For those living in the States, by now you’ve probably heard about the horrible horrible person in NYC who was arrested and charged with intent to kidnap, cook, and eat more than 100 women. I’ve purposely chosen to not read anything about this case because it’s so disturbing but it’s hard to avoid headlines so I know at least that much.
Apparently, this person had an OKCupid profile and used it to find his intended victims. By most accounts, his profile wasn’t anything alarming. Mostly mundane things about his favorite books and a generic description of the kind of woman he was looking for. And yet…… the horror.
This got me thinking: Remember the early days of online dating? Pre- Craigslist. Think Friendster, LavaLife, LustLab, Match (the early years) and even good old fashion AIM. Remember how most people saw online dating as inherently dangerous? I remember watching glossy tv shows, clearly aimed at women, as they implored early adopters to follow some basic rules when meeting people online: Let your friends know where you are and check in when you’re home, don’t share your phone number/address and, likewise, don’t let your date pick you up at home, never ever leave your drink unattended, bring cash always in case you need to make a quick escape, don’t give your last name, etc. My (fond) memories of that time were that, for the most part, it was common practice for people to follow most of these guidelines and treat the whole online dating thing with a degree of caution.
Not so much anymore. When was the last time you gave someone your number in an email in advance of a first date in case your date needed to cancel last minute? Did you share your regular email which may include your last name? Etc. These seemingly harmless things can, of course, put you in the grey area of safety.
Now, it should be said that I am a BIG FAN of online dating. I met Mr. Fluvial online and I came of age in a time where online dating was becoming more and more common. But, I took risks that in hindsight were dangerous. Like the time I had to make a speedy exit after my date told me that ‘No doesn’t always mean no’ when it came to sex. (Glad I had cash on hand because that cab ride was really expensive!) And other stories that I’m saving for my future tell-all. :)
So, how can you make yourself 100% safe and still date online? In short: you can’t. But honestly, you’re not any safer meeting people in bars. Or Trader Joes. Or at a party. Connecting with people in an intimate way always involves a level of risk. But here are some of the guidelines I developed for myself over the years that, I feel, help stack the odds in your favor.
1. When writing your profile, don’t include your address, phone number, employer, etc. Most of you will say ‘Duh’ but I’ve seen profiles where plenty of that kind of information was displayed.
2. When reviewing potential matches, read their profiles carefully. Do they sound like a coherent human being? Proper spelling/grammar? Any hints of aggression or misogyny? Do they complain a lot? These are potential clues that you may be dealing with someone unlikely to be a good friend, let alone a good match. I’ve gotten a lot of flack for the spelling/grammar issue but I stand firm on this point. Your online profile is just like a cover letter. People should care enough to put their best foot forward.
3. Pictures: Do potential matches only have 1 picture? Is that one picture a bathroom cellphone shot? In my mind, this screams “I DO NOT HAVE ANY FRIENDS!” which may not make you a murderer but, again, using the lens of cover letter…put some effort into your profile.
4. When on a date, meet for coffee first. If you decide to meet at a bar, don’t get hammered. Really. You’ll be a sloppy drunk and more vulnerable. If you need to use the restroom, assume that your drink has been roofied and ask for water and claim you’re thirsty. Again, it’s unlikely that anyone would roofie your drink but take it from the girl that got drugged at a frat party while drinking water….you never ever know.
Looks like a Gin & Tonic. Is actually Gin & Tonic & GHB.
(a note about that frat party: I was the victim of a frat hazing ritual. The pledges were told to drug X number of girls as part of the initiation checklist. I was NOT a party girl and was drinking water. Thankfully, I was there with friends and they saw me in an altered state and took me home. I never found out who the guy was and only heard about the initiation checklist much later. Too bad I was 18 years old and totally unaware that these were things you should tell the police about. Ugh.)
5. DO NOT ACCEPT INVITATIONS TO SEE HIS FISH TANK ON THE FIRST DATE. I don’t care how great your connection is…you don’t know this person and his ‘fish tank’ can wait.
“Want to meet my cats?”
6. Use your intuition. Like my mom always told me, if it feels icky…it probably is. Here’s the thing, there are so many fish in the sea so if you get a sinking sense that the person you’re on a date with is a) dangerous, b) a jerk, c) boring, etc. just leave. It’s ok and he will get over it. And thankfully, you haven’t shared any personal information with him so he can’t stalk you.
Those are some basic rules. And I’ve broken all of them at some point and let me state to the Universe how grateful I am that nothing happened to me.
The take-away is: dating is fun and online dating is (usually) even more fun. But you never really know who’s on the other side of the interwebs and while you are awesome…they could very well not be. No one can advocate for your own safety like YOU can. So, be safe.
Now, go forth and date!