The Foundations of Lasting Love, Pt.7
Most of the world, as we know it, has moved to dating online.
It used to be you first met people in communal spaces – the party of a friend, a member of your club, or even the attendee at a singles’ bar.
While there was often nothing safe – no guarantee of safety – about the person you were meeting in the old system (rates of date or acquaintance rape and abusive marriages were just as high), meeting someone face-to-face gave the illusion of safety, because you did have the chance to use your gut reaction (or first impression) as part of the process of deciding who to go off alone with on this gamble we call a first date. So if your instincts were good, you were usually okay.
Times have changed.
In all age groups and sexual orientations, people are meeting first online.
This means you are meeting potential dates first in a space in which you cannot gather a first impression.
When we meet face-to-face, based on a host of subconscious stimuli, we often like (or dislike) people almost immediately.
Meeting in the old fashioned way gives you an opportunity to decide not to ask for, or to decline, a first date.
When you meet through a website, however, you are denied your earliest opportunity to tune into your intuition and to judge whether you instantly like or dislike this person.
How can you make this disadvantage of the online dating world less severe?
As you know, when you meet at an online dating site (along with whatever series of questions you’ve been asked to fill out as a member, and their questionable “compatibility” ratings) – the most important data you have is found in the member’s profile (which at first, not unlike a resume, you must take at face value).
You need their photo.
If it is there, and is (hopefully) recent, you still can gauge your gut reaction to their photo.
This is far from perfect, and you are not just making an assessment of attractiveness (though whether or not you find them attractive matters), but also trying to get a vibe about their character, their like-ability to you.
There are times people turn out to be much worse looking than their photo.
And there are more rare times when, in person, they actually turn out to be much more attractive (at least, to you) than their photo indicated.
If it is their picture – and overwhelmingly, in adult-to-adult interactions, it is an actual photo of the prospect, in one decade of their life or another (perpetrators grooming children as victims often post pictures that are not of themselves, and may pass themselves off to their intended victims as entirely different in age or gender) – you do get a feeling for whether or not you might like this person if or when you meet.
Listen to that feeling. It is your first line of defense.
If your prospect has not posted a photo, you need to request one by attachment before you move even one inch forward.
(There are a number of possible reasons: being married or involved, being fearful their profile will be seen by an employer or coworker, being fearful of the internet, hatred of or insecurity about their looks, etc.)
YOU NEED YOUR DATA – and that includes an actual, recent photo.
Know what you want, have some standards, and weed out online prospects via their profile information and their email (and text or phone) approach to you.
You have their “resume.”
You want them to have been forthcoming in their profile or their communications with you.
Pay attention to what they say about their education, occupation, income, interests, age, sexual orientation (gay/bi/straight), gender identity (trans/cisgender), relationship status, parental/non-parental status, and what they say they are looking for (friendship/casual sex/friendship first/long-term relationship, monogamous/non-monogamous, etc.).
There is, or should be, a lot of information there.
And since you are meeting many people (finding a good match means getting out there and staying out there till you do – it’s a numbers game), you may want to make some note cards with this important data on it, and review your prospect’s card as you approach the first few meetings.
Someone initiates contact. Someone “winks” online. Someone sends an email.
Whether you initiate or they do, you want to actually say something in those initial contacts – something more than, “Hey, you’re cute!”
This may not matter to you, but if it is important, note whether or not they can compose their thoughts on paper (and since I’m a writer, it matters to me if they can spell and do a reasonable job of punctuating).
But whether or not you care if they can write, you want to use this stage to try to strike up a conversation.
Since you are weeding out mismatched prospects, it is not time to simply say, “Hi, let’s do coffee.” You want to save your coffee dollars for possibilities who have made it through the first round.
So, does something in their response touch on something in your profile?
- Do they help you strike up a conversation?
- Do they seem opaque and secretive? reasonably transparent? or given to a torrent of overboard self-disclosure?
- What kinds of thoughts do they share?
- Are there shared interests you discuss by email?
- Do they respond to your conversation about ideas and interests, or is their only interest “what you are wearing” and the “color of your” present “underwear?” (If sexual innuendos (or phone sex or sexting) are introduced inappropriately early (before a First Meet), it may indicate that you’ve got a sex addict on your line – so, if you want a real relationship (open or monogamous), throw the sex addicts back.)
Ask yourself, What about your early interactions can help you decide whether or not to move this person on to the next level?
Another Layer of Data
You’ve got their photo. You’ve got their profile information. You’ve had email exchanges.
Moving to texting can add another layer of data – and adding the sound of their voice, another layer still.
Some people want to just get on with it, meet, and decide based on face-to-face contact, but consider having one or more phone calls with your prospects.
While someone can still pass at the voice level, raise your hopes, and then fail at the face-to-face round, you can tell so much from the sound of someone’s voice.
