Meeting people online definitely has some advantages. There are tons of chatrooms and ICQ groups specifically targetted towards getting people together who share the same interests. Being surrounded by people who share a common hobby can definitely be an icebreaker for good conversation! And it sure beats the tired old bar scene, where good decisions can be clouded by an alcohol induced euphoria, and everybody basically sits around bragging about themselves.
But is meeting people online the BEST way to find someone? What are some of its disadvantages, and dangers?
I can't tell you how many dozens of people I have known involved in online relationships in the past seven years I've been online. The single most common statement I've heard from these people has been "I feel like I'm getting to know the real him/her." Without all the distractions that a face to face meeting would entail......the other person's appearance, for example.....or trying not to be nervous....... they contend that chatting anonymously through their keyboards allows them to be more relaxed and open in their conversations. A whole well of emotions runs through their fingers as they clack away late into the night sharing feelings and intimacies with someone else that perhaps they never felt capable of before.
I'm not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing. Having an outlet for such deep emotions can feel absolutely wonderful, especially when you have someone who is sharing the same intense feelings with you.
However, I do believe this leads to a false sense of security about where the relationship is heading. And leads to a false sense of intimacy. Plus, it can warp your sense of how the other relationships in your life should be going.
"My husband never listens to me like this man does!"
My biggest concern would have to be whether or not the other person is truly representing him/herself honestly. Or just saying the things he/she knows you want to hear to impress you?
The best advice I have to offer when getting involved with somebody online would be to meet the person as soon as possible. Don't invest months and years into this cyberaffair, and get to the point where you would be heartbroken if things don't work out. Do it as soon as the sparks of interest begin to fly. Afterall, you can't expect to build a genuine relationship with somebody when all you know about them is their mind. It takes the "total picture" to make a relationship work.
Here's where the truly scary stuff comes into play. And don't make the mistake of thinking I'm paranoid. The newspapers and magazines are littered with hundreds of stories of cyber-stalkers coming into chatrooms, earning the trust of someone, luring that person out to meet, then raping and murdering them. And although you can try to tell yourself that YOUR cyber-lover would never be capable of doing anything like that, don't bet your life (literally) on that. If your cyber-lover truly has your best interests at heart, he/she would readily agree to making any arrangements in which you would feel safe. And that's the truth.
Bring along a good friend when you meet your lover. Not only would you have a trusted person by your side for added safety, you would also be gaining an important second opinion of this new person. Oftentimes, our judgement can be unreliable when we're excited and our hormones are raging. A good friend might be able to pick up on subtle cues that you were not aware of at the time. If you are going to meet your lover alone, at least have the common sense to leave his/her phone number, and the location of where you'll be meeting, with a good friend. Several good friends, for that matter. And your friends will appreciate it more than you know if you call every so often to check in. Schedule appointed times, in fact. That way, if too much time elapses from your last call, your friends will be able to notify the police for help.
RED FLAG WARNING...Any person who is unwilling to have anything to do with your friends should be avoided. This person obviously has something to hide. He or she feels comfortable knowing that he/she has already gained your trust. But he/she knows that your friends would have a better perspective on things, and doesn't want to take the risk of raising any suspicions. So if your cyber-lover insists that your friends not get involved in the relationship, beware. Don't buy lines like "But baby, I want this to be something special only you and I know about." or "I want to have you all to myself the first time we meet." Any person truly in love with you would not hesitate to meet or get involved with the other important people in your life.
Arrange to meet in a highly visible public place. A friend of mine says that having a picnic in the middle of a police station wouldn't be public enough for her! But, you get the idea. Don't meet the person in his/her apartment or house. Or invite the person into yours. Or in a motel room. Or at the beach for a romantic moonlight stroll. Make sure you'll be in a place where there's lots of activity, other people you can call out to for help if needed, access to public phones or a taxi.
If you'll be meeting at a restaurant or cocktail lounge, don't ever leave your food or drink unattended. Take your beverages to the restroom with you. Make sure a waitress or waiter is the one delivering your drinks, not your date. And let common sense tell you not to drink alot of alcohol. You need all your wits about you.
Wherever you decide to meet, don't let your wallet or purse leave your possession at any time. Credit cards could be stolen, or their numbers written down. Your address could be read from your drivers' licence. Cars keys or money could be stolen. We carry an awful lot of information about ourselves in our wallets and purses. Information that could be used later against us.
The best advise of all is this. Listen to your common sense, and your intuition. If at any time during your date you feel that things aren't quite right, find a way to excuse yourself and leave.
OTHER RED FLAG WARNINGS...It's hard as human beings to accept the idea that someone who professes to care about us would ever do anything wrong to us. We even tend to rationalize away things that would at other times give us reason to be cautious. So read these carefully, and if ANY of them seem to fit your relationship, at least think things over and talk about it with a trusted friend. You could be saving yourself an awful lot of heartache in the long run, and maybe even be saving your life. It should be noted that these warnings pertain to after you've already gotten to know the person online after awhile, when it would be natural to start sharing more intimate details about your personal life. NO sane or rational person would give intimate details about themselves right away!
Somebody who claims not to have a phone, or tells you that you can't call him/her at home for any reason. Please! Everybody has a phone. Obviously, there's something to hide here. A spouse or lover is probably the cause, and if he/she is already involved with somebody, and that somebody is living in their home.....No matter how your lover protests that he or she is unhappy, and intends to leave this relationship for you, don't believe it. Also, another reason for not giving out a phone number is that the person couldn't be identified through this phone number if he or she were to do something criminal towards you.
No pictures...Well, just because somebody sends a picture to you, doesn't mean it's a genuine picture. But no picture at all should be a big warning sign. This means the person doesn't want to be identified later on. Your lover may protest, saying "My appearance shouldn't matter. All that should matter is what's inside of me." Insist on a picture. Anybody can walk into Kinko's, or other similar stores, with a blank floppy disk and a dollar or two, and have a picture scanned. It's that simple.
A really great suggestion I heard to help make sure that the picture is genuine.....Have the person have his/her picture taken while holding a sign that says something you've agreed on, along with the current date.
The person is hazy about the details of his or her occupation...Does this person spend hours and hours giving you the most indepth details of things romantic or sexual in nature? Asks you question upon question about your personal life? Yet fails to give you only the faintest of clues about his or her job? Be worried. This person might be grilling you for details about your financial situation in order to gain your trust and then proceed to take away every possession you hold dear. Your house, your car, your money. Scams like this have been done time and time again. Or maybe this person doesn't want you to know where he or she works because it would be another identifying aspect of them, and he or she could be located later on. AFTER you've been raped or killed.
Is unclear about where he or she lives..."I live in the Washington area." or "I live in the Southwest." or "I'm in Southern California." Way too vague! It would be near impossible for law enforcement agents to pinpoint a person from that type of description, and this person knows it. If you've moved to a more serious point in your online relationship, don't you think the person should at least be willing to say where he or she lives?
Won't give you a "real" email address...He or she will only give you a web-based email address, such as Hotmail. Or claims that his or her email at home is not private (do we really need to discuss the potential spouse or live-in significant other again?). An email account is something else that law enforcement agents would be able to use to track down this person if something should happen to you.
Use your head, not your heart, when initially dealing with people you meet online. You can never be too cautious or suspicious.
I would love to hear of your thoughts and experiences on this topic.