By Cathryn Conroy
Going out with someone you barely know is risky no matter where you meet--be it online, in a bar or in church.
But unlike that chance encounter in the church social hall or in a bar, online dating carries different risks because it's quite likely you will reveal a lot of information about yourself before you ever meet in person. It's important to use common sense to make sure the experience is safe and fun.
Follow these 10 tips for safe online dating:
1. Keep your personal information confidential
In your online quest for Mr. or Ms. Right, you'll meet a lot of people, and none of them need to know your home address or home telephone number. This is the kind of information you share with someone only after you have met in person several times and feel comfortable developing a relationship.
2. Play detective
If you hit it off in e-mail and chat rooms, the next logical step is to meet in person. Before you do this, find out everything you can about your new friend:
- Ask lots of questions. Ask the same questions in a different way, looking for inconsistencies in the answers. If the answers jive, you can be more sure your friend is sincere and honest.
- Carefully examine your friend's story. If you detect even one lie, this is a red flag. How do you know everything else isn't a lie, too?
- Do a background check on your friend. This will allow you to verify his or her location, age and marital status and check for a criminal record.
3. Keep your wallet closed
A small percentage of people who lurk on online dating sites are swindlers and thieves. Beware any attempt to engage you in a financial arrangement, no matter how believable the story you're told. These online thieves know exactly how to prey on unsuspecting people and steal your money.
4. The ideal first date: A weekday lunch in a busy restaurant
When you meet in person for the first time, don't let your excitement override your good sense. This is a stranger, after all, so meet in a public place in broad daylight. Lunch on a weekday in a busy restaurant is ideal. Avoid out-of-the-way places. A picnic in a secluded spot in a park may sound romantic, but save that for a later date.
5. Drive yourself
For the first date, meet at the restaurant and don't allow your date to pick you up from your home. Make sure your car's gas tank is full.
6. Do tell a close friend or relative where you're going
Before your first date, tell someone you trust where you will be and who you are meeting. Arrange for this friend to call you at a certain time, just to check in and make sure all is well. This can also rescue you from a boring date if you want to make a quick escape!
7. Toast with a soft drink
Remember that alcohol can impair your judgment and lessen your inhibitions. On the first date, it's better if it's an alcohol-free meal. If you do drink, make sure you always keep your glass in sight. If you leave the table to go to the restroom, either finish your drink before you go or don't consume the rest of it when you return.
8. Split the bill
While many men know it's respectful to pick up the check, some expect sex in return. Pay half the bill so there is no obligation to return any favors.
9. Carry a cell phone
Take a fully-charged cell phone with you, and keep it turned on during the entire date. If you want to exchange phone numbers, share your cell phone number and not your home number.
10. No sex on the first date
Don't rush into things! Let the relationship grow naturally. Because you have had many online conversations, it's easy to think you are ready to be intimate. Fully one third of women who meet a man online have sex on the first date and 75 percent of them do not use a condom, according to a study published in the medical journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy. Take the time to get to know each other in person before you jump into bed. This not only helps protect you from a broken heart, but also a sexually transmitted disease.
--From the Editors at Netscape