own coffee or soft drink. You do not want him to see you arrive because you don’t want him to see your car. He should not know what you drive, not even what kind of car you drive. Don’t give him a chance to copy down your license plate number (or even memorize it). And don’t let him see your driver’s license, a credit card or any of your ID, either. Lock your bag and wallet in the trunk of your car…just take your keys and a small amount of cash with you into the meeting place. Your best guess is that this guy is OK, but you can’t really know yet, so don't leave yourself vulnerable.

10. Dress modestly when meeting for the first time. Of course, if you are looking to drag the man to bed before the night is over, ignore this bit of advice. But unless you are planning on some carnal entertainment with the guy, don’t dress as if you were. First impressions are powerful, and if you dress like Jenna Jamison, he is going expect you to come across with the goods. Not fair, maybe, but that’s how men interpret what we are wearing. On a date…especially a first date…he knows you are dressing for him, and if you show up dressed to show acres of skin and in the sexiest way possible, you are giving clear “come ravish me” signals. He’s going to think you are a tease if you don’t come across…and you are going to think he’s an animal with “only one thing on his mind” when he responds to the invitation your outfit sent him. There are plenty of ways to dress in the height of fashion while keeping your midriff, cleavage, and thighs covered…for a first date with a man you are meeting for the first time, find one of them.

11. Avoid alcohol. Not even one little, teensy-weensy glass of wine. You are here to assess this man as a potential partner and you need to be clear headed to do this. Be ruthless, don’t think “Oh, I can fix this…”, be more willing to reject him than to accept him. Why? Because you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your handsome prince, and the odds are, this guy is a frog. Don’t waste time on unsuitable men…one date and if he isn’t right…really right…move on. And how are you going to know if he’s right or not if you have alcohol clouding your judgment?

A related side tip: Don’t leave your drink unattended. Don’t even leave it close enough for him to drop something in it when you are distracted. There really are date rape drugs and there really are men who will use them. Don’t allow yourself to be victimized.

12. Don’t let him walk you to your car. In fact, wait until he drives away before you leave. If necessary, tell him a little story to get him to go without you…your brother/boss/best friend is going to meet you here shortly and you’re going to go take care of some family/office/girlfriend business. If he insists on waiting with you this is a red flag (possessiveness and lack of respect for your wishes). Excuse yourself to the ladies’ room, call your best friend on your cell phone, and get her to come rescue you. As soon as she walks in, walk out with her to HER car and drive around until you feel it is safe to come back for your own car. This is the kind of guy you got the disposable cell phone and email address for!

All this may make internet dating seem exceedingly perilous, but it is not. No more than meeting a strange guy in a dark bar while both of you have lowered inhibitions due to a few too many shooters. At least on the internet you get an opportunity to take the man’s measure, something you cannot possibly do in a loud club while your head is reeling from one Cosmo too many.

In dating, safety should always be a consideration. Use these tips to protect yourself so that you can actually relax and enjoy that exciting first date with a new man!

1 comment:

  1. Well done SV! Some really great tips for anyone using the internet, not just for dating. I'm amazed at how many people use their own email address instead of anonymous one's like Yahoo and Hotmail.

    And, something to add to the dating aspect - consider having a friend with you, either at the same table or in the same place, where there is eye contact for that sometimes necessary signal for "take me out of here now".

    Good luck!


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