And there are people whose voices alone are simply deal breakers.
Having one or more conversations on the phone can move someone forward or exclude them – helping you dodge the bullets of being trapped with inappropriate (or worse) partners.
- Text conversations are much like the dating site email – devoid of tonal qualities and inflection, and of course, also lack facial expression.
*IMPORTANT: NEVER GIVE A LANDLINE NUMBER TO AN ONLINE PROSPECT – not one connected to your home, not one connected to a family member, not one connected to your job or school. Landlines that are listed in telephone directories link to addresses and a simple Internet search leads straight to a map with step-by-step directions to your home/job/school. IT IS NEVER WISDOM TO ALLOW SOMEONE YOU HAVE NOT MET FACE-TO-FACE TO BE ABLE TO TRACK YOU DOWN.
It is your responsibility to do all you can to keep yourself safe – and while those we have met face-to-face can certainly still perpetrate violence against us, and are the statistically most likely source – you can, at least, give yourself the opportunity to meet and talk face-to-face with an online prospect (so you can also read their facial expressions and body language) BEFORE any one of them has sufficient information with which to physically harm or stalk you (the acquaintance and date rape stats include first dates).
ALSO: Never share your real name and address OR YOUR FACEBOOK OR LINKEDIN profiles (etc.) – before you meet face-to-face.
Don’t invite stalkers.
Don’t use your real name in your profile.
Remember, you are meeting strangers – strangers who will possibly become friends – one or more of whom may also become lovers – but at least until after the First (or Second) Meet – they remain, “strangers.”
Treat them as such. (You wouldn’t ask a stranger to babysit your wallet. Don’t trust them with your home address.)
Meet in a Public Venue & Get There & Get Home
Under Your Own Steam
Never get into a lockable, metal and fiberglass, high-speed projectile with a prospect.
Never have a stranger – including anyone you’ve met online, no matter how long you’ve been talking and how well you think you now know them – pick you up in a car.
Never let a new prospect drive you home after a first or second meeting (because you don’t know them well enough to be in a car with them, yet, and because they shouldn’t, yet, be given knowledge of where you live/work/go to school, etc.).
Cars are frequent sites of sexual assault.
They are prime sites of date rape.
While having met someone before – or even knowing someone well, as demonstrated by the acquaintance rape and child sexual abuse statistics – is no guarantee of being safe in their presence, your intention is to keep yourself as safe as possible as you meet prospects for the first time (as you go on First Meets).
You should NEVER meet an unknown person in a way that puts you at their mercy (alone or with friends) in the lockable moving metal projectile we call an automobile.
Once, when I was teaching a seminar on this topic (keeping yourself safe while online dating), a young woman proudly announced that she NEVER let an online stranger pick her up at her house. She bragged that, instead, she made sure she met them around the corner and one block over from her house. But from there, she got into their car and let them drive her to their date.
NOTHING ABOUT HER SCENARIO WAS SAFE.
STAY OUT OF CARS OWNED AND DRIVEN BY PROSPECTS, until after you have had one or two meetings in which to assess them.
Meet in a public place and then – if you arrived, and are leaving, by car – you are your own designated driver. Do not drink (or in any other way, inebriate yourself) on your First Meet.
Make sure you are able to get back to it, and drive it – safely – away from the public venue.
It is inappropriate (and potentially foolhardy) to have a First Meet escort you back to your vehicle.
If you use public transportation to get to your First Meet, be sure you can get yourself back to your bus or train without the assistance of your First Meet person (In other words, stay sober!), and take steps to assure that the First Meet does not have opportunity for date rape/sexual assault on the walk back to, or the wait for, or the ride on, the bus or the train.
He or she is not there to escort you.
Whether the First Meet is creepy or seems delightful, you do not want to be followed to your home (and do not go to their home).
Even if the First Meet goes super-well – get there, and get home after – on your own steam.
There is a gendered aspect to these warnings. Females are statistically less likely to commit sexual assault (at least, against an adult male) or intimate partner (“domestic”) violence.
Nevertheless, if you date women, it is important to recognize that females can be crazy. Females can assault and commit violence. Females can stalk. Females can be controlling and abusive. Females can decide that you are “theirs,” whether or not you’ve ever made a commitment to be exclusive with them.
So, if you are dating women, you may be at less risk of being sexually assaulted on the First Meet, than if you date men, however, over the long haul, you are not free from the risk of the range of abuse.
No matter what gender/s you date, your purpose on a First (and Second and Third) Meet is to turn on your intuition, pay attention to what they say – even to the fleeting facial expressions that don’t line up – to look for red flags, and to listen to (and form) your first impressions – the way you would have if you first met face-to-face.
