Finding love and staying safe online
Written by Darla Palmer-Ellingson in Home Travel & Leisure
When my husband and I met online a decade ago, it wasn’t something we talked about with friends. Considering modern online dating websites had only been around for a few years, meeting a match on the internet was still new and somewhat taboo. In just a few short years, online dating has transformed into a socially acceptable, multibillion dollar business.
More than half of all singles in America have created an online dating profile, according to a recent Singles in America study. Today, you can choose a mainstream service based on points of compatibility, or specialty sites targeted at many different groups or backgrounds.
Before you start surfing for Mr. or Ms. Right, take some time to think about what you want from an online relationship. You should also be prepared to take precautions before trusting strangers with personal information, or meeting someone new in person.
Be mentally prepared. Dating online is different than meeting other ways. You will generally spend a bit of time conversing via messages before actually meeting in person. But the biggest difference is potentially communicating with a volume of people at once as you sort out who you might want to date in real life. If you are someone who historically dated one person at a time, communicating with several potential dates simultaneously takes a little practice.
Decide which type of sites you want to try. Are you looking for a long-term relationship or a casual encounter? Review the objective of each site, and also the terms. Some sites are free to join and participate in; others have a monthly subscription or charge once you want to communicate with a match directly. One might assume that someone that pays for a subscription may be a little more serious about finding a mate, but that’s not to say good people cannot be found on free sites, too.
Match, eHarmony and Zoosk are popular paid sites. OkCupid, Plenty of Fish and Tinder top the charts of free sites.
When I was single, I tried a few sites, one at a time. What you may find with free sites is a lack of screening capability, flooding your inbox with undesirable attention.
Paid sites can be problematic, too. eHarmony has a lengthy membership application, designed to help one find the perfect match. Many complain, though, that you do not know in advance how many matches are in your area, and you could end up with little or no results. No refunds are offered by eHarmony for the lack of dating pool. The eHarmony algorithm does not allow you to filter out people for things such as political ideology or level of education, so you may feel as if you have little control over the results. The site only lets members communicate with matches they have selected for you. But you don’t have to go through the trouble of searching through profiles or spending time communicating with numerous people to find compatibility.
The best luck I had was on Match.com. With more than 13 million users and the ability to view as many profiles and communicate with as many members as I wanted, there were just more people to choose from. I had some ridiculously bad dates and was humiliated by men who found me too old or overweight (even though I was truthful in my profile). With resiliency, I made some good friends and found two people on the site I dated long term, but neither ended up being “Mr. Right.”
Profile tips. It can be a little intimidating filling out a profile about yourself. Be honest, upbeat and use a little self-deprecating humor to show your human side. Do not include too much personal information. Also, use a current photo, and don’t fib about your age or physical attributes. If you end up meeting someone of quality, you might ruin your chances by starting off with a lie.
Online dating safety. On free sites, it is easy for scammers to create a fake profile, stealing photos of “regular” people to send you messages. Sometimes, these frauds are easy to spot (poor English skills are a clue). Other warning signs are declarations of love that come too quickly, asking to email or chat outside of the dating platform, or asking for your phone number too soon.
If a match asks for help or money, no matter how sad the story, this should be a big red flag of warning. Never send money and never give financial information such as your social security number, credit card or banking information. If someone requests money or you sense a scam, report it to the site’s customer service immediately.
Don’t share any personal information in your profile (such as your last name, phone number, addresses or other identifying information), and keep that info private until you feel 100 percent comfortable sharing it with your match.
Do get to know someone via in-site messaging back and forth until you have a sense of who they are. Don’t like what you are hearing? Politely decline further communication and don’t meet them!
Being a single mother, I may have been overly cautious while dating, but in today’s world, it is not a bad idea to run a background check on anyone you are becoming seriously involved with. It’s easy and costs about $20 to do online with just basic information gleaned from a drivers license. I have done this privately a few times, and while most checked out fine, I did discover one boyfriend was married and still living with his wife while we were dating.
Always, always, always meet in a public place, during the day somewhere with lots of people, such as a coffee shop. Don’t ever agree to meet for the first time at your house. Even if you have been messaging for a month, you don’t really know this person. They could be crazy or a thief, and you don’t want them to have your address. It is not advisable to go home with someone you just met online for the same reason. I had one date with a person who revealed he had been in prison for a felony. Although I appreciated his honesty, it was not a path I was willing to go down, even though he begged for a chance. Don’t let yourself be pressured into anything you’re not comfortable with.
Membership base and costs. Here are some of the most popular dating sites:
+ Ok Cupid 7.3 million users per day, free
+ Plenty of Fish 4 million users per day, free
+ Match.com 15.9 million users monthly, $35.99 per month
+ eHarmony 4.1 million users monthly, $59.95
+ Zoosk 3.8 million users monthly, $29.95
+ Christian Mingle 2.4 million users monthly, $29.99
Most free sites also offer a premium (paid) option, and paid sites offer a discount for longer subscriptions.
Happily ever after. I had pretty much given up on online dating when I found my husband-to-be on a paid site, of which I was not a member. He figured out how to give me his email address, and we had a digital courtship for a couple of months before meeting in real life. I was totally in love by the end of the first date, and still consider him my best friend 10 years later.
Whether you are looking for Ms. Right or Mr. Right Now, please be careful in your search. I wish you the best of luck in finding love online.