My dating safety practices have changed over the years. I'm not talking about holding your hand over your cup at a party to avoid being roofied. I'm talking about being aware that when you online date, you give strangers access to you. It's like walking around Times Square wearing a sandwich sign with your life story on it. Not everyone needs to know everything. In fact there are very few people who need to know anything.
It is not my intention to scare the holy Jesus out of anyone here. I'm not trying to put you off of online dating in any way. I'm just offering up the online dating safety tips that I use to keep myself safe since I'm at a point in my life where I meet about a stranger a week. How cute is my headlamp by the way?
In my experience, most online dates are harmless. I have never felt my safety threatened on or after a date and I feel very fortunate. Regardless, I'm prepared. I certainly sleep better (so does my mom), knowing I've taken steps to online date in a responsible way.
Going to start off huge here. It is my opinion that your online dating images should be used ONLY for online dating. Take a separate set of images, selfies, whatever and only use them in your online dating profiles. Want to know why?
Go to your online dating profile. Take your main image and drag it to your desktop. Run a Google Image Search on that photo. Try not to pee your pants when identifying information about you pops up.
See? Separate pictures. Do it.
2. Identifying Info
This one is pretty much a given, but you really need to keep as much personal info out of your profile as possible. Example: Listing your city is fine, listing your neighborhood is less fine.
Most guys aren't going to walk the streets of Fort Greene at rush hour waiting to bump into you on your walk home. I'm not talking about most guys today. I'm talking about not giving the other sort of bloke the opportunity to find you or engage in any sort of sinister stalking behavior.
Yes, you love Williamsburg. You're obsessed with Silver Lake. FINE! Say those things! Don't tell him you live there. It's not his business. Yet. If your online date blossoms into more frequent dating and (gasp!) maybe even a relationship, then I think it's cool to open up. In fact at that point it would probably be weird not to.
3. Tell A Friend
Most online daters know to tell someone that they're going on an online date. We think we're safer if someone knows that we're on our way to meet a stranger. But really, what have you just told your friend? That you're going somewhere (maybe you told her the name of the bar), to meet a guy (maybe you said his name was Brad), etc.
That's not enough! This sounds scary as shit but you need to give the police something to start with should you actually go missing as a result of an online date. Provide the phone number of the person you're meeting to your friend. Have a post-date check-in time. Link her to his profile. Whatever you know, make sure she knows it, too. If you're taking precautions, really take them, okay?
4. First Meetings
Meet somewhere public, obviously. I'm not saying you need to go to a loud, crowded bar, but go somewhere public. Never meet at his home, or yours. Better still, pick a meeting spot that is not in your neighborhood.
Some people prefer to keep first meetings short, such as for drinks, I personally see nothing wrong with meeting for dinner if that's what you like to do. The main thing is to make sure there are other people around. A walk in a park is romantic, but save it for a later date. (It will be more fun when you're super into each other anyway!).
5. Keep Things Private
You don't need to Facebook stalk every online date. I don't care if you've already exchanged seven emails with them. Don't add them on Facebook, don't follow them on Instagram. Just don't. You have no idea what kind of identifying information is lurking in your photos. Again, image search.
While we're at it, check the privacy settings on ALL of your social media platforms. Make sure only people who actually know you have access to your info. Do you tweet or use social media professionally? Consider having a separate private account for friends and family.
Google yourself (images too!). Your online date shouldn't know your last name (yet), but just in case, get in there and clean up anything you don't want online.
It's not enough to be "smart" about online dating. You do need remind yourself that you know absolutely nothing about the people you're meeting. I certainly hope they're not, but they could be lying about everything they say to you. They could be posting false images and lying about what they look like.
I'm not concerned with showing up for a date and meeting someone ugly. I'm very concerned with showing up for a date, not seeing the guy I think I'm meeting, because he looks nothing like his images and is instead watching me from across the bar totally anonymously to potentially follow me home when I think I've been stood up.
These are a lot of what-ifs, but they're what-ifs I think we all need to be aware of if we're going to meet people in person who previously existed to us only behind a computer screen.
6. Optional: Carry Pepper Spray
I know this one is intense, but I do it. I carry pepper spray with me at all times, it's attached to my keychain. It makes me feel safer. If you're going to carry pepper spray, a taser, etc, I highly recommend being trained how to use it first.
7. Walking Home
Do not walk home with an online date. I am guilty of not following this one. On first online dates, do not let him walk you home. Yes, it's sweet and chivalrous of them to offer, but they don't need to know where you live -- yet.
Odds are this guy is totally nice and well intentioned, and I get that you don't want to put him off. Afraid of being rude? Say your feet hurt, you're exhausted, anything to just politely hop in a cab and head home on your own, even if it's only a few blocks away. Don't live in a city with cabs? Drive to your date, separately from him. Not every guy you go out with is going to have bad intentions, but this is a good practice to get into.
I hope I haven't completely put you off of online dating -- we'll leave that to the emails from OKCupid dudes, k? Online date all you want, goodness knows I do! Let's do it safely.