Online Dating FAQ’s

Regardless of which mechanism you choose to launch yourself into the dating arena, you will likely be considering the following questions:
1. How should I present myself? How much shall I reveal?
2. What and how much do I need to know about the other person?
3. What can I believe? How do I separate fact from fiction?
4. What safeguards shall I put in place to protect myself physically and emotionally?

With regards to Question #1, preparing yourself for the dating arena can be a lot of fun, but knowing what to tell and what to hold back is important. Certainly, start with presenting yourself at your best. By that I mean that you should do whatever you can to feel and look good (e.g. new hairdo, new clothes, professional headshot, manicure/pedicure, massage, counseling) but it’s better if it all feels authentic, and doable. For example, buying a new outfit can be spirit-lifting, but don’t break the bank doing it. If you feel uncomfortable doing something, that’s a clue that you are not being authentic. Pretending to be who you are not is tantamount to lying, and that never leads to any good outcomes.

Telling the truth about who you are means revealing general things about yourself that are easily verifiable, like your age, physical appearance, state of fitness, your interests, and whether or not you have children. If you don’t look anything like you did ten years ago, don’t post that 10-year old picture in your profile. And, needless to say, I’m not one for lying about age. Lies usually lead to more lies, and before you know it, you’re entangled in a web. Besides, how can you enjoy yourself when you’re lying about who you are, to say nothing of having to explain yourself later on?

But being truthful does not mean non-discriminating or full disclosure. In the early stages of dating, being more conservative (i.e. less revealing) is better. That goes for physical as well as mental disclosure. You want to be truthful in revealing who you are (age, children, what you’re looking for, what you value, etc.) but not to the extent of telling your whole life story all within the space of two dates. It’s about having healthy boundaries. Being indiscriminate (inappropriate or untimely) about personal disclosure may lead one to come across as too needy (e.g. “Getting too close to someone triggers painful memories of childhood for me” translates as “I have a lot of emotional baggage, and will need quite a lot of support.”) That’s an argument for sorting out at least some of our emotional baggage first, before embarking on a quest for love and romance.

The general rule for dating is that you want to present yourself as someone that another person would find a) interesting and fun to be with, b) easy to get to know, yet confident and self-assured, c) open and honest, yet appropriately separate, and d) appealing physically as well as emotionally. People also like to feel like you are interested in getting to know them, so always talking about yourself and your achievements may lead to someone thinking that you’d really like to be dating yourself. And they’re gone faster than you can blink.

Dating online is more limited as you don’t have any real-time, real-space opportunities to get to know someone. Online contact becomes limiting after a while as it does not allow you to really see someone in the context of their life – work, family, friends, community – and it is through these contexts that you are able to fill in the blanks of the picture that is presented to you through your online or phone contacts. Which leads us into the second and third questions: What do you need to know about the other person, and what can you trust? This depends on where you are in the dating process.

In the beginning, the things you need to know about people you meet are the same things you’d want them to know about you – what are their values, life goals, interests and hobbies, favorite activities, etc. Further along, you’d probably want to know how they relate to and treat the significant people in their lives, how they handle conflict and crisis, how they approach uncertainty and setbacks, and so on. This is because this kind of information gives you an idea of what you might yourself have to deal with should the relationship move into deeper territories. And as for what to trust, rather than focusing on the other, learn to trust yourself. If you fine-tune your own instincts early on in the game, they will serve you well. Often, people ignore their own instincts in the haze of early infatuation, thereby leading to suffering later on when things go wrong.

I heard about a woman who would fly all over the world to meet with men she met on the internet. She was so eager to date and fall in love that she abandoned all reasoning and judgment, bringing along with her a young daughter, taking who knows what kind of risks to meet those men.

The moral of the story is this: meeting a lot of people is good as your chances of finding that special one are increased, but doing it mindfully (i.e. taking time, paying attention to your intuition, using both your intellectual and emotional faculties to guide you) is better.

As for physical safeguards, you want to be using your common sense and good judgment, like a) not revealing personal information like where you live, your phone number, etc. when you first encounter someone online, b) meeting in public places, or arranging for your own transportation for the first one or two dates, c) always having a cell phone and enough money with you for emergencies, and d) trusting you own instincts over anything else. For instance, going away for an alone weekend in a cabin in the woods with someone you’ve never met in person and spent time with is probably not a good idea. Even if the purpose of your “visit” is for a mutually agreed upon sexual encounter only, the first time is likely better in a place from which you can easily and quickly leave.

Next week, I will present a Dating and Relationship Readiness Quiz, so stay tuned.

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