For those of us in the dating pool, we live in heady times. Never in history has it been so easy to meet new people. Whether you’re looking for a serious relationship and marriage, or a quick one night fling, there’s an app for that.
Technology is bringing people together in unprecedented ways, allowing us to find compatible matches with a few keystroke or swipes on our cell phones. It has become commonplace to find someone online, meet for drinks an hour later, and then get on to whatever the night holds in store. In many ways, dating has become on-demand.
However, this drastic increase in dating options has brought with it new hazards. In order to date safely in this brave, new romantic world, it’s important to understand how to use these technologies properly and to follow good dating practices to prevent trouble, whether you meet online or not. This guide will provide you a strong background so that you can enjoy yourself safely.
Dating Safely Online
Just a decade or two ago, online dating was a jeered at practice that singles used only when standard dating methods didn’t work for them — a sort of dating space of last resort. Today it’s the most common method for meeting new people.
A recent Stanford University study found that 39% of straight couples today meet online, as opposed to meeting through friends or other social settings. The number was even more pronounced for same-sex couples, which met through dating sites or dating apps 60% of the time.
With use levels this high, it’s important to keep the following tips in mind to ensure your safety.
1. Avoiding Catfishers and Dating Scammers
Perusing profiles through your preferred dating spots is normally how the process begins, so the very first thing you need to do in order to date safely is to make certain that the person on the other end of the connection is who they say they are.
Scam artists have made a science of using fake dating profiles in order to fleece victims for cash, gifts, and personal information. One study found that, on average, one in ten dating profiles is fake. With numbers that high, you’re almost guaranteed to encounter some if you date online with any regularity.
Knowing what to look for is your first and best line of defense against these criminals. We recently published an in-depth article covering all of the red flags you should be looking for, which you can find here: 22 Ways to Identify Online Dating Scammers.
A few of the biggest red flags are:
- The profile has one photo and it looks like a stock image or a model.
- The person often answers inappropriately or nonsensically in conversation. This is a good indication that you’re dealing with a chatbot.
- The profile has a lot of blank sections. This is a sign that the profile was set up quickly.
- Their conversation style doesn’t match the venue. Avoid people that talk about love and marriage on hook up sites, or those that want to jump straight to sex on a platform built for relationships.
- They don’t list any social media accounts. Almost everyone that dates online has at least one social media account. Fake profiles are the exception.
- The person complains about financial problems and tries to make a case for why you should send them money. No one asks strangers for money. If someone does, ignore them, no matter what their excuse is.
If you find cause for concern, the best course of action is just to move on. It’s best not to take any chances. As the saying goes, there are plenty more fish in the sea. You’re much better off focusing your efforts on profiles that feel right.
2. Be Sparing With Any Personal Information You Give
Don’t list important personal information on your dating profile. And until you’ve met someone in person and confirmed that they’re everything they said they were, it’s best to keep personal details to a minimum. Prospective partners don’t need to know your address, where you work, or any other details that would make it easier for them to find you in real life, unless you want them to, of course.
3. Try and Vet People Before You Meet Them
Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram should be the first places you visit before you go out with someone you’ve met online. You can get a lot of information on people that can help you confirm their story.
Check out their listed social media pages. Do the photos on their dating profile match those found on their social feeds? Do they have a lot of friends? Do they seem to be friendly and well-liked? Looking at their interests, can you confirm some of the things they’ve told you about themselves? Social media is great way to vet prospective dates.
Head to Google next. Search for elements of their story and try to confirm what you can. If you didn’t find their photos on social media, download a few of them and do a Google image search. Look to see if you can find them in places you would expect to find them, or if they show up on other people’s profiles. Stolen photos are obviously a bad sign.
Confirming that your possible date isn’t a psychopath or a con artist is a good way to put your mind at ease in preparation for your first date.
4. Always Meet First in a Public Place
Even if your goal is a quick, anonymous hookup, it isn’t wise to give your address to a stranger. The risks involved in meeting up for the first time in a private location are too high. It makes it very difficult to break things off if you start getting a bad feeling or have second thoughts. You can easily be overpowered, with no one to help.
Even if things don’t go south the first time you meet, the person now knows where you live, and if you’re certain you don’t want to see them again, that isn’t a good situation.
Instead, always meet in a public place. If you get a good vibe you can always move to somewhere more private. But give yourself the option to get out easily and cleanly if you need to.
