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Online dating continues to thrive in spite of people who vow to never do it again — only to reactivate their account weeks later. I’ve said it before: Online dating is a vicious cycle. However, it can also be dangerous.
While infrequent, violent crimes can happen among online daters. Sometimes people are tricked into meeting someone only to get robbed at gunpoint, for instance. In another even more horrifying case, a woman was murdered and her remains dissolved in acid by a man she met on a dating site.
The best advice I’ve heard is from the female power tandem at the “My Favorite Murder” podcast: “Stay sexy and not get murdered.” I mean, it’s tongue-in-cheek and all, but they’re serious. While most of the violent crimes associated with online dating are committed against women, men need to be safe, too.
Most folks know the basics of staying safe, but I’ve created a list with a few more good tips.
And don’t have them come get you. Not on the first date, people! Stop that nonsense. Just don’t do it.
Meet somewhere public, and make sure there’s going to be other folks there. If you’re not familiar with the place, do your research, read reviews on an online dating blog, and try to get an idea of the venue before you go to it. Or you could even recommend a venue you’re more comfortable with.
My friends, look, I know we’re all trying to catch a good fish but exercise caution. It’s so easy to find people with just a few bits of personally identifiable information.
Don’t list your school, definitely don’t list your job, and consider not posting your job title. Avoid posting your full name, if you can. It’s so easy to find someone’s social media accounts (Facebook or LinkedIn) based on name or job title searches.
Instead of being specific, state generally what you do. “I’m a college professor” or “I work in TV and film” or something that gives them an idea but without painting the whole picture.
Sure, you probably have the most amazing photo you took of yourself in Bali or at Machu Picchu, and you’ve shared it on Instagram and FB. Great! But I’m begging you please avoid using these photos on your awesome dating profile. While Instagram may not allow their images to be indexed by search, many other websites scrape Instagram data, and before you know it, your images are suddenly searchable. Just invite your neighbor or bestie to do an iPhone photoshoot and get your pics did right.
Dating apps like Bumble require you to connect to Facebook to verify your identity. In my opinion, that’s lame. Knowing that you have a dating profile makes it easier to find your info. Do you really want a stranger knowing where you “live online”? Probably not.
If you’re a frequent and casual participant in social media, you may not realize all the clues you’re leaving to potential stalkers. If you do decide to connect to a third-party service for your dating profile, consider creating a burner social media account just for dating purposes. Don’t put any personal information into that account. Just input your first name.
I know most folks aren’t into the first-date hookup thing, but it’s important to state that you should probably avoid hooking up with someone you don’t know well.
It’s easy to get seduced by someone with off-the-charts charisma. Still, keep your loins in check, and keep those pants on. Get to know someone first. Understand what their life is like, what their living situation is, what their social life is like, etc. Ask them probing questions to see if they’re a “regular” human being instead of a sociopath who engages in weird murderous hobbies.
Ladies, as if you didn’t already have enough to worry about, you have to worry about your potential bad dates, too. Sometimes a date goes sideways, and you don’t want to go out with him or her again. If you’re not sure about your date’s temperament, or if you are sure that your date is fragile and can’t take rejection, then you have to proceed with caution.
If you’re unsure about how your date will react to a gentle letdown at the end of the date, you can simply tell them that you’ll call them or reach out to them for another date. While that’s a lie, if it helps keep you safe, it’s worth it.
If you’ve left the bar or restaurant with your date and you want to get out, tell them you’ll see them again, but tell them you have to use the restroom, give them a quick one-armed hug, beeline back to the venue, and let someone there know the situation.
At the end of the day, you can be safe and still suffer the worst possible consequences. It’s important to be diligent and listen to your gut. If something feels wrong, then trust that instinct.
In spite of all the heat online dating gets from people, everyone keeps going back to it. Part of safe dating is understanding how the information you put out to represent you can also be used to research you. Even if you’re really smart about online dating and doing all the right things, there are still bad people with worse intentions out there who might try to take advantage and outsmart you. Be careful out there, folks.