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Your guide to safe online dating

Words by Emma Johnston-Wheeler

I’m heading out the door on my 12th internet date and I have a really good feeling about this one. I’ve had enough bad experiences that I get to say that. Four yelled at a kid on the street then told me about his plans to open a vape shop, seven cheated on me repeatedly, and nine was a Soundcloud DJ who performed exclusively in someone’s living room. This date, number 12, is one of those fortunate scenarios where you become aware of someone on a dating app but then meet them in person accidentally (still an internet date, just with a better meet cute). 

Regardless of how your first encounter comes about, though, take caution when you first meet. 

Safety Tip 1: Confirmation of authenticity

Not only should your date match the information outlined in their profile, but you should feel like you’re having an honest experience. If you meet them and feel they have misrepresented themselves, consider it a red flag and leave, or don’t pursue a second date. If they were dishonest once, it’s likely that they will be dishonest again.  

Safety Tip 2: I’m going to a coffee shop I’ve been to before, for noon

It’s a go-to spot so I feel less nervous about meeting a stranger there. 

Safety Tip 3: My roommates have been briefed

They both know what my date looks like and what his name is. They know where I’ll be for the next couple of hours. Technology lends its hand in making this easier.

Safety Tip 4: This allows you to broadcast your whereabouts

We have location sharing on our iPhones, Snapchat maps and there are specific apps that allow you to update  multiple friends at one time. Right now, my roommates and I like the “Life 360” app. It allows you to connect your location to a network of friends on a map which indicates where you are with or without data, records how long you’ve been in that place and tracks your battery percentage. You can configure the settings to notify each other when you arrive or depart designated locations and warn your friends when your phone battery decreases below 10 per cent.

I leave my go-to coffee shop after two hours with my phone at 57 per cent, and safely arrive home. A couple weeks later, I’m out for drinks with this same person and I head back to his place after. I text my roommate what my plan is, and update her with the address when I get there. 

These are our normal rules, and most of the women in my life have a similar version of them. It’s a necessary survival instinct, one that I’ve found less common amongst my male friends. It’s the reason that I, and every woman in my life, double-check the license plate before we get into an Uber and confirm our name when we slide in. It’s also the reason that we text each other when we’ve gotten home safe. 

Safety Tip 5: Follow up

When correspondence has surpassed the expected time (for instance, if my roommate doesn’t come home one night and I still haven’t heard from her by the morning, phone calls will ensue). 

“Safe” doesn’t only mean out of danger, it also means comfortable—which is why the same protocols apply when someone needs an excuse to gracefully or urgently get out of a date that they’re not enjoying. 

Safety Tip 6: Making excuses

It’s important