Online dating can be amazing—meeting people from different corners of the world, creating connections you would have never been able to without technology, navigating the ups and downs of long-distance relationships—all of this would not be possible without the ability to meet and date through a screen. But what about safe online dating?
What measures do we have to take to protect ourselves—especially when we’ve shifted into a far more digital world with the pandemic?
Here are a few tips, for both yourself and your loved ones:
Be sure you know who you’re talking to
“Catfishing” has become a common term to many of us. This is when someone is pretending to be someone they’re not online—and it is not only unsettling, it can be dangerous, too!
When you’re getting to know someone, it’s important to know who you’re really talking to. This goes beyond sharing pictures, but finding opportunities to video chat or see someone’s face on the live screen. If you’re talking to someone and they aren’t willing to show their face or speak to you live—that may be a warning sign that they’re not who they say they are.
When it comes to safe online dating, you have to know the truth about someone’s name, age, location, and physical characteristics. If you aren’t aware of these things, or if your partner is being secretive, it may be because they’re not being truthful about their identity.
Don’t reveal personal details online
Remember that the online world is far bigger than you can imagine. If you’re thinking about sending something—from a revealing text or image, to personal/financial/physical information, to a story or secret—remember that there’s a potential someone else might see what you’re sending.
Even if you think you trust your person (or if your person has proven to be truthful) there’s an element of permanence to the internet that doesn’t exist for in-person contact. Something you say in a date can’t necessarily be used against you. But if you share something via text—that stays. Be careful about what you’re revealing, especially when it comes to things like your address, your physical body, or any personal details, passwords, etc.
If you’re questioning whether you should share something, you can also ask yourself these questions: What is the purpose of sharing this? Why do I feel that I should? Is this a legitimate reason? Am I being pressured to share something? What would happen if someone else saw what I shared?
Holding yourself accountable to answering those questions honestly may help you learn about yourself, your relationship, and what you feel the best course of action is.
Be smart about risky online spaces
We’ve all heard the horror stories of chat rooms or sketchy sites—and it’s true—those places do exist on the internet! A few tips for safe online dating: avoid spaces or sites that don’t feel right or aren’t credible, stay away from chat rooms that are unregulated or unprotected, and don’t reveal yourself (pictures or camera) if you don’t want to or feel pressured to.
Remember: Online dating should be fun and comfortable. You should never feel scared, compromised, disrespected, or pressured.
Create a plan for safe in-person dating
At some point, you’ll want to shift your virtual relationship to an in-person relationship, but before you do, you’ll want to create a plan for what that will look like in order to keep yourself safe.
Here are a few basic tips:
Keep loved ones in the know: Remember that before you agree to meet someone in person, you should always let a loved one know your plans. It may even be a good idea to share your location with a trusted friend or family member before you leave.
Be prepared with the essentials: Always charge your phone before you leave and make sure you have backup cash/card with you. This may seem dramatic, especially if you’re meeting someone you’ve been talking to for a while, but it’s an important safety measure that protects you in the case of an unexpected emergency.
Meet in a public place first: Although you may be tempted to have a personal or intimate location be your first meeting spot, it’s vital to be somewhere in public when you’re meeting for the first time—this will create a mutual safe space and provide both of you the opportunity to leave without pressure or fear. This will also guarantee other people are around in case of an emergency situation.
Set personal boundaries (and stick with them)
With online dating, “rules” are sometimes muddled. What’s normal when you’re getting to know someone through a screen? What “feels right” when you don’t have the normalcy of in-person contact or dates? The answer to those questions is going to be different for every person and every couple, but what’s important is setting your own boundaries.
Setting boundaries doesn’t make you overprotective, irrational, dramatic, or silly—it makes you smart (and human). Don’t be afraid to create your own “guidelines” for what you believe, think, and feel.
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