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Love and Romance Psychology

Learn Safe Online Dating Practices

Dating Online, Online Safety Practices

Many of my clients have been waiting a long time for me to write about safe online dating practices. We are well past the age when responding to an ad for dating evokes feelings of

Anyone can fill out an online dating profile with a phone or a computer.  But do you know how to do this safely?
Anyone can fill out an online dating profile with a phone or a computer. But do you know how to do this safely?

taboo or desperation. Many young professionals, single-agains, and even sunset-year seniors have created online profiles on popular dating sites that harness the data to provide potential romantic matches.  Yet all reputable sites urge users to adopt some common sense behaviors to protect themselves while they are looking for love.

Check out these tips, and read our cautionary tale about online dating.

Ten Essential Safe Practices For Online Dating:

Here’s my top ten essential safe practices for online dating:

1. Use a pseudonym for your online dating profile. Do not use your real name on the profile, and get comfortable using your pseudonym for as long as you need to, including a first “date” over coffee or hanging out online. Why? Your real name is often attached to a ton of information about you, such as your home and address, place of work, your Social Media platforms (where you may have given out even more personal information about yourself), etc.

2. Do not give out your mobile phone number. Consider using a virtual phone number instead, and block your outbound mobile phone number. Why? Same as point #1. Your phone number can be traced to your real name, and your real name is the portal to other information about you unless you always remember to block your outbound mobile number. Wait until you know more about the person before you give him or her access to you.

3. Carefully read the profile of the person who is contacting you. Take a moment to see who s/he is contacting (if the service provides this action). Are there any reviews or raves? Any complaints? If the profile is extremely thin, consider this: the person didn’t take much, if any time at all, to construct a profile. What does that say about him or her? [Answer: not much! So you don’t have enough to go on to respond to any requests from that person].

3. Use a realistic picture of yourself, and avoid the “smartphone shot in the mirror” selfie. Providing a decent photo taken by someone else, or by using a camera, tripod, and timer or remote shutter declares to others an authenticity about you. Conversely, avoid profiles where you can tell the person put little if no effort in providing a realistic picture of him or herself. A picture says a thousand words. Your picture of your hot self tied up in bondage gear invites a certain type of person to contact you.

4. Unless you are deeply attracted to confusion and betrayal, avoid entangling yourself with people who are intentionally vague about their relationship status, what they want from online dating, or what current sexual orientation they are presenting. If you sense a person is being evasive, decide for yourself whether evasion is what you seek.

5. Feel free to steer clear of the deeper details of subjects best left for after the first few dates: politics, religion, sexual practices, income, and past romantic relationships. Be wary if the other person performs a “relationship dump” on you; that is, the person uses the first online conversation to tell you everything that went wrong with their previous relationships, and then declares that you are “perfect.” Run. The. Other. Way. Fast.

6. Don’t be afraid to turn down an invitation to meet up if you’re not comfortable, or you don’t have much interest in the person. It may feel flattering to have someone repeatedly beg to meet you, yet you should listen to your judgment and feel comfortable with a polite but firm, “No.”

7. For the ladies specifically: don’t lie about your age or your weight/health level. Be clear about what you are looking for while online dating.  Learn to hone your skills enough to learn how to initiate conversations online, as your own searching skills increase your odds of finding higher quality people, and avoiding the more sketchy people with poor dating skills.

For the men specifically: don’t lie about your education level,  your height, or what you are looking for while online dating, especially if you know you are only looking for a “hookup”. Some online profiles allow consumers to leave comments about how wonderful or how awful you are.

8.  When it comes time to meet someone you have been conversing with online under pseudonyms, pick an activity, place, and time where you feel safe, where you can exit quickly if you need to, and where you would feel comfortable meeting someone you may not see again. Keep the details of that meeting and conversation on the dating platform; don’t move it to email or text until you have met and feel comfortable doing so.

9. Consider bringing in reinforcements to your first meeting; that is, have a wingman or wingwoman available to help you suss a person. Sometimes they can see something you may be blind to. If your wingman can’t attend, prepare a phone call post meetup to share how the meeting went. This post meeting call can help you process what was shared and sort through your realistic observations and feelings.

10. After you have the real name of the person you’ve met, feel free to Google away! What you’re looking for: does the story match? If he said he worked for Company X, is he employed there? If she said she’s really into lacrosse, is that on the blog she told you about? Details matter! What you’re looking for is a sense of a consistent representation of themselves, and being open to catching signs of misrepresentation as well.

 

A Cautionary Tale

Recently I gained permission to share one woman’s story of online dating. Some details of her story have been changed to protect her identity, and I’ve combined her thoughts with the details of a few others to present an thought-provoking story as a work that is both semi-biographical and semi-fictional. Her interest in sharing her story is to help others avoid the pain she experienced through online dating, and I dedicate this post in her honor. Thank you for sharing it.

Belina (not her real name) used an online dating platform used by thousands of others, mostly through the use of her mobile phone. She met a man online who showed interest in her, and within a couple of weeks, they were regularly texting each other. Within the month,  they met F2F and began seeing each other regularly.

