Dear Rosie & Sherry,

By chance, I met a man while playing a game online. We chatted online and then we talked on the phone. I really fell for him. He says that I am perfect for him, and he promised to come visit me (he lives in another region).

But now he keeps putting things off, and has even started "blocking" me from seeing that he is online. He says that I can call any time, but I only get his voice mail and he doesn't return the calls. I think I have been vulnerable and fell for someone who is just getting his kicks on the internet.

On the other hand, when we do talk, he goes on and on about spending his life with me. I really like this man and would like to have him in my life. Yet it's very difficult because he controls all communications. What shall I do?

Anne

Dear Anne,

This man is avoiding you for a reason, but it could be any of dozens. Please do not waste your time and emotional energy trying to figure out what went wrong. You won't be able to and you will only feel worse about yourself if you insist on over-analyzing your cyber friendship.

One of the risks of online dating is an experience such as the one you had. Someone you meet online could: 1) be afraid of face-to-face relationships, 2) have several e-mail partners at the same time, 3) is commitment phobic and cannot move any closer in a "relationship" than where the two of you got, 4) uses the Internet to escape to fantasy, 5) is married, 6) has lied about himself, or 7) was honestly pursuing an e-mail romance but decided at some point that it wasn't for him.

Even when people actually do agree to meet face to face, they may not get along as well in person as they did in cyberspace.

Don't think that we're paranoid alarmists, but... while the vast majority of people who use on-line dating services are well-adjusted adults, some of them are not. The potential to be hurt by someone you meet through the anonymity of the Internet is greater than if you are introduced by a mutual friend, or if you meet through a work-related or organizational function.

The fact is that intelligent people have been duped online by less-than-honest people who are looking for a way to relieve marital boredom, or to con people out of their savings, or who may cause others physical or emotional harm. Everyone who uses Internet dating should follow these simple precautions to help safeguard their privacy and keep out of trouble.

Keep it anonymous. When you correspond over an anonymous entity like the Internet, don't divulge biographical details like your full name, address, phone number, place of employment or any financial information. (Many sites let you keep your email address private, too.)

This is good advice whenever you meet someone on your own (such as at a bar, singles event or through a personal ad) who has not been referred to you by someone you know and trust. You can release limited information, such as your first name and metro area, but better to save additional info for a live meeting.

Exchange personal references. Don't dismiss this advice as too business-like or distrustful. Many reputable dating services and "matchmakers" ask for a list of references when you apply, and expect you to do proper follow-up about a prospective match. Nobody can learn everything about someone's background over the course of a one or two hour meeting. Similarly, you can't take what any stranger tells you at face value -- and your Internet date is, for all intents and purposes, a stranger.

You should always request references before dating anyone you "meet" through an anonymous entity, and refuse to date anyone who is not willing to give you that information. A reasonable person will understand your caution.

And be sure to do the follow-up, checking these references before your next date. Don't assume that everything is all right because you've been given a list of names and phone numbers. We know of many "references" who either did not exist, or had never heard of the person who used them as a reference.

All in all, Internet dating can be a great experience, one that can lead to marriage and a lifetime of happiness. But be aware of the Internet's limitations -- particularly at the outset of a relationship. This will help ensure that your online dating encounter is a pleasant and successful one.

For the present, we hope that you can realize that this man just isn't The One, and work on getting over the disappointment and sense of loss you feel.

Rosie & Sherry