"Found who?" "The man of my dreams. The guy I've been waiting to meet." "How do you know it's him?" "Whaddaya mean, how do I know? He's great-looking, the perfect age, and majoring in economics, just like me. We have so much in common - we both love the same music, the same movies, mystery novels and jigsaw puzzles, and we're both vegetarians. AND he's available. Can you believe it?" "That's great, Pam, I'm so happy for you. Where did you guys go?" "What do you mean?" "I mean, when'd you go out? Where'd you meet him?" "We didn't and I didn't." "I don't get it. I thought you said that you met the man of your dreams." "I didn't say I met him. I said I found him. Last week, to be precise." "Huh?" "On Facebook." "Oh." *** Maggie's sure that she's met her soul mate. The next time she goes online, she sees that he's left her a message. Heart fluttering, she gets back to him and they make a date for the following night. They decide to go for coffee and dessert, followed by a walk along the pier. Maggie, STOP!!!!! You're sure you've met the love of your life. And you know what? Maybe you have. But without even realizing it, you've thrown caution to the winds. Online dating is not the same as a blind date that your roommate's brother set up for you. On a blind date, there's someone who knows the other person, who can vouch for him. With online dating, as much as you think you know the person, they could be lying through their teeth about everything - from the way they look to the movies they enjoy. And one week is not enough time to know the difference. Although online dating has been growing in popularity, Facebook has given it a whole new twist and a major push, despite - or, perhaps, because - it's not an online dating service. And although many people use it to make new friends and relocate old ones, the net effect is a social network that can really be thought of as an enormous, virtual singles' bar. While you might think that Facebook is safe, since no one from any other university except your own can view your page unless they're on your "friends" list, think again. You don't have to be on someone's list in order to poke them or leave them a message, and once you (or they) have done so, they can be added to your list if you so desire. The site is also no longer the small community it once was. There are over 11 million users, 93% of whom log on at least once a month. That's an awful lot of people whom you can be in some form of contact with and know absolutely nothing about. But wait! You say. I do know something about them. I can see their profiles, read about them and see if we have anything in common. I can also view their pictures and see what they look like and what they do in their spare time. And besides, everyone on Facebook is a college student. That definitely narrows the possibility of meeting an axe murderer online. First of all, contrary to what you may think, NOT everyone on Facebook is a college or grad student. Many colleges allow their alumni to keep their .edu addresses for life and some - like UCLA - guarantee it. Second of all, you have absolutely no idea if what someone has written on their profile is true. The pictures can also be doctored up with little to no difficulty whatsoever. You CANNOT go out with someone just because their Facebook profile makes them sound exactly like your knight in shining armor. So does that mean that online dating is taboo? Well, the truth is that the only way to be 100% sure that you stay safe is not to date online! But barring that option, there are ten rules you can follow and precautions you can take that will ensure your safety as much as possible. But please be aware: These are intended for college age people and up. Teenagers should NOT cyberdate under ANY circumstances, be it using Facebook or anything else. So if your kid sister is doing it, tell your parents and don't worry about being called a weasel. It could save her life. The same thing goes for your kid brother. People think that only girls are in danger, but boys can be taken advantage of, too. The Ten Rules for Online Dating
1. The first rule is NEVER give out any personal information about yourself. Personal information includes: Your full name (use a nickname or first name only in initial communications), all addresses (home, dorm, business), all phone numbers (personal, home, dorm, work, cell) and any other information that might enable him to find you offline. Don't give them your personal email address either, because there are a lot of cyber romances that turn into cyberstalking. Set up a free email address such as those offered by Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail. Create a fictitious user ID that doesn't include your name, like email@example.com. If you end up being cyberstalked, it will be much easier to cancel this account than to cancel your regular email and notify everyone in your address book of the change. 