Cyber Relationships: The Risks and Rewards of Online Dating

Millions of people are "e-dating" in the hopes of finding that perfect someone. Online dating services such as Match.com Match.com and love@aol.com are thriving as men and women post ads and photos of themselves in search of the perfect mate.

Indeed, most relationship counselors, including The Rules Girls, Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, agree that logging on can be a great way to meet your match.

The Advantages of Online Dating

Dr. Ellen Kriedman (also known as Dr. Ellen) says online dating is an advantage for people who are uncomfortable about meeting people in public places, or who are new to an area. Online dating services also can be a good option if you frequently travel for work or have children or other responsibilities that make going out to meet people difficult.

What's more, you're not confined to the area where you live. You can search the world, since you have international access via the Internet.

And you can meet people without fear of commitment. Online dating services provide chat rooms that allow you to get to know someone before you exchange photos or phone numbers.

In addition, most sites allow the user to place a photo along with a personal ad, and some even have audio capability so you can listen to your potential soul mate's voice. While this may sound a bit superficial at first, Internet dating actually takes the whole "meat market" aspect out of the dating process because it allows you to weed out the players.

Choosing an Online-Dating Service

With so many online dating services out there, picking one can be difficult. Dr. Ellen advises people to do their homework. Shop around until you find one that best suits your particular needs. Narrow your search by looking at services that specialize in matching people with similar interests. For example, you might consider a dating service for people who share the same religious faith, like BigChurch.com, ChristianCafe.com or JDate.com; if you're a sports enthusiast, you might check out fitness-singles.com. The list goes on ...

While e-dating is a dream come true for some, The Rules Girls warn that an e-courtship has more dating hazards than ever — and they're not what you think! Whether you meet online, at work, or in a bar, email has become an integral part of most relationships, so you need to be prepared to handle a cyber relationship.

Disadvantages and Warnings About Online Dating

The Pitfalls of Email Courtship

Fein and Schneider say email is just like a phone call if it leads to a date. But there are pitfalls unique to the medium. For one thing, it's very easy to be seduced by the informality of email or instant messaging.

Remember the scene in Bridget Jones' Diary when Bridget (Rene Zellweger) gets lured into sexually charged email banter initiated by her boss (Hugh Grant)? Conducting e-relationships can be tricky because, as Bridget found out, email often allows people to become too casual too fast. Fein and Schneider advise that "less is more" when writing a personal ad, email or instant message. Too many intense feelings can scare men and women away.

And online dating can make it more difficult to weed out the "undesirables." Fein and Schneider counsel many women who become involved in "fantasy relationships" that never materialize. Fantasy men typically chat up a storm and never ask the woman out.

Finally, don't believe everything you read. Most online dating services ask participants to fill out long questionnaires about themselves. Women usually put a lot of thought into these, but men don't. A man may indicate that his favorite movie is When Harry Met Sally and he loves romantic walks on the beach. This will certainly attract women. But, in reality, most men would choose to watch basketball on TV over the beach walk, and Dirty Harry is a more likely contender in the "Favorite Movie" category.

Make Sure to Delete Mr. Wrong

"Little white lies" on someone's profile may be harmless, but there are some creeps trolling the online dating services. If you're going to cyber date, here are some screening tips to help you delete Mr. Wrong:

  • Ask a man for a photo. If he doesn't send one, or keeps making up excuses, there's something wrong. Of course, if he has too many photos with his ad, that can be equally problematic.
  • Ignore men who write form letters or send only a "wink" or a "rose," or who write something like "you're sexy."
  • Don't answer email from men with "player" names, such as "MeTarzan."

Sherrie and Ellen also advise women not to "have sex" online. The Rules girls say, "Delete/Next" to these men.

A Word About Online Dating Safety

If you meet someone online, take it slowly. You may think that you know the person because you have been corresponding via email, but remember to use common sense.

  • Guard your anonymity. Most online dating services use a "double blind" system that protects your identity. Be sure not to include your last name, address, place of work, phone number or any other identifying information when corresponding online.
  • Request a photo. Appearance can help you determine whether the person is someone you want to correspond with. If the person doesn't send a photo and makes excuses, stop corresponding with him.
  • Speak on the phone. While the Rules Girls advise women not to push the "relationship" from email to phone (let the man call you!), a phone call can reveal much about a person's social skills. If you decide to speak with someone on the phone, give your cell phone number or ask the person for his number. Also use telephone-blocking techniques so he can't get your number through caller ID.
  • Meet in a public place. If you decide to meet, choose a safe place, such as a restaurant during a busy time. Tell a friend where you're going and what time you plan to return. Give your friend the person's name and phone number. Never arrange for someone to pick you up at your home or office. Take your own transportation. When the date is over, do not allow the person to follow you.
  • Watch for warning signs. If a person displays anger, tries to pressure you, gives inconsistent information about himself (even age!), refuses to speak to you on the phone after you've established an email correspondence, something isn't right. Move on.
  • Protect yourself. If you feel uncertain about someone, get offline. If you're in a public place with a person, excuse yourself and call a friend from the ladies room and ask that person to come and meet you. If you feel unsafe, call the police. Don't be embarrassed. Be safe.