A Safe & Healthy Guide to Online Dating

The other day, my fiance and I were at dinner talking with another couple when they asked us the dreaded question: So how did you two meet?

“On the Internet,” Darrell said. He loves to do that. It makes people cringe, me included.

“Tell them the story!” I said. “Otherwise we sound like weirdos.”

There is a bit of a stigma surrounding online dating, although there shouldn’t be. One in six relationships that led to marriage last year started from an online connection, a fact that doesn’t surprise me since I’m meeting more and more people who have found love online.

Match.com. E-harmony. Twitter. Facebook. Blogs. There are so many ways to meet on the Internet these days.

There’s nothing wrong with meeting online, but for some reason I’m still afraid that when people hear the story of how I met Darrell, they’re going to think I’m a crazy person.  

The truth is that if we’re going to date people we meet online we have to be extra intentional about how we go about things so the relationship can be both safe and healthy. Here are a few of the things that Darrell and I did that I think helped our case.

Match your communication with your level of attraction

Darrell first learned about me because I guest-posted on a blog he always reads. I wrote about quitting my job to go on a 50-state road trip and he was really attracted to that.

He clicked through to my blog, read a few things and followed me on Twitter. A few weeks later he requested my friendship on Facebook. Our contact was sporadic after that, until months later when we first connected over Skype.

He was attracted to me when he first read my post, but it took a lot of casual contact before he was certain he wanted to move forward.

When you first “meet” someone online, it’s easy to think you’re really attracted to them because all you can see is what they put on their profile—which is all the good stuff. The level of attraction you feel for someone can only be as big as the percentage of what you know about them and, in the beginning at least, that’s really small.

Create a safe space for the relationship to move forward

When Darrell and I first started talking, I was really afraid to move forward with him. He helped to ease my fear by giving me small prods to move forward in the relationship.

We would end a phone conversation and he would say: “I really enjoyed talking to you tonight. Can I call you again tomorrow?” After a couple of phone conversations he said: “I want you to know that I’m calling you because I like you and I’m really interested in getting to know you better. Is that OK?”

He didn’t ask me to date him when he didn’t know me, and he didn’t make any promises he couldn’t keep. He asked for small commitments that were warranted by the relationship we had established and invited me to step into them.

Plan a safe meet-up

After we had been talking on the phone for a couple of weeks, Darrell told me he was ready to meet. I didn’t have to be ready, he said, but he asked me to think about when I might be comfortable with that next step.

“I don’t know if you’d prefer to fly to Minneapolis or for me to fly to Portland,” he told me. “But let me know and I’ll make it happen.”

I told him I wanted to fly to Minneapolis since it felt like a way to spend time together without bringing my entire community into the process. It wasn’t that I was trying to hide the relationship (I had already planned to blog about it), but I was nervous to introduce him to everyone in my life when we still weren’t sure where this was going to lead.

I also had relatives in Minneapolis, so there was a safe place for me to stay and a neutral getaway in case things didn’t work out.  

Invite friends and family into the process

Even though I was hesitant to invite everyone into the process in the beginning, I was strategic and intentional about who I brought into the process and when. I told my sister and her husband after Darrell booked my plane ticket and they both took turns talking to him on the phone.  

Before I flew to Minneapolis, Darrell Skyped with my parents to introduce himself since we both anticipated I might be gone a couple of weeks.

Since then, as we’ve traveled together, we’ve Skyped, talked and texted with all the people who are important to us, sharing the process of our relationship with them, receiving their cautions, blessings and even critiques.

Our relationship is stronger because of the support of our family and friends.

Don’t be afraid to commit when you know it’s right.

Just because your relationship began on the Internet doesn’t mean that it’s illegitimate, although some people might want to make you feel that way.

As long as your relationship moves from an online connection to an in-person relationship, it is just as substantial as a relationship that begins any other way. You’ll experience the same attraction, affection, excitement, joy and conflict that you would otherwise.

The worst thing you can do is to stunt your relationship, or dismiss it, because you’re afraid of what people will think. The Internet isn’t a creepy way to start a relationship. When used with caution it can give millions of people the opportunity to meet the man or woman of their dreams. 

Have you tried online dating or do you know someone who has? Has their experience been safe? Successful?

Ally Spotts is a 20-something writer, runner, teacher, dreamer, thinker and reader living in Portland, OR. She keeps a blog about things that interest her, including faith, running, travel adventures and relationships & dating. She is also currently working on a book about chasing her dreams on a 50-State Road Trip. This article was adapted from her blog with permission.  

15 Comments

Heather McConley

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Heather McConley commented…

I met my DH online before the Web. (1992, before the web was public, at any rate.) It worked because I could verify that he was who he was (a student at a university). It felt very much like an arranged marriage; still does sometimes. He flew out West to meet me first, and we became engaged three months later. I like what Ally has to say here. :) Being safe about meeting each other, especially in person for the first few times, is really important. Another thought I'd put out if it were me writing the article -- long distance relationships can be difficult. It is hard to really get to know someone via skype (or chatting or phone calls). Even though vast amounts of time might be spent, you still don't get the emotional backlash of someone else's immediate reactions -- for example. Try to spend 6 months or more in the same city before actually getting married if you can. :)

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Kate commented…

I have met two guys offline. The first time I was a senior in high school and I was messing around on MySpace and started messaging this random guy. I didn't really know anything about him based on his profile and we didn't talk all that much before meeting.

Earlier this year I got on a dating website, and made a whole profile so the men that were out there could get to know a little about me before messaging me. I got a pretty big response, but in my profile I asked a question and if the guy didn't take the time to answer my question then he was out. Finally I got back a great response to my question. After many conversations, adding on facebook (I got to see he was a real person with a family and friends etc), telling my best friend and mother, we met up at a public place about a month later (which seemed like an eternity!) We've been dating for four months now and I would say that online relationships can be successful. Be safe and don't message back every person that messages you.

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Find Sexy Women Online commented…

I met my wife on a online dating site! The best thing that has ever happen to me

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