To be perfectly honest, I’ve never tried online dating. I thought about it this time last year, but all I managed to do was repeatedly download and then delete the Tinder and OKCupid apps on my phone — usually while I was sitting on the toilet. I know this makes me sound like a giant weirdo, but I’m literally scared of Tinder — even though staying safe while dating online is completely doable if you make sure to follow experts' online dating safety tips.
Currently, I’m in a weird place relationship-wise, so I don’t think I’ll be venturing into the magical world of online dating anytime soon. That said, since the Pew Research Center reports that 15 percent of American adults use online dating sites — and most of those adults are millennials like me— I felt like it was worth my time to learn all that I could about staying safe while dating online.
I spoke with online dating expert Laurie Davis to find out more. As an award-winning dating coach and the founder and CEO of eFlirt, a beautiful website created to “help singles navigate the intersection of romance and technology to attract an ideal match,” Davis probably knows better than anyone how to protect yourself when dating online. So if you want some expert advice on how to stay safe while dating online, read on.
1. Google Yourself
It may sound ridiculous, but according to eFlirt dating coach Laurie Davis, you need to Google yourself so you can "Know what is out there about you." According to Davis, Googling yourself is Rule Number One when it comes to safely dating online, because you should know how much of your personal information is readily available to any rando with a working laptop and a strong Internet connection who knows your full name.
As Davis put it, "Once someone has your full name, what will they find? Based on what comes up, you may want to wait a date or two." She's not wrong, either. I Googled myself just now and found images and info galore. As Davis told Bustle, "one of my clients found that her town posted the sale of her house on their website, and it came up on the first page of Google. Not only would a date now know her address, but they also would know how much she paid for her home." Yikes.
2. Don't Give Your Full Name Until After A First Date
As we've established, making yourself too easy to Google won't help you stay safe while dating online. So, unsurprisingly, when I asked Davis if it's best not to list your full name on your online dating profile, here's what she said: "while you want to be completely authentic in your profile, you want to be careful about any overly personal details you reveal that may make you Googleable. Giving someone your full name in your profile — or even before you meet — immediately gives them digital access to your background." So, there you have it. No full names until after you meet up.
3. Get A Google Voice Number
Part of the reason I've never delved into online dating is simply because I fear being cellular-ly harassed by matches that just didn't work out; but according to Davis, this fear doesn't have to keep anyone from searching for love (and/or sexy time) online. There is a way to communicate with your dates while simultaneously protecting your cell phone number, and it doesn't involve buying a burner phone like you're Marvel's Jessica Jones. Davis tells Bustle, "If you're concerned about giving out your phone number, you can create a free Google Voice number. It's an app you download that gives you a separate number to give to dates."
It's as simple as downloading this app and getting yourself a free Google voice number. Everything on your phone will work exactly the same, but you'll just have an easier time blocking people if you need to. As Davis explained it, "When someone calls, it will still ring on your cell phone and you can text through it as well. If things go awry, it's very easy to block their number."
4. Don't Reveal Who You Work For
If you (like myself) are proud of the way you get to make money, then you probably want to shout it from the figurative mountaintops, and that's perfectly understandable. You've no doubt worked your butt off to get to where you are professionally, and wanting to celebrate all of your hard work makes sense.
That said, when it comes to your online dating profile, Davis suggests keeping things as vague as possible. As Davis points out, "Most apps will automatically pull in not just your job title, but your company. That's a huge security breech — imagine if someone were to show up unannounced at your office!" Davis continued, "It seems like a worst case scenario, but I have heard of this happening. Go into your Facebook settings and change this section so it's more vague."
5. Meet Up In A Public Place
I feel like this one is pretty obvious, but I wanted to bring it up anyway. If you want to safely date online, it's imperative that all of your first dates happen in public spaces. In fact, it's not a bad idea to meet up somewhere outside of your neighborhood, either. If the two of you hit it off, then there will be plenty of time to Netflix and chill in the future.
6. Drive Yourself To And From Your Date, Or Take Public Transportation
Hopefully you already know this, but having your OKCupid match pick you up for your first date is a horrible idea. Not only will they know where you live, you'll literally be in a car with a stranger. (Which I realize is me every single time I've ever been in an Uber, but this is different, OK?)
So while there's something romantic and environmentally-conscious about sharing a ride with someone, when it comes to online dating, it's always ideal to either drive yourself or take public transportation instead. Protect yourself by saving the joint car rides for a later date.
7. Don't Overdo It On The Booze
Let me be clear about this: alcohol doesn't assault people, people assault people. That said, I think most of us know from experience that it's much more difficult to stay aware of your surroundings and make good choices when you're drunk as hell. (Also, hangovers are the worst.) So instead of drinking five beers in five hours like I once did on a date, maybe stick to one nerve-settling glass of wine.
8. Don't Use Facebook Or Instagram Photos In Your Profile
Using your Facebook profile picture in your online dating profile may seem harmless, but it really isn't. It's way too easy for someone to run a Google image search on your photos, and in turn, find out a whole crap-ton of personal information about you. So no matter how strong your Instagram game is, make sure the selfies you use in your online dating profile can't be found anywhere else on the Internet. You also might want to avoid the option on Tinder that allows you to link your profile with your Instagram.
9. Tell A Friend Specific Details About Your Date
Telling your buddy about your upcoming date is a good start, but if you really want to stay safe, give them plenty of details about your plans. Before you head out to meet your potential lover, text one (or more) of your friends the name and address of your designated meeting spot, then send them a link to your date's online dating profile, and set up a time to check in with each other after your date. This way, if anything sketchy happens, at least someone will know when to start looking for you and where to do it.
In the far more likely scenario that nothing bad happens, just knowing that your friends have your back will probably help you relax and enjoy your date more than you otherwise would have.
10. Consider Carrying Pepper Spray (But Be Careful With It)
Not everyone is comfortable with carrying a weapon, and that's fine. Personally, I'm a fan of pepper spray, and I carry it with me often. I've never actually had to use it, and I hope I never need to, but it does make me feel safer. If you're looking for ways to feel safer while dating online, then you might want to start carrying the stuff, too. Just, you know, make sure you learn how to use it first.
11. Don't Let Them Walk You Home On Your First Date
If you didn't follow my advice about meeting somewhere outside of your neighborhood, then at least make sure you don't let your date walk you home. I know late-night strolls with beautiful people are romantic AF, but you don't want someone you literally just met to know where you live. So if your date offers to walk you home, politely decline. I know, I know, it sounds super paranoid. It's always better to be safe than sorry, though, and online dating is no exception to this rule.
Images: Bustle; Giphy/(11)