In Dr. Paul Standal’s practice, he finds that meeting a significant other online has become much more common and acceptable in our culture. Meeting online has great advantages as well as challenges for singles looking for a mate. He finds (and research confirms) that people who meet online and have the same goal for meeting a committed partner are generally quite successful in establishing a committed, long-term relationship. He has a positive bias toward the online environment if the goals of potential matches are similar. Certainly, the reservoir of potential mates online is an advantage as is the relative anonymity for those who have been shy about approaching the dating scene or who have fears of rejection. In addition, it is inexpensive and can blunt the fear of “first impressions.”
Because of the availability and anonymity of the Internet, prospective “hook-ups” can be dishonest about themselves or their true identity. However, those looking for a permanent relationship tend to be more candid, honest and less shy than they might be in person. The early stigma of going online to find a suitable mate seems to have moderated over the last several years, with greater cultural acceptance and ability to screen potential partners beforehand. In addition, sites provide a range of motivations, from eharmony.com that concentrates on providing a screening for long-term, committed coupling to sites like plentyoffish.com or mobile apps, like tinder, that are more lese faire about their visitors’ motivations for meeting. It is also an advantage to be able to search for subsets such as age, financial/professional status, sexual preferences and other motivations.
In Dr. Standal’s work with couples that have met online, it is important to remember to take things slowly. These relationships can certainly be successful, but they do present challenges, particularly because they tend to advance to emotional involvement very quickly. Understanding yourself, as well as your prospective partner’s, needs, wants, desires and values, becomes a tricky business. As with any prospective relationship choice, it does take an internal awareness of one’s own deeper needs and conditions of worth that may have drawn you to a particular person.
We have an uncanny, internal radar that will draw us to someone out of our past issues or deeper needs. Because of this, it is even more important to establish a solid friendship if committed relationship is your goal, perhaps even before becoming physically intimate. As with any relationship, do not allow yourself to disregard behaviors that are questionable or “red flag” behaviors that should signal an end to a relationship before you get too emotionally involved.
One should keep in mind an awareness of online personal security and cautiousness. Before logging on, be aware that dating online can create golden opportunities for both soul-mate seekers and Internet-savvy scammers. Common sense and some basic safety tips can help you avoid the pitfalls of a virtual relationship, like keeping your personal demographic information safe until an online relationship is well established.
Generally, your common sense and gut instincts will clue you in that your contact may be masquerading as something or someone they are not. “Listen” to what the person tells you about themselves. If they sound too good to be true, ask questions. A person who acts evasive may be trying to mislead you. If personal details don’t add up, this should be a red flag. And, be skeptical of a person who professes to “love” you after a few online chats. You should not feel pressured or rushed in a new relationship.
In addition it is prudent to:
• Establish an anonymous e-mail account.
• Avoid using your real name online.
• Avoid giving out your telephone number or exact location.
• Get the telephone number of a potential date.
• Ask for a photograph. Again, check that it matches the personal details the person has given you. If the person doesn’t want to give you a photograph, this should be a red flag.
• Conduct a background check if necessary. A quick online search will retrieve many companies that offer this service.
If you’re planning a first date, you should:
• Meet in a public place. Avoid parking lots, secluded areas or going to someone’s home.
• Use your own transportation. Don’t arrange to be picked up, and don’t rely on your date for a ride.
• Avoid leaving your purse, wallet, food or drinks unattended.
• Always tell someone else about your plans.
Parents should be especially cautious with children interested in online dating. The anonymity of the Internet makes it easy for people to prey on minors, and just as easy for minors to pose as adults.
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