Gay & Lesbian Services of Western New York

Online Meeting, Chatting, Dating

During the last decade more and more people have gained access to and now use the Internet for access to a world of information related to their particular interests and for finding and chatting with others. This has been a remarkable resource for breaking isolation and meeting others like us. Like any tool, it can be used effectively to enhance our lives. It can also be misused and put us in jeopardy. This month’s article focuses on online safety so that you can use this tool in an effective and safe way by knowing and avoiding the pitfalls.

There is a chat room for almost any group or interest that you can think of but the friendship and romance rooms are often the most popular and the meeting sites also get a lot of traffic. What follows are some tips while online and also some dos and don’ts for meeting someone “IRL” or, In Real Life.

When we meet someone in real life we have many sources in the interaction to assess the truth. How does the person act, speak, and look, just for starters. How do we feel in their company, comfortable or like something is a little off, and so on. In cyberspace all you see are typed words and perhaps a pic or more that may or not be the person, or, if they are pictures of the person they may not be recent. So with this format for getting to know someone and potentially meeting you have to get as much information as you can by asking questions and paying close attention to the answers. Don’t assume that the profile tells all or even the truth. Profiles are meant as bait to create interest and so the truth may be nil or exaggerated or simply insufficient. I am aware of many instances where the profile was made up and a few instances where the picture was either old or not even of the person. (More on pics in a minute)

Here are some do’s and don’ts:

Don’t give your real name, address or exact location to anybody online, no matter how charming or “nice” they seem. Assume that everyone is a potential predator until PROVEN otherwise and make it hard to prove. For chatting purposes a general location is OK, like Western NY or north of Buffalo.

Don’t give away your phone number. This is a serious step that you really need to think about. If you want to talk on the phone after you have chatted for a while use a payphone the first few times. Think of it this way: Even if they are honest and you meet what if you do not like what you see or the relationship sours, now they have your number and can harass you. Which reminds me, develop and use a screen name and email dedicated to chatting, do not use your regular email address. This way you can disappear should you need to ( and remember so can the other party as most people think to set up a special screen name).

Don’t send a picture unless you absolutely don’t care where it could wind up. A copy of your pic is automatically stored on the receivers Temporary Internet Files Folder of their hard drive. I know some persons will not chat without a pic but you really need to think it through before you send one. If you do be sure that no one else is in the pic and insist that the other party send you their picture first.

Pay attention to the content of the chat. If it all sounds too good to be true, good chance it is not true. People can use the anonymity of the Internet to brag and lie; again pay close attention to the information you are getting. For example, if they are 17 and drive a Porche, if it exists at all it most likely belongs to the parents and not them.

Don’t give too much information about yourself at first or too quickly. If you feel the other person is asking for or giving too much information too quickly you might consider distrusting and moving on to chat with someone else. Also if you are being asked very personal information that you are not comfortable disclosing by all means disconnect with that chatter. When someone is really interested in getting to know you the chat will flow smoothly and each segment of the conversation will flow naturally and not be forced.

Do use standard online etiquette. People who frequent chat rooms are recognized after a while and develop an online reputation based on how they behave. We often attract what we send off so if you don’t want to attract a jerk or someone naughty don’t you be.

What if you decide to meet:

Think twice before meeting anyone online IRL. Use judgement and proceed with caution. Have you asked enough questions on-line? Have you spoken to them? Can you be certain you will be safe when and where you meet? Are you sure they are who they present themselves to be? Have the conversations made sense and their answers to questions added up? Have you felt uncomfortable at all when chatting with them? Did they seem in anyway pushy? Have you chatted enough and over time to develop some sense of who and how this person is? The last time I engaged in this activity I printed out their contacts to check for consistency and do have some record.

If you decide to meet start by having realistic expectations. The way a person presents online or on the phone may be very different face to face. Some people don’t look in person like they do in pictures or the picture may be old.

Be careful if you decide to meet:

Set up the first meeting in a public and lit space like a coffee shop or mall and let the other person know that the first meeting will be brief and public only. If they don’t show up that may be informative of their real agenda and so have no further contact with them.

Consider having a friend there to help you be objective and to help you keep the brakes on so you don’t get carried away. Have another friend call you during the “date” if you have a cell phone just to make sure everything is all right. If the person is really interested and sincere they will be willing to follow your rules and set up another meeting.

If the person does not look at all like their picture, LEAVE.

Get there on your own, do not have the “date” pick you up. This gives you the best control should you not be interested or you need to leave. Do not accept a ride home either as that gives your address away. Wait until you have met at least a few times.

Do not leave your personal belongings with the person you are meeting, say, should you go to the bathroom. They could take them or search for personal information. Do not leave a drink unattended either to prevent any tampering.

Take care of yourself!

You may think that all these safe guards are over the top and unnecessary or at the least cumbersome. Unfortunately many people are willing to overstate or lie to satisfy their needs and only you can protect yourself, that is your responsibility. There is no shame in being careful and, frankly, a good “date” will respect you for it in the long run. I , for one, have never wanted to date anyone whom I could not trust or respect or anyone who I felt was foolhardy or too much of a risk taker with their own lives.


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