Cyber Relationships: The Risks and Rewards of Online Dating

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.