Online Dating: Risks and Rendezvous

by Zoe Mendez for Woman to Woman

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“Cyberspace, the World’s greatest Amusement park, where liars tell more lies, losers are CEO’s, enemies are friends, every sinner is a saint, weak people are cyber thugs, haters complain about haters, every relationship is loving & secure when they’re really lonely & insecure. So Step right up people, you can be whatever you want to be here”

Meeting people online can be one of the most fascinating and intriguing experience. I am sure we have all heard our share of horror stories, as well as some very romantic and sweet beginnings and middles. Hopefully, I can share some tips with you from my wealth of experience that can help you to minimize any unnecessary risks, scams and/or heartbreaks.  Today’s technology has allowed us the privilege to be on top of our game. With that in mind, and our instincts intact, we should not have to experience any unnecessary suffering, right?

Over the years, technology has been closing the gap on communication, making it easy for us to get in touch and stay in contact with people we like, love or who have in some way fascinated us at our very first meeting. I am no longer amazed at how small a circle the world has become with all the social networking platforms, especially Face Book, which allows us the privilege of reconnecting with folks that we have lost touch with over the years.

For some, making friends online is very impersonal. It allows you to meet someone with whom you can develop a very good rapport, without ever meeting face-to-face. I do believe that we are all somehow connected; there are a lot of lonely people out there for different reasons and purposes. Some folks who have to be away from the comfort of the home, family and friends, enjoy socializing online for many reasons, including the fact that it is convenient. I have made friends who have helped me through some very difficult situations, and I have never met or seen them in person.

However, in some instances, it is not much different from meeting or dating someone in person.  If a person is a jerk, you would know it by the second or third chat. The energy of they emit, whether positive or negative can, be deciphered, even without their physical presence. Looking at photographs of the individual can also reveal a lot, especially if it is a close-up shot.  Observe the body language, the eyes, the smile, is there a knit in the brows etc.

There are some people who are genuinely looking for companionship in the form of good conversation, while there are those who are definitely just looking to get their freak on.  And believe me, if you pay attention you can know which direction the conversation would be steered, within the first five to ten sentences of the chat.  It is totally up to you to deem what is appropriate or inappropriate to entertain from someone you are meeting for the very first time. In other words, because the interaction is online, this should not open the floodgate for mediocrity. The same dating rules apply.

Okay let’s get down to some tips. Let’s say someone send you a request via one of your social networking accounts, in the form of a nice message. What do you do?  The first thing I suggest before you respond is to get an idea of who the person is.  Look at their profile; go through every detail of what is shared and make mental notes of the information shared. This would come in useful when you start asking questions during your chats. If there are pictures, definitely go through and look very carefully. Also make a mental note of the vibes you may pick up. Note what your instincts are saying to you.  If there are no photos, or the profile information is vague, I would immediately terminate any contact. If curiosity would get the better of you, I suggest that you proceed with extra caution.  If you have no face you are a ghost, and unless I recognize your name, I don’t care to get to know someone whose information is vague.

Make Google a close friend

Use the search engines. Google is super efficient. Next time you meet someone, Google them! You may be amazed to know what you can find out.

Taking it to the next level

I remember meeting someone via one of my social networking profile, one I rarely use.  He sent a message requesting permission to be in touch ( it was weeks before I actually saw the message). But after checking out his profile, he seemed to be a “cool looking” brother with a really nice vibe, so I responded.  I made sure I didn’t reveal too much about myself (great tip) and I kept the communication basic, short and to the point. Though they were few and far between, his messages were sweet. Later, we exchanged Instant Message info. There was no anxiety from either of us since our connection was very casual.

During our first IM chat, I noticed he didn’t seem comfortable divulging information about his background. He said he was from the UK and his profile said the same. Oh yes! And I did Google him  but no information was there about him under the name he gave. The second thing I noticed was that he didn’t want to discuss the type of job he did (if he had one).  I decided not to push but I made a mental note of the discomfort I felt. At the same time, I respected his privacy. I was not really interested in developing anything beyond whatever it was at the time. I am one of those people who enjoy meeting people and I don’t hesitate to cut someone off  if I am uncomfortable. 

