Over the past decade, online dating has become more popular. While it used to be thought of as unusual and risky, it has become a normal part of the dating scene. Now that it's more common, you may be tempted to think that it's safer. In reality nothing has really changed in first meetings with a stranger.
If you choose to take part in online dating, you need to be realistic about the bottom line. While many people have successful relationships that began over the Internet, the fact of the matter is that you are meeting a stranger, and that this person could easily have lied about themselves. Take care of yourself and always be cautious.
Until you are more sure about who you are talking to, never reveal any identifying information in your online dating profile, personal ads, or in initial emails to your matches. Just like any other form of first contact you should be careful about what information you hand out about yourself and your habits. Specifically at this early stage you should NOT give out your last name, place of employment, phone number or address, the names of your family and friends, and the schools you attended. It is also probably advisable not to discuss any of your routines eg. Time and Bus/train route home etc. If you are questioning whether or not to reveal certain information, just don't. At this stage all people really need to know is the basic facts such as marital status, age and enough detail about your likings and leanings to know whether the relationship has a chance of working. They should be getting to know the PERSON not the IDENTITY. A good rule of thumb is: when in doubt, leave it out!
Most online dating services offer private email, chat services, and instant messaging through their sites. Take advantage of these options so that there is no reason to reveal your true email address, which could be linked with personal information about you.
If you want to use a regular email address, a good option is to set up an anonymous account through a company that provides free email such as Hotmail or Yahoo!. Make sure to use unrecognisable information in your registration so that your anonymous account doesn't prove otherwise!
If you expect honesty in return, then be honest in your own profile and contacts. Although this does not directly contribute to overall safety it does help to build up trust. In turn you are well advised to look for dating sites that carry out independent research into the veracity of the profile and put a stamp of veracity on the other users profile if they have passed the identity checks. NETCRED offers this service to all individuals and websites wishing to offer/receive a higher level of trust and safety.
So you've found someone you really like online. You've chatted, exchanged emails, and things feel right. It's getting close to the time or the first in-person meeting.
Going out on a first date can be very stressful, at any age. Without being alarmist, this is the most risk-prone part of online dating. There are however, some simple measures you can take to decrease the chances that something will go wrong.
If your contacts up to this point have been 'impersonal' (emails, instant messaging, chatrooms etc.) try to have a few telephone conversations so that you can feel a little more confident in setting up the meeting. At this stage you still don't really know anything about the other person, their friends or relatives, their job, etc. so you might want to play it safe.
Consider double-dating the first few times you go out with a new person. Depending on your joint interests a sporting or recreational get-together with other friends can be a very relaxing first meeting (and above all safer too!)
Always arrange your first one-on-one meeting in a public place. Coffee shops or restaurants are ideal as there are many people around, and the atmosphere is conducive to conversation. Depending on your tastes you could also choose to meet in a bookstore or a cinema. Just be sure you won't be alone. Bars or wine bars are an option but have their own dangers (alcohol!) Just be careful.
Never, never, plan to meet at their residence or at a hotel room, or any concealed location, whatsoever in the early stages unless you know that there will be other people there. Even then this may not be an ideal location for a first meeting.
Before leaving on a date, know the exact plans for the evening and make sure a parent or friend knows these plans and what time to expect you home. Let your date know that you are expected to call or tell that person when you get in.
Tell a friend (or two) where you're going and when you expect to return home. Arrange a time when you'll call your friend or for them to call you so that they'll know you returned home safely. Some people may wish to set up a few simple code words to say privately how you feel and whether you need help.
You could disguise these as arrangements for a gym visit etc but the meaning of the answer to "which classes are you doing next week? " could be "spin " meaning 'going fine': "circuit training " meaning "invent an excuse for me to leave ": "boxercise " meaning 'come and get me out of this!! " etcetera.
Bring a mobile phone with emergency numbers such as Police or (pre-warned) friends numbers set as speed or voice dials. It may seem paranoid, but if something awful happens, you will be glad that you are a quick-dial away from help.
Transport yourself. Never agree to have your match pick you up. Arrange the date so that you can get to it safely yourself and also so that you can get back home again. Don't get yourself into the situation of missing the last train/tube. You need to have an escape route should something go wrong.
If you do end up having a few drinks, then be aware of your decreased ability to react under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Stick to your pre-arranged plans for the evening. Do not allow your safety to be compromised just because you are feeling mellow.
Don't go home with the person. You may hit it off and want some privacy, but this is simply not a good idea on the first date. If it's really meant to be, you two will have many more opportunities.
Never, never get into their car. You are then losing all control over the situation.
Always follow your intuition. At heart, you know if you have a bad feeling about something. Listen to this feeling, and don't worry about offending your match. If they're really a good person, they will understand. At this stage you should be able to back away without causing ill-feeling and the possibility of this causing further problems. Use the 'code word' ruse above to get a friend to call back in half an hour with some reason why you have to go home if there is no other way to back out.
Trust your instincts. If a situation makes you uncomfortable, try to be calm and think of a way to remove yourself from the situation.
If you feel you need to end contact then-and-there, Always be polite and tell them that you don't think you are ready to start dating again because the bad experience you suffered is still with you and you don't want to mess up their life as well. Make them think you're doing them a kindness.
In general just use your common sense and if you think there is a problem then let them go. Assert yourself when necessary. Be firm and straightforward in your relationships.