The Internet can open a world of potential dating partners you'd probably never meet through traditional means. Enter the word "dating" into a search engine, and you will come up with dozens of do-it-your-self matchmaking sites for those who share a religion, career, geographic location or hobby.
Virtually all these sites offer an opportunity to screen user profiles, while insuring anonymity for both parties. Anonymity doesn't mean the same as security, however. While some sites require personal references or an interview before allowing you to register, most sites rely on the integrity of the users. This creates a golden opportunity for a con artist or "kook" to log in and pretend to be someone he/she is not -- and for individuals who are less-than-satisfied with their own reality to invent a new "internet persona."
Despite its potential for abuse, on-line dating has helped thousands of single men and women initiate great relationships. The best way to make Internet dating work for you is to use it as a tool for introductions, rather than as a medium for conducting an extended on-line relationship.
With that in mind, here are a few guidelines...
START CLOSE TO HOME
The best way to start is by looking for potential dates within an easy-to-travel radius of your home. Simply exchange some innocuous information about each other, and arrange to meet relatively soon after your initial on-line contacts.
But it's not a good idea to do actual "dating" over the Internet. You need face-to-face interaction to determine if you are compatible and, equally important, if you are physically attracted to each other. (The physical attraction doesn't have to be immediate -- for many people attraction develops over the first few meetings). Otherwise, you may begin to build an emotionally intimate friendship with someone whose printed words are charming -- only to later discover that his/her personality, character or appearance are not what you bargained for. And when the two of you finally come face-to-face, you may not be able to adjust to the way the flesh-and-blood version differs from the fantasy you envisioned.
You may build an emotionally intimate friendship with someone who is not what you bargained for.
Of course, exchanging photos in advance may help alleviate some of the surprise, but realize there are many other factors involved. Lulled by the anonymity of the Internet, you may begin to reveal to this "stranger" some deeply personal information you'd ordinarily discuss with someone you have been dating for a while. Or, perhaps, you might be tempted yourself to embellish certain facts, or even to fantasize about the "new and improved on-line you."
Similarly, can you trust that the person who is learning your secrets is telling the truth about themselves? What if you expect that the two of you will soon meet and hopefully develop your relationship further -- yet your "net pal" has no intention of meeting because he/she cannot handle a face-to-face relationship, or has created so many lies about themselves that they cannot let you know the truth?
These are just some of the many reasons to avoid any in-depth relationship on-line. Because the longer you conduct your courtship over the internet, the more vulnerable you are to disappointment.
TRAVERSING THE DISTANCE
Let's say that you do meet a long-distance date online, and arrange for a meeting. What guidelines should you follow?
Despite the expense and time invested in travel, it's best to keep your first meeting short -- about 2-3 hours. If you see good possibilities, then go out again in a day or two. But don't overdose on each other simply because you've invested so much time, effort and money into arrangements to meet.
All dating couples need time between dates to let their emotional and intellectual processes work themselves through. Long-distance couples have to learn to juggle their desire to maximize their short time together, with their need for personal space. Years of experience has taught us that a couple who tries to spend most of their waking minutes together, often ends up tense, unsettled and unhappy.
We recommend that for a Shabbat or weekend together, you give yourselves a block of a few hours' time apart each day. If you both will be in the same vicinity for a week or more, consider one or two long dates (e.g. a daytime hike or an afternoon-into-evening foray) as well as a couple of evening dates. But space your dates one-to-three days apart, and vary your activities together.
It helps to plan your meeting around a business trip or visit with friends or family.
During the down-time, visit family, see friends, make business contacts, shop, sightsee, read a book, work out at a gym -- there are plenty of productive things you can do to fill your time. It helps to plan your meeting around a business trip or visit with friends or family. This allows you to fill time when the two of you are not together, and the trip will not be a total bust if you and your "net pal" fail to hit it off.
After you actually meet and begin to make a personal connection, you can build on that through more Internet correspondence, phone calls and future dates. This kind of long distance dating works best if both of you are dating for marriage and anticipate the issues (such as where to live) that you'll have to deal with if the relationship works out. It's more difficult to sustain a long-distance courtship if the parties do not have definite goals for their future together.
SIMPLE SAFETY PRECAUTIONS
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.
- Arrange your first date for a public place, like a cafe or museum. Don't arrange to meet at your home or your office. This should be the rule throughout your first date. No quiet nighttime walks along a quiet beach or through an empty park. If you want to walk and get to know each other, go where others are strolling, like a boardwalk, promenade, or shopping mall.
At the end of date, don't travel alone in your date's car. Either let your date escort you part of the way home, or arrange for your own transportation. You are still relative strangers. Why put yourself in a situation that might prove dangerous or uncomfortable?
- When you and your date exchange full names, you should also 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.
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.
- Even still, don't volunteer too much secretive information on the first few dates. This is good advice even if you're dating someone who was personally recommended by a friend. First dates are not the time to reveal your inner secrets, fears and other intimate details. If the relationship is destined to progress, there will be plenty of time to get to know each other gradually.
- Keep an eye out for certain signs that the person you are dating may have problems you'd rather not deal with. For example: if your date gives you personal details that don't check out, if he/she behaves in a way that makes you wary or uncomfortable, or boasts about the grandiose things that are going to happen to him/her in the immediate future.
- Trust your instinct. If a person seems too weird or scary, or if you sense that you might be in danger, listen to the little voice inside you. Use your judgment and decide if you can politely end the date early, or just leave when you slip away to the restroom. It is better to be safe than sorry.
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.