A girlfriend recently described a very harrowing, near miss that she experienced with an online predator. She met, through a major online dating site, a very charming, successful professional man. He was a perfect gentleman through two dates…and then my friend Googled him.
He had lost his professional license because of sexual assault charges, he’d been convicted of fraud and passing bad checks, he’d been accused of assault on other occasions, the list went on. My girlfriend is smart, very smart. She contacted the dating site, forwarded them the Google links, made sure he was banned from the site. Is he on other dating sites…maybe…probably.
It’s scary enough to turn one off to online dating forever. But, in all honesty, you can meet someone at a party or a bar, or any number of places who could turn out to be a predator. What’s a Smart Girl to do?
One woman sued Match.com over an alleged assault. She claimed that the site should do background screening. Well, I agree and disagree with that blanket claim. Sure, I’d feel safer knowing that potential dates have been screened, but this is no guarantee. Bad guys (and gals) have a way of slipping through the cracks and finding ways to burn us. I disagree in that I believe we need to take ownership of our lives and our dates. We need to be aware that there are some really bad apples out there and do our own screening. And….I know I’ve written this over and over, but I’ll write it again….we need to take online dating S L O W L Y. Take the time to get to know people you meet online.
I’m amazed at how many single men and women turn into naive twelve-year-olds once they have a computer screen in front of them and a mouse in their hands. They believe (or maybe just desperately WANT to believe) the profile that talks about love and sincerity and wanting a lifelong relationship with their “soulmate”….without question. Sure, that profile may have come right from the writer’s soul and be the picture of honesty….but you don’t know that yet. You’ll need to write to this person, THEN you’ll need to speak to this person, THEN you’ll need to meet this person IRL. THEN you’ll need to meet them again and again and again and hopefully learn more about them each time. I know, seems as if it will take forever. But look at it this way, if this person is really who they say they are and if this is “the one” for you….you will have a lovely lifetime to find out all about them and they you.
Ah, but that initial period, when you’re searching through dating profiles, winking, nudging, writing emails and setting up dates. That’s the tricky part. How do you weed out the potential “Big Bad Wolves”? There are some great resources online for hints on how to accomplish this. Online Dating Magazine has an excellent article on how to safely approach those initial contacts. I especially like their advice on phoning for the first time (like dialing *67 when calling from your home phone so your number isn’t traceable).
Lovefraud.com is a site devoted to identifying and avoiding Sociopaths and has great information on how to spot these, often smart and charming, snakes. Take a look at the personal assessment test to see if you’re a potential victim.
My best advice is:
1. My dad, one of the best salesmen who ever lived, always told me “If it sounds too good to be true…it is”. So read profiles with a cynics eye, not a romantics. Remember, what’s written there could be true, false or just a glossy exaggeration of the truth.
2. Never meet someone without talking on the phone first! That conversation will tell you a lot. You’ll invariably talk about what impressed you both about the others profile. Listen…do they hesitate to go into detail?
3. Meet in a public place…VERY public. Drive yourself there (I personally make sure that I drive myself to a second date too, if there is one). Text or call friends to let them know where you’ll be. Again, keep your eyes and ears open to clues that this person may not be who they’ve advertised themselves to be.
4. If you can garner their full names or any other pertinent information, like names of companies they’ve worked for or the schools they’ve attended…google them…and don’t let this make you feel awkward – chances are your date is home googling you too.
5. If your date at any time makes you feel uncomfortable or “sort of all-over-icky” – as one friend put it, END communication with them. Period. Trust your instincts.
6. If your date is all that he/she says they are, you’ll know. You’ll have that sense that they’re sincere. Your googling will show that they are indeed who they say they are and you’ll be able to let the romantic in you take the lead and enjoy this budding new relaitonship. If they’re not…then you are a Smart Girl and will know enough to move on in your search for love.