LIe detection is a difficult skill to learn. Skillful liars often select unsuspecting people and groom them to trust early in the relationship.
LIe detection is a difficult skill to learn. Skillful liars often select unsuspecting people and groom them to trust early in the relationship.

Belina recalls thinking it was strange how Hank (not his real name) had a Facebook page but didn’t give her much access to information about him. However, he told her that he was single and unattached. He was nice to her, and acted respectfully.

They spent time together during the first months of their courtship, mostly at her home. As the relationship progressed, Hank began talking about how he wanted to move out-of-state to another area of the country that would benefit him financially, and he asked if she would consider moving with him. She was thrilled.

Next came phone calls and emails about how they could buy a home together. Could Belina send her share of a down payment to secure the home? By the time this question was asked, Belina recalls feeling like she could trust him. But where was the banking information? Why had there been no papers for a mortgage to sign?

Hank packed his things and left for their new home first. Belina packed up her apartment, then moved temporarily to a friend’s home in the interim. In the meantime, she allowed Hank to use the new vehicle she had bought with her hard-earned money, knowing that she would enjoy it as much as he did.

That is, until he disappeared.

Initially, she thought maybe there was something wrong with his phone. But when the days dragged on and there was still no word from Hank, Belina began to suspect that Hank had not only taken her money, but her vehicle as well. Later, the police would tell her that there was little they could do for her, since this was considered a domestic dispute. She had given him the keys, but the vehicle remained under her name. Guess who would have to pay for it? She had willingly given Hank — and not a banking institution – the money for a house she had never seen. There would be no return, because there was no investment. It was lost.

Belina has had some time to consider what went so horribly wrong. It would be too easy to miss an important — and beautiful characteristic — of Belina: she trusted another human being. In this case, she trusted Hank very early in the relationship, which made it difficult to discern whether her actions were normative or foolish. Had she asked for an unbiased opinion from someone else, Belina might have been able to demand the answers to questions most of us would want to know before committing money and possessions to someone else’s care.

Using the list of safe online practices, you can see where Belina may have skipped past a few of them. In particular, Belina and Hank went off the platform early, moving into texting, emailing, and phone calling. In some cases, this can present a biased view of a person, where a manipulative person can groom someone to lower her guard and offer trust where trust hasn’t been earned. There was no wingman; Belina was romanced away from the eyes of others.

Additionally, Belina is able to look back to several instances when she felt suspicious of Hank, but was assured that she had nothing to worry about. It’s important to remember that one aspect of online dating that everyone should consider is the ability to trust your gut instinct, and if you don’t know how to do that, then you must learn how to read people’s words, tone, facial expressions, body language, and defensive maneuvers.  Belina has reasonable doubt about Hank’s true relationship status. That information could have been used to investigate Hank’s recent background (including whatever it was he was hiding on his FB page from her).

While I’m not advocating that every person read books on micro expressions and lie detection, developing some of the skills that both of these subjects employ are helpful in a plethora of situations. You don’t need to be a therapist to find them useful!

If you are a man reading this, I have some bad news: this kind of deception cuts both ways across genders. I have also witnessed women using online dating to manipulate men into giving them money by asking for a loan with a promise of paying the money back. The lesson to be learned here is not about never being a giving person, but recognizing the timing of when and how trust is built on enough truth in the relationship to support generosity and help. In the case of one man, he asked me if he was right to have rejected a woman’s request that he loan her over $10,000 after they had known each other less than two months. Upon further inspection, he discovered she had a significant history of racking up unsecured debt; when he rejected her request unless she could produce a contract for repayment, he was hurt but not surprised at how quickly she reverted to name calling and then tears to try to reverse his decision. What she got was a hasty retreat on his part, and the online relationship crashed and burned.

It’s a relief to know Belina’s story is not common. Many people use online dating platforms and find quality people to date, all without being tricked, lied to, or swindle of money and possessions. We hope you’ll take Belina’s story to heart so that you avoid the pitfalls she ran into. Belina is doing well these days, and a credit to her strength of character, she is turning this incident into motivation to move forward with her own life and dreams.

Learning the tips and tricks of successful online dating is another entirely separate blogpost, one of which I’ve dedicated some writing on a different blog.

    By Imei Hsu

    Imei Hsu is a mental health counselor, active retired RN, writer, triathlete and arts promoter in the Seattle area and through online services. With 29+ years in healthcare (20+ years in mental health), Imei has a commitment to helping people discover insight into their health, relationships, and connecting. She is the owner of Seattle Direct Counseling and the blog, a presenter and speaker on a variety of psychological topics, and a positive force on the Internet. She is launched her personal project, My Allergy Advocate, in 2018. Imei is two-time Ironman Finisher (Mont-Tremblant 2016, Ironman Canada 2018), and is currently training for her third Ironman in August 2020; she also finished her first ultramarathon in 2017 and has gone on to race the 100K distance while preparing for two separate 100 Mile trail races in 2020. You can find her running everywhere and eating all the thingz, watching movies, and cooking real food.

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