Online Dating: How to Avoid Disasters

By ReGain Editorial Team|Updated May 2, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Karen Devlin, LPC

Trigger Warning: This article discusses potential assault in conjunction with intimate relationships. If you or someone you know has experienced intimate partner violence, reach out today to the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

In 2019, 12% of new marriages or committed relationships stemmed from an online dating relationship. The industry profits almost 2 billion dollars per year, with roughly 30% of all single persons in the United States belonging to presently, or at one point, an online dating service. While there are many happy endings, there are just as many dating disasters from online dating.

Statistics suggest that 10% of all sex offenders maintain an online dating account over certain sites like PlentyofFish and OkCupid, and over half of the people on dating sites admit to dating multiple people simultaneously. These statistics are not intended to suggest that online dating is problematic in and of itself; instead, it highlights some of the more significant concerns people have with the sites and how they encourage others to approach dating and relationships.

We've all seen Catfish episodes and heard stories of people meeting in person after chatting online and being very surprised to find that the person they thought they knew is not who they said they were. Having a conversation online can also go a lot more smoothly when you are not face-to-face; after all, online, you have plenty of time to think of clever one-liners and you don’t have to worry about how you look. In person, you may be less suave in your communication patterns, you may be more nervous, and you may struggle to overcome feelings of uncertainty and insecurity.

How can you be part of the 17% of successful online dating marriages? There are several ways to avoid disasters with online dating.

  1. Check Their Photos. You might feel like a cyberstalker, but saving their dating profile pictures or social media pictures and running them through google image search can help you determine immediately if you are being catfished. Scammers will find pictures of attractive people online or within their own social media circle and create false accounts using their name and someone else's picture or perhaps a fake identity altogether.
  2. Start With Talking On The Dating Site Only. Most dating sites have mobile versions and messaging apps that allow you to communicate through the website anywhere you are connected to the internet. There is no reason to give out your personal information, including telephone numbers, email addresses, or other messaging platform information. People who insist on moving the conversation over to another platform immediately after contacting you should also be avoided.
  3. Do Your Detective Work. Have you ever Googled yourself? You would be surprised at the amount of information about yourself that is free and open to the public. You can find articles the person has been published or discussed in, photos of them, newspaper announcements, and even arrest records and employment records.

There are also forums you can find that tell daters which profile to watch out for or avoid. Other websites are available where people can post stories of their dates and what city they were in, and the date's name to warn others against going out with them, or engaging in prolonged conversations with them.

  1. Ask For Video Chat. Before going on a date with someone you met online, ask them to do a video chat with you. Not the dirty kind—just a quick FaceTime or Skype chat to see their face and a more accurate representation of them than what they have on social media.

Snap Chat and Instagram filters are quickly becoming the way to give anyone a fake makeover on social media, so always make sure to try to see the person live at least once. You can also get a really good feel from someone by how they speak to you live rather than in an email or text message. If the person refuses to video chat, they may simply be nervous—or they may be eager to hide something that they were not straightforward about in their initial messages with you.

  1. Run Their Text Through Google. Sometimes, you may be talking to someone from another state or country. Far-away scam artists have been known to try to entice women to send money to them. These scammers may work in large groups, like call centers, or they may operate alone. Often, people who do this use scripted text, which you can usually find online. If someone you are talking to from a dating site starts talking about or asking you to wire transfer money, this should be a huge red flag!

6. Report Suspicious Profiles. Every dating website and social media platform gives users the ability to report profiles or accounts that are fake, harassing someone, or posting inappropriate content. If the accusations turn out to be true, that profile will be deactivated and the user banned. While this does not stop the person from creating more fake accounts, it may slow them down a bit, at least. If you are being scammed or blackmailed by someone online, you can report the information to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.

  1. Always Meet In Public. This may seem like a no-brainer to most people, but you may be surprised at how many people meet their internet dates for the first time at one of their homes. When meeting someone for the first time, the date should always be in a well-lit, public location that has frequent traffic. You should never feel isolated or alone with the other person. If you want to be the safest, go on your date during the day time in a busy (but not too crowded) venue.
  2. Skip The Alcohol. First dates are nerve-wracking, and you may be tempted to have a cocktail to calm your anxiety, but you should always skip the alcohol when first meeting someone. You have no idea how they act under the influence, and you also put yourself at risk. Alcohol can also cloud your judgment and stop you from seeing someone for who they are.
  3. Do Not Accept A Ride. Drive yourself or take an Uber to your first date. Do not allow your date to pick you up or know where you live. After the date, do not accept a ride home or let your date follow you. Predators are not always easily detectable; in fact, many predators have been described as being charismatic, charming, or extremely likable. Protect yourself by preserving the location of your home and waiting until the two of you have time to get to know one another.
  4. Be Authentic. You do not want to be catfished, and neither does your date. Do not exaggerate your work history, accept invitations to video chat, offer pictures that give a clear view of what you look like without filters or editing. Answer questions honestly without giving away too much personal information. If you have something in your life that is a big deal to you, such as not wanting to date someone with children, not being interested in a smoker, or needing someone willing to go to church with you every holy day, you need to be upfront and honest about these things from the very beginning. There is nothing like starting to fall for someone and find out that you have fundamental differences that cannot be overcome.

Online Dating can sometimes work out very well. 17% of new marriages met online, and 20% of people who meet online enter into a committed relationship within a year of meeting. Dating can be fun and exciting but also very nerve-wracking. Many people know someone who has been the victim of fraud, assault, harassment, or stalking. Equally, however, many people can say that they know someone who met someone online and is very happy.

That isn’t to say that online dating does not come with its own unique hazards for finding lasting love. One study determined that couples who meet online are three times as likely to get divorced and that 28% of relationships end within the first year when partners meet through dating sites. Often, the emotional difficulties of a relationship or the trauma of being scammed through an online dating site can cause situational depression. People who date online may have more unrealistic expectations and feel as though they are entitled to being more selective than those who meet people organically, because dating app and website profiles and like job applications—and are graded as such.

Online dating can also harm someone's self-esteem. If you have a dating profile up and are not getting any messages, winks, flirts, hearts, or whatever the site's way of telling you someone is interested, you may begin to think you are not worthy of dating or love.

There is already a huge stigma about online dating, and when you strike out there, sometimes it can be a huge blow to your confidence and self-esteem. Dating sites always feature your profile with a thumbnail of your profile picture and typically lists your location and age. This causes people to automatically judge by the first impression of appearance rather than the person.

If you or someone you know is having a rough time emotionally, has recently faced trauma, been scammed by an internet dater, or is struggling to make their relationships go the distance, ReGain may be able to help. Mental health intervention can help you build up your self-esteem, determine what you are searching for in a relationship, and help you determine what your goals are in pursuing online dating, for better or for worse.

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