Again, No Inebriates of Any Kind
So you are meeting a prospect of interest face-to-face, in a public place, to further assess their potential as a friend/dating partner/long-term partner. You are taking the responsibility to get yourself there, and home again, safely, and without giving away your home address or being followed. You have liked their profile picture/s reasonably well (and it compares well with the face you now see in front of you). You have liked the tone and facts listed in their profile. You have liked the emails (and perhaps texts and phone calls) that you have exchanged, well enough that you would still like to get to know this one better.
But – your heart is not on your sleeve. You are not (yet) in love. You do not yet “need” them. And you will not be devastated if you – or they – don’t want to move forward. They – and hopefully, you, because they also should also have standards and know what they’re looking for – are still on probation.
In truth, you do not yet “know” them.
All that is happening is that you are restoring the equilibrium of dating when you meet face-to-face, because now, you are actually meeting face-to-face.
In a First Meet (even when tempted to enjoy your favorite libation), do NOT drink alcohol or use other inebriates.
You are not going to get high, because it is important to keep your wits about you (yes, to get there and home safely), but, also, so you have the cognitive and intuitive skills necessary to assess this promising prospect who has made it all the way through to this round.
As always, no matter what you are drinking (coffee, tea, soda, water, etc. . .), you need to guard your drink (both from your First Meet and from anyone else who might not mean you well).
Some people drug the drinks of others (*See the story, Drugged (page 193), in my book, I Trusted You).
Along with guarding your drinking glass, and your bodily autonomy, you also need to guard your ability to use this First Meet to judge this person’s potential – for you.
It is not helpful to be distracted by the buzz of your favorite alcohol or other substance. Your intent is assessment. This is very much like a job interview.
This person has made it past the first round. Their resume – their online profile – got them an email, perhaps a text or phone call, and now, a face-to-face interview.
This is that initial interview.
Stay on your toes.
Your goal is to guard your heart by weeding out the bad ones (by throwing the small fish back for someone else with different requirements) and by filtering in the good ones (and thus opening doors of possibility in your life).
You are in this to pick one or more (depending on your monogamy/non-monogamy orientation) appropriate partner, that both sexually/romantically excites you AND fits into your life (your plans and goals for your future).
Face-to-Face Data Collection
Now, in a relaxed and easy – conversational – manner, probe for real and significant information in your early conversations. You can best find out these things if you strike up an easy laid-back kind of conversation and gently lead it around to the important topics. You are simply sharing and conversing – about things of the past, experiences, things of the future, hopes, dreams . . . .
You’re not judging the person, or coming from a judgmental attitude.
You are only listening, and along the way, simply, quietly, deciding for yourself, if they might be a match for your hopes and dreams.
- If you end up recognizing that they may be damaged – or are just simply different from you – in ways that make them a mismatch for your needs, you wish them well and free them to continue on their journey to someone with whom they are a better fit as well.
But now is not the time for chit-chat about his or her favorite color.
It is not the time to (only) find out if they like rock climbing (unless rock climbing, or lack thereof, is a deal maker or deal breaker for you).
It is time to find out the stuff that can help you comprehend what it would be like to be with – or to be partnered to – this person.
You are interviewing for the person you will let closest to your heart.
You are talking. You are watching.
You are sharing. You are listening.
You are screening. You are hoping they are screening as well, because it’s not sexy if they want you, no matter what. It’s not sexy, if they don’t have standards too.
Whomever you are talking to, they are on probation. And they should stay on probation for quite some time to come.
- A very wise gay male friend of mine has talked about his “ninety day wonders” – men who would seem just right, for about ninety days. Then, at – or about –the ninety day mark, he would find out the man wasn’t really WHO he said he was: either he wasn’t actually single (and already had a long-term partner and wasn’t free to commit to exclusivity), or he didn’t own the home he said he did (instead, his father’s name was the same as his, and in his forties, he was still living home with his parents), or he didn’t have the job or the credentials or the degrees that he said he did . . . .
So, whether or not you’ve googled them (or maybe better yet ;-> run a criminal background check on them), candidates for your heart are on probation for at least 90 days – and one hundred and eighty days (6 months) would be better!
Remember, anyone can put their best foot forward for a while.
Anyone who has ever ended up in an abusive relationship knows that!!!
But no one can keep their best foot forward over the long haul.
Once they think they have you, the real person (good or bad) comes out.
- In general, abusers do not begin to act out until after they feel they have you, either when they feel you are “in love” with them, or they feel you are committed to them in a public and/or legal way (as in engaged or married), or you are pregnant by, or a new parent with, them.
When an abuser goes from your Knight (or Damsel) in Shining Armor, to your worst nightmare – they didn’t change.
They just finally stop monitoring their self-presentation (which they were doing in order to win you).
They just simply let out the real, insecure, and controlling person they always were underneath. They could no longer maintain the façade or no longer believed it necessary.