Weeks later, after very brief on and off chats, he was trying to take our connection to a whole different level. He was now residing in Florida (he said) and being on the same time zone we were able to catch up more often. According to him, he wanted us to meet in person. He was “praying for a good woman” with my qualities (yeah right). By then, we had exchanged telephone numbers and I was curious about hearing his voice.  Chatting with someone is one thing, you can tell a lot, but it comes together when you hear the person’s voice.

He called me first. My first observation was his accent. It was definitely an African accent. The first voice chat was kept under 2 minutes, I noted. He somehow preferred to chat online rather than talk on the phone, and this I found disturbing. A few days later he requested that we do a video chat. I told him I didn’t have a webcam but promised to get one. By this time, I was still not clear about his true identity and what his game was, so I decided to play it safe.  I noticed that his profile name on the social network where we met changed, so I was not sure what his real name was.

After my recent discovery, I decided to rock the boat.  My detective instincts kicked in, “too good to be true.” I referred to him as my mystery friend, noting to him that I was not even sure who he was and what his real name is, or where he was really from.  According to him, he felt ‘bad’ and wanted to share more information, so we made a date to chat. Several days later he claimed he was ready to talk. We chatted briefly on the phone and decided to finish up the conversation via IM chat, as he wanted to show himself on webcam. My first ah ha moment was  this: my mental note of the photos I saw on his so-called profile and the image I saw on the webcam was definitely not the same person.  Photos are of a mature nice looking guy; the image on the webcam, younger really good looking guy with glasses and he definitely had that distinct look of being African.  Of course, I mentioned how different he looked from his photos. What he said didn’t add up but I let it slide.  My next question was “where are you from?” I could not believe it! The foolish man said he was from Kingston, Jamaica. At that point, I laughed so hard and told him straight up what a liar he was. Little did he know that I am well travelled. I spent time both in West Africa have a lot of African friends and Jamaican friends. The accent I heard on the phone was akin to that of some part of Africa.  He even had the nerve to get upset because I doubted him.  I politely said good night and good bye and did the next best thing, which was to cut his cute ass off, without thinking twice. 

He was definitely a fraud and a con looking for his next weak heart and wallet. Only God knows what would have happened if I had succumbed to all the sweet words, and all the seemingly right things that he was saying at the time. Even though he was not directly getting personal, he was very smart and sleek with his approach.  He also appeared to be grounded spiritually and believed in God.  He didn’t hold back his marital status. He said he was divorced, no children.  He seemed sincere when he inquired about how my day was, if I ate, what I had for lunch or dinner etc. The thing is, never get carried away by politeness, it doesn’t suggest anything beyond what it is.

We have to be so careful in our attempt to make friends and be friends online. We should be cautious, never exposing ourselves to danger! There are very many people who are pedophiles, rapists, money scammers and fraudsters, and those whom as I said, just want to get their freak on, you know, mislead you and take you for a sweet ride down heartbreak lane. We are protected by cyber walls so  we can boldly ask all the questions we want to, but do of course extend te same courtesy that you would want for yourself to the other person. It is the best way to go about the getting to know you process.  

I know of a lot of sweet stories where love was found via total strangers meeting online. One of my best friends is marrying the love of her life—someone she met online. Friendships were made and bonded over time and only distance separates.

On the other hand the internet is place where you meet people from all walks of life. According to an acquaintance, it’s “the World’s greatest Amusement park, where liars tell more lies, losers are CEO’s, enemies are friends, every sinner is a saint, weak people are cyber thugs, haters complain about haters, every relationship is loving & secure when their really lonely & insecure. So Step right up people, you can be whatever you want to be here

Unfortunately this is the other side of the coin—the reality that we have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, even when meeting in person. You don’t have to be cynical, just exercise caution and use your wisdom to choose wisely. Let time be the deciding factor, when sharing information; don’t be too anxious to jump into something that you may regret later on.

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