2. Take it slowly, and communicate only by email. Remember the old sports saying, the best offense is a good defense? Keep it in mind, because it will serve you well. Be on the lookout and keep your defenses way up. It's very easy for someone really creepy to sound great in the first few emails, but it's a lot harder to remain consistent over a long period of time. So save all emails to compare, and keep your eye out for inconsistent information. If in one email he says he's a business major and in another he says that he wants to be an English teacher, it could be that he's majoring in business because he feels it's more practical even though he loves English - but he could also just be lying. Trust your instincts. If anything seems to be even remotely fishy, chances are there's something rotten in the state of Denmark and you should get out of the relationship ASAP. 3. Ask for a picture. Actually, ask for more than one, so that you can compare. See who's in the picture with him. If they're all stills of him alone, that should set an alarm bell off in your head. Do, however, take into account that many people (maybe even you, too?) either doctor pictures just a bit or send pictures that are a few years old, when they were skinnier or had a bit more hair than they do today. That's a reality of online dating that is normative. If he says he doesn't have any pictures, and/or refuses to send some, that's a major red flag and you should stop all contact immediately. 4. Before you meet in person, you should move from emails to phone calls. However, you still DO NOT want to give out your real phone number. The best thing to do is talk from a public phone. Set up a time, and give him the number of the phone. After you do this for a while, you can exchange real phone numbers as long as you have Caller ID. That's because, if things go bad and he is a cyberstalker, you will be able to block his calls. If he has blocked his number so that it only shows up as a private caller, do not accept the call. 5. When you're ready to meet in person, don't go anywhere private. The rule is, make it public and make it short. Tell your date in advance that it will be short, so that he'll understand and won't be insulted. If he's really a normal guy, he'll only respect you more for protecting your safety. This might sound funny, but it's very important: When you go on your first date, don't go alone. Bring a friend along. If you feel uncomfortable, then arrange for your friend to be in the same place in the mall/restaurant/dessert bar where you'll be. If he insists on meeting you alone, DO NOT GO and cut off all contact immediately!! 6. Once you've met, compare your impressions of his online personality with the real person you've just seen. Does it match? If not, think seriously about whether or not you want to continue. I'm not talking about situations where he might have a few less hairs or a few more pounds than his picture. Like we said earlier, that's a reality of online dating - and maybe even of blind dates in general. But if there are more significant inconsistencies, find someone else. You might feel let down and lonely again, but you're safe and that's what matters. 7. Before that first meeting, and even for the next few meetings after that, make sure someone knows whom you're going out with, where you'll be and when you're planning on coming back. Let that person know where all your emails are stored on your computer, because if anything G-d forbid goes wrong, that will be the source of information needed to locate the person you've been seeing. 8. This is a major one. NEVER, but NEVER, get into a car with an online date. Arrive independently and leave independently, and never go anywhere private, not for a long while. Do not go home with them, and if you're changing locations in the middle of a date - for example, from a restaurant to a movie theater - take your own car. Take this very slowly, because your life could depend on it. Remember that this is not a normal blind date. And always keep your cell phone with you. 9. This rule applies to all dating, but especially for cyberdating. If at any point you feel intimidated, afraid, or you feel that your date is trying to lead you into doing things or going somewhere you feel might compromise either your safety or your principles, use your common sense and get out of there. Excuse yourself to the ladies' room, call a friend or even get someone else involved - like the waiter, security guard or proprietor. Don't be embarrassed. Explain the situation to them and enlist their help to get you out the back door. Not only are you better safe than sorry, but unfortunately, if you don't ensure your safety you may G-d forbid never get the chance to be sorry about it. 10. Don't be embarrassed to tell the police if anything goes wrong. Don't worry about whether or not you followed all the cyberdating rules; give the police all the facts. If you don't report this person, they will do it again. If you met him on Facebook - or, for that matter, any similar site such as MySpace - report him to the owners of the site. They will kick him off. I realize that these tips have something of a doomsday feel to them. And the truth is that, obviously, most online dates do not end in tragedy. But that's also because people have learned to be careful. When your safety - and your life - are in the balance, it's much better to err on the side of caution. You're too precious and special to take chances with yourself!
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