5. Let a Trusted Friend Track Your Phone
Tell your friends where you’re going and let them follow you. Apps like Find My Friends allow you to sync your phone's location to a friend's phone so they can follow where you’re going. This could be invaluable if you’re abducted or taken somewhere against your will.
Another good option is an app like Red Panic Button. Leave the app open when you’re out on a date or a casual hookup. If you find yourself in trouble simply press the red button and your phone will automatically send a message to all of the people you previously chose for it to contact. This lets them know you’re in trouble and gives them your precise GPS location.
6. Make Sure You Have Protection
If you’re after casual sex, and nothing more, be sure to bring protection. Don’t assume the other person will have it. You want to avoid a situation where the pressure for sex is high and there are no condoms or dental dams present.
Dating Safely the Old Fashioned Way
Plenty of couples still meet through friends, work, or other social groups. A night out at the club is still a great way to meet other singles. These tried and true methods for finding a match still work today, but the risks involved have risen.
Date rape drugs are easy to find online, and an unfortunate number of people, mostly women, fall victim every year. A survey conducted by Alcohol.org found that 56% of women say they’ve had drinks spiked without their knowledge. Of those women, 37% say it’s happened multiple times.
According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, every 73 seconds a person in the U.S. is sexually assaulted, and one in six women will suffer either an attempted or completed rape at some point in their lives.
Meeting people through friends and known social groups is the safest way to meet new people because they’re already trusted by people that you trust. If you meet a stranger in a bar, club, or anywhere else in life, it’s good to take some precautions to make sure you stay safe.
7. Make Sure Someone Knows Where You Are and Who You’re With
The first few times you go out with someone, or if you’re meeting someone for a blind date, it’s good practice to leave a trail, in case something happens to you. Tell a trusted friend your plans in as much detail as you can. If you disappear, this information can be invaluable in helping to track you down. And always keep your cell phone handy in case you need to call for help.
8. Keep Your Drink with You at All Times
Never let your drink out of your sight. This is good advice whether you’re on a date or out for a night with friends. Leaving your drink unattended is an open invitation for tampering, and your date is just as much a threat as are strangers at the bar.
Order your own drinks as well. If you’re out for only the first or second time, don’t allow your date to fetch you a drink. There is ample opportunity for them to spike your beverage between the bar and your table. Either get your own drinks or have them brought by the waitstaff.
If you do accidentally walk away from your drink, or if a drink arrives and you can’t trace its provenance, spill it out and order another.
9. Limit Your Alcohol Consumption in General
It doesn’t matter if you’ve provided all your own drinks if you let yourself drink to excess. Once drunk, the likelihood that you’ll make bad decisions goes up dramatically. You’ll find it much more difficult to maintain your own safety if you drink too heavily.
You can allow yourself to get slightly tipsy, to lubricate the evening, but no more than that. If you feel yourself getting drunker than you meant to, excuse yourself and call a friend or take a cab home.
10. Provide Your Own Transportation
Until you know someone reasonably well, there’s no good reason to be alone with them in a vehicle. Drive yourself to dates, or get an Uber. Having your own ride keeps you in control of where you end up and allows you to get away if you need to.
If for some reason you need to drive together, make sure to take a photo of your date’s license plate number and text it to a friend.
11. Don’t Have Someone Over Until You’re Ready For Where That May Lead
Having someone “up for coffee” very often isn’t about the coffee, but even if you choose to have someone over for dinner, or you go to their place to watch a movie, the chance for intimacy climbs dramatically. If this isn’t something you’re ready for, for whatever reason, keep your dates public. Once you’re alone it will be much more difficult to stop a progression that you didn’t want to start in the first place.
12. Staying Safe Means Staying in Control
Staying in control sums up most of this advice in this article. You should control the flow of information, your arrivals and departures, how much alcohol you have and where it comes from, the location of your dates, and who knows where you are and who you’re with.
You should avoid any situation where you don’t know where you are or where you’re going, and you should never bring people you don’t know well into a place where they can take advantage of you. It only takes one slip out to open yourself to terrible consequences, so make safe dating practices a matter of habit. Establish your rules, and never break them, for any reason.
You are the best person to protect your own interests. If you follow all of the advice provided above and make certain to never relinquish control to another person, your dating life should stay fun and safe.
Now get out there and meet someone!