A Safe & Healthy Guide to Online Dating
By Allison Vesterfelt
October 17, 2011
Allison Vesterfelt is a writer, speaker, thinker, dreamer, and the author of Packing Light: Thoughts on Living LIfe with Less Baggage (Moody, 2013). She travels often, but lives in Nashville, Tenn. with her husband, Darrell. You can follow her daily at her website or on Twitter.
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.