How to Find Love Online Safely

Online dating no longer carries the creepy connotations it once did, and those who engage in it are not necessarily desperate losers either. In fact, many savvy individuals who don’t happen to meet eligible people at work or at their after-work activities are opting to connect electronically with possible partners.

While dangers do exist in any online enterprise, there are simple ways to stay safe while exploring the world of electronic dating. I signed up with a number of sites, looking for someone to join me for coffee. I was quite happy on my own as a divorcee, but I missed male company and was hoping to find someone for conversation and perhaps the occasional evening out.

On my budget, sites that charge were not a consideration. In fact, it just made me mad when I logged onto websites that advertised themselves as free until I actually tried to contact a potential match. Then the dollar signs would show up.

Sure, the site on which I met my husband had its share of lurkers and losers. There was the guy from South Africa whose hobbies were “soccer and making love”. Another winner was the “yoga instructor” who offered to show me some poses over drinks. When I asked him if he did hatha or kripalu, he never wrote back.Then there was the fellow who simply wrote, “Coffee would be nice,” as a response to my mention of a coffee date in my profile.

It didn’t help that in his picture he looked like someone who’d been picked up for vagrancy or assault. Just as a precaution, guys, put a proper photograph up if you do feel the need to use one. Users who take photos from their webcams usually look yellow or green because of the light coming off of their computers, and because they’re focused on the screen, they appear to be staring off into space like zombies. Not attractive – and actually quite creepy.

When I first signed up with www.plentyoffish.com – the site where I met my hubby, I was careful not to use my real name, indicate where I lived, or post a photograph. I figured that the right connection for me would be someone looking for a person – not a pin-up – so what I looked like should be irrelevant. I declined to use the chat mechanism, as chatting always seems to lead to flirtatious talk. I preferred to keep the conversation in email format, and the site is designed to ensure that users do not get your personal email address.

By sticking to email, I turned off a number of users who weren’t serious about meeting me, and lurkers were quick to show themselves for who they were, because they would say as little as possible in an email, and there would be virtually no info on them in their profile. In some cases, it took a bit more time to identify some of the problem children masquerading as grown users. In one case, the gentleman in question (and indeed, it was questionable whether he was a gentleman), quickly assumed an authoritarian tone in his emails. When I responded by indicating as gently as possible that he seemed to be looking for a woman who wanted to be dependent and that I didn’t feel I was his type, I received a scathing and abusive reply.

It’s become my motto that if you want to know what someone is really like, just say “No” to them about something. If users want to connect by phone or in person and you’re not ready, you’ll learn a lot about them by how they handle a “let’s take it slow” response. It’s worthwhile to take your time on the Internet and really weed out the bad apples. It’s worth your safety and peace of mind to proceed with caution and not rush into an encounter. There are some great people out there, but they are worth the wait – and so are you.

When you do find yourself connecting with someone, allow the situation to unfold at its own pace. Don’t be surprised if you get the willies the first time you get on the phone with a potential date, and again upon meeting them. There’s something safe and surreal about meeting online. That’s shattered when you go to make contact in the “real” world and have to acknowledge for the first time that this is a real person who can get hurt and maybe hurt you, too. Take all the time you need to build up to that moment.

In my case, if emails flowed smoothly for a while and we felt ready to proceed to phone calls, I would initiate the call, and use Bell’s blocking system to hide my phone number. I also wouldn’t give my real name until I felt ready. If we did proceed to a meeting, the gentleman would have to be willing to meet me in a public place, still not knowing what I looked like (I would tell him what I’d be wearing, so he could identify me). My dates understood these precautions and no one that I ever met in person or spoke with on the phone ever pressured me for more information or a picture in advance of meeting me. If they had, that would have been a deal breaker.

Ironically, my husband turned out to be a computerphobe. A friend had suggested he borrow his computer and learn how to use one. He told my man how to find people online, and soon after we met, he gave my daughter the computer, having never become comfortable with technology. We met online in April of 2004, met in person in May of that year, and were married that September. So much for my notion of just meeting someone for coffee.

I think the Internet is a great way to meet someone. If you have to base your knowledge of a person on what they say rather than how they look, you’re less likely to tell yourself that that handsome guy you met at the party has everything you’re looking for, just because you’re attracted to him. When we go by physical attraction first, we often tell ourselves that person is the whole package, and we’re often wrong. The Internet reverses the situation, so that you have a chance to get to know the person first before sexual compatibility is brought into the mix.

If you can carry on a conversation by email effortlessly, and if you can get on the phone and talk endlessly (my man and I spent three hours on the phone the first time we spoke), then you may have enough of a connection to keep a relationship going. Trust me, the rest will follow. After numerous emails and several chats on the phone, I was already falling for my husband-to-be. The first time I actually set eyes on him, I threw my arms around him. He was everything I’d been looking for, and we’d already broken the ice online.

So, don’t be shy about taking the plunge. My husband drives truck for a living, and we would never have met if it weren’t for the Internet and a bit of bravery on both our parts. Good luck and have fun!

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