In today's world, online dating is more common than meeting someone in person in a casual setting, in a group or at a bar. It's the new hangout, but online dating rules can be a little different.
I entered the online dating world as an "innocent," completely naive to the rules, world, and nuances of meeting someone online. Now, my friends ask me to help them with online dating. I'm not ready to offer this service to my coaching clients yet, but I did decide to write about what I've learned to help people approach it safely.
The most important thing to tackle if you're a complete newbie is how to BE SAFE as you begin your quest for love. So, before you click "Flirt," "Like," "Favorite," or IM your next prospective match, here are some suggestions:
1. Don't use your real name (or anything that gives away your identity).
You may be thinking, "duh," but sometimes profile names are hard to think of and you may feel like it's easier to just use your name. But think about it this way. What if someone interested in you is a little bit on the creepy side, or there's someone you've had to block from contacting you. Do you really want them to have your name, the kind of work you do, and the area you live in (usually mandatory in your profile) to make it easier for them to find you?
2. Set a limit on how long you'll stick to online communication.
If you're both interested, try to meet in person a soon as possible. If you're both local, try not to let more than a few weeks go by before meeting. And, if you're out of state or out of country, try not to let more than a couple of months pass. The reason? Meeting in 3D brings a whole different aspect to a budding relationship and let's you know if you want to continue to invest in it.
3. Don't share too much too soon.
Don't share private information right away (your address, where you work, kind of car you drive, how much money you make, where you live, etc.). I know, I know — he or she may seem wonderful, you may have gone from online flirting to talking on the phone, but be cautious until you really get to know the person and find out what their true intentions are. As wonderful as online dating is, there are also scammers who have perfected their style to maneuver people into divulging personal information.
4. Share your phone number only when you're ready.
If you want to talk to someone, many sites have masked phoning built into their system, which allows you to call through the dating site with an anonymous number, but still talk to prospective dates. If you're on a site that doesn't, you can always make a Google Voice phone number for free that rings directly to whatever phone you want it to. This way, you can keep your phone number (and personal information people can find with it) anonymous until YOU'RE ready to share more.
5. Remember, the other person isn't real until you meet him or her.
As amazing as the profile, pic, and conversation may be, remember that this person isn't truly real until you meet them. Try to keep that in mind as the excitement begins to build and as you begin wondering if this person is "the one." Be genuine, be open, and be real — but also guard your heart and remember that you need to meet someone in person in order to find out if this thing is going to work for both of you.
6. Let someone know where you're going.
You don't have to broadcast to the world that you're going on a date with someone you met online, but you should have at least one good friend who knows what's going on, where you're going, and with whom you're meeting. That way, if something unexpected does happen, they know how to reach you, where to look and what's going on. You never know who you're really meeting, and most of the time it's going to be just fine — but it's always good to be safe.
7. Make initial dates short.
Coffee or happy hour work great. That way you both can determine if you like each other, and if so can choose to continue and make the date longer if you like. If not, the expectation has been set that it's a short time, and you can graciously walk away without being tied to a show, dinner, or a movie.
8. Don't ignore red flags.
Give yourself permission to "see" with your eyes, mind, heart, AND intuition. Pay attention to how he/she makes you feel, what they say, how they treat waiters/waitresses, how they speak about their friends, etc. If you notice even YELLOW flags, pay attention and don't make excuses for them. Yes, I KNOW their piercing blue eyes are phenomenal — but it's character that counts!
9. Set your standards (and limits) ahead of time.
Decide how you want to be treated, what you're willing and want to do on your first and future dates. That way you won't find yourself in a dilemma where you're trying to figure out your boundaries on the spot. You'll already have them set.
10. Be REAL.
Don't say you like hiking if you've never gone or haven't hiked in 20 years. If you LOVE working on cars and are a woman, say it! If you're a man and love gardening, say it! Here's the deal, you don't want someone to meet you thinking that you are someone you're really not — and of course, you wouldn't want someone to do that to you. If you're looking for something REAL, then BE REAL. You can't expect to find a lasting, loving relationship with trust and honesty unless you're honest about who you are.
The bottom line? You want someone who loves you for YOU, and you want the same; otherwise you fall in love with what I call someone's "shadow self."
Meeting someone online can be fun. I personally know several people who have met and married from meeting online. So have fun, be real, flirt a little, but be safe. It just might end in love!