Guarding your heart is serious business. As you prepare to let people into your life, screening them may, actually, be guarding your life.
So, it is not their favorite color (or the color of their underwear), that you want to learn about when you go out a’ courtin.’
What is it, exactly, that you want to know? You want to know if there is any information that can – and SHOULD – exclude them – or if it is safe, and good in your eyes, for them to move ahead to the final round.
- You want to find out about this person’s past. (How were they treated as a child? In what ways might the ways they were treated as a child affect how they would treat you (and/or your present or future children) in a relationship?)
- You want to know how he/she treats (or has treated) their parents – but you ALSO want to know if you could still live with them IF THEY BECAME their parents, because in many ways, unless we work hard not to, we each become multiple parts of one or both parents. (Without our active engagement in good therapy, the apple actually does not fall that far from the tree . . . .)
- You want to know how they have been treated – and how have they treated others – in their former romantic/sexual/affectional relationships. (Since you can’t interview their exes, you will have to learn this by paying attention (vigilantly, across time) to their self-report. (They may not spill the beans right up front, but when they speak, listen closely to the subtext between the lines.)
- You want to know what she/he is like when she/he is angry. (Do they demonstrate road rage? (Something you might find out after your First or Second Meet, when you do share a car ride together.) Is their style of conflict resolution compatible with yours? Are you on the same page or do you believe in silent decorum until you can get your feelings under control and discussing your disagreements civilly – while they believe in venting their displeasure at full volume in public settings? Do they believe their anger just demonstrates their passion – how much they care – and your decorum demonstrates your lack of true caring – as if you are emotionally frozen? Do they talk about (or fantasize about) being vengeful or physically violent (with anyone) when wronged (exes, coworkers, family)? Have they ever gotten even with an ex – punctured his/her tires, keyed their car?
- Does their report about their exes sound reasonable and balanced? Do they accept some of the mismatch or discord that led to past breakups as their own fault? Or is every lover who ever broke up with them entirely responsible for everything that went wrong?
- Do the things they say about an ex make you want to prove to them that you are better than that? That they can trust you? That you would treat them better than that ex did?
- Do they show any red flags about control – like insecurity or jealousy or hyper-vigilance about your feelings or the feelings of others? (Jealousy does not mean they care. It means they don’t trust you. It may mean they don’t know how to trust anyone.)
- If you are looking for monogamy, do they show any sign of having game (playing the field, cheating, womanizing)?
- If you, or they, have any children, what are their thoughts (and experiences) on parenting? (What kind of parent are they (or were their parents)? What do they believe about child discipline (are you on the same page)? How would they expect to act if they were coming into your life as a coparent or stepparent? And do their parenting expectations line up with your expectations for your next partner?)
If you have standards, if you know what you want in a partner and are committed to keep looking until you find those things, you can use this time – this First (and Second and Third) Meet – to go further down the path of identifying whether or not this person would be a good fit – both for your companionate/romantic/sexual needs AND for your life (and where applicable, the lives your present/future children or grandchildren).
With a little wisdom, and a few good rules you stick to, dating-after-meeting-online can be as “safe” as dating-after-meeting-offline. Maybe safer, because you do get so much opportunity to assess (and exclude) the prospect early.
Since most violence is done against us by people we know, often, people we know well – like family, both online and offline dating require care and ongoing vigilance.
But meeting online need not endanger you more, or be any less safe, than dating when you meet offline.
In the long run, whichever way you first meet, you do actually date in real time.
Be looking to see who, among your prospects, best meets your criteria – and stay out there until you find one who does.
Actively use the process of dating to weed out (and set free) the ones who are not right for you.
Dating is a numbers game. Stay out there. Keep looking.
No one’s perfect, it’s true, but don’t settle (don’t settle down, don’t stop shopping around, don’t stop playing the field, don’t close off your options, don’t take down your profile) until you find someone who pretty gol’ darn right for you.
Demand the time you need – date after date – to get to know the ones who look like they might be a fit.
If there’s no chemistry – if you can’t kiss (or don’t enjoy kissing) them, if you can’t/don’t want to sleep with them – they are not a match.
Neither are they a match if they don’t meet your basic criteria, which (along with being sexy) should include being:
- Empathetic and compassionate (Kind to (and appropriate with) children and animals)
- Non-violent (Physically, Emotionally, Mentally, Verbally, Sexually)
- Single (if you want monogamy) or available (if you want some version of polyamory)
- Emotionally present
- Age-appropriate (a consenting adult, even as you are) and not-related-to-you-by-blood
- And probably: Hard working (having a demonstrable work ethic – even being a millionaire overseeing one’s fortune involves time, attention & required tasks) and Goal Oriented
And always, no matter how far down the road you are, leave yourself the right (and do your best to maintain your ability) to get out, if you find they were hiding an abusive nature.