“Hi! I’m Jane, 28, tall, blonde, loves to dance, snowboarding, swimming in any water warmer than 80 degrees, laugh at reruns of The Family Guy and cook chili for my friends. You, 25-35, must be tolerant of other people’s kids and able to fall in love with your own, kind to all furry critters and be willing to teach me lessons of love… Turn-offs: smoking, arrogance and sloppiness. Turn-ons: muscles, quick-wit, and sensitivity.”

“I’m Pete, 5’10”, 42, athletic build, energetic, love buying surprise gifts for the one I love and ready to take a step beyond casual sex. Seeking vivacious, physically-fit lady who loves the outdoor, is willing to watch Sunday and Monday night football, able to laugh at my stupid jokes, and won’t hesitate to jump in a hot-tub and wreck your make-up if the mood strikes you. No airheads need apply. I want someone I can actually talk to.”

Such descriptions appear in abundance on the Internet. Millions of people post their stats on websites abound. We’ve got Match.com, Eharmony.com, Matchmaker.com, Plentyoffish.com– just to name a few. While some of the sites primarily target those who want to hook-up sans commitment, many others appeal to those who truly desire finding the “one” for long-lasting love. (By the way: No judgment here as to which venue to choose. Just be careful that you’re using the sites that match your needs and goals.)

Not too long ago, many people would turn up their noses at the concept of finding dates online, seeing the option as a sign of desperation reserved solely for perverts and/or losers. But in the last decade, I’ve seen a growing trend of very cool people scoping out the prospects online. Many people see Internet dating as the only way to search for other singles.

But is Internet dating safe? Do we really meet relationship-worthy people through viewing a photo and reading an obviously pumped up description of a potential suitor? What should we look out for if we take this road to romance? These are all good questions and below you’ll find some answers!

Safety First

It’s easy to get swept away by an alluring photo of an attractive person attached to printed words you long to be true. But even if you’re one of those people who believe you can “read” a person at first glance, don’t be too quick to dispose of caution.

  1. Never give out your home address or even your workplace address initially. Never have anyone pick you up from your home until you have spent some quality time in-person with whomever you end up dating. There are just too many people out there who run scams and cons. While, of course, you could end up fooled at any point in a relationship, usually after spending time with someone in a variety of contexts, you’re going to get a pretty good idea of someone’s character.
  2. Always meet in a public place and inform someone in your inner circle where you will be and when you arrive home safely ALONE. You might even go so far as to ask for a look at a driver’s license and take a photo of it. Of course, he/she can cover the address–After all, your date deserves the same courtesy of hiding where he/she lives as do you!
  3. Do not go home with someone upon first meeting. This is not a moral prescription. I’ve just heard and read of too many horror stories and witnessed a few of my own personally wherein bad things happen to naïve people. I’m not trying to scare you unnecessarily. Just don’t allow chemistry (or fear that you’ll never see this person again if you don’t cave to his/her invitation of homecoming) cloud your better judgment. If the chemistry is real and the one you’re hot for is genuine, then it won’t peter out if you hold off for a bit.
  4. Be on the lookout for too many vague answers to specific questions. While it’s clearly acceptable for you or your date to keep certain pieces of information about you private, if you ask someone a benign question such as “What do you do for work” and you get an answer like “A little of this and a little of that,” I’d recommend raising your suspicious antennae way up high.
  5. If your gut tells you that the person seems fishy, trust your intuition and don’t be afraid to end your date early. You can always use the excuse that “something has suddenly come up.” Immediately text a friend as to your concern to have someone on red-alert. And make sure you don’t get followed.

Whew! That parts done—now on to how to the fun part and possibly finding Mr. or Ms. Right.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Online Dating

  1. Be honest. While many online daters see no harm in fudging the truth to prevent scaring a potential match away, in the long run this tactic will backfire. And then you’ll have a lot of explaining to do when the truth comes out and your deceit creates feelings of betrayal in the other person. Even something as seemingly benign as shaving off a few years from you actual age can come back to haunt you. Mind you, more than likely, you will encounter many people who will blatantly lie to make themselves appear better than they are on paper. But remember: two wrongs don’t make a right. If someone lies to you, think twice about giving him/her a second chance.
  2. Pictures tell a story. Post flattering current pictures of yourself in many different settings. Steer away from photo-shopped headshots as they don’t let someone see the whole or real you.
  3. Be specific about what you like and don’t like. Stay away from generic descriptors of yourself such as “sensitive” or “love romance.” These words can have different meanings to people. Whereas romance to me may come in the package of watching Netflix while giving and receiving a hand massage with my partner, that scenario might be boring and trite to you. So give concrete examples of what you like and you’re looking for in a partner.
  4. Don’t say you want a committed relationship with someone if you’re actually just looking to date and play. People deserve to know what they’re signing up for.
  5. Don’t wait too long to meet-up in person. If you’ve had a few text/email exchanges and a few phone (or Skype, etc.) conversations, and no efforts are made to meet face-to-face, it could be that either you or the other isn’t really all that interested in pursuing a potential match. Or it could be an indication that even if you two did fall for one another it would never get off the ground because one of both of you are just too darn busy.
  6. Learn the art of soft rejection. Most of us don’t like being rejected except when done by someone who we don’t like. Nevertheless, you will probably encounter someone you meet up with who you just know you will never want to see again and vice versa. While many people resort to the old “Sure, call me” or “I’ll call you” tactic knowing that you’ll either never want to see the person again, it’s far better and cleaner for everyone involved to simply say, “Nice to meet you, but I don’t think this will go anywhere.”

While there are definitely reasons to be cautious, don’t let your fears get in the way of trying something new. As long as you’re careful and practice good judgment, you can increase the probability of having an active dating life and potentially meeting your true love. And of course, if you try it and discover it’s not your cup of tea, you always have the option of removing your profile, turning off the computer and going to the local supermarket to see who’s squeezing the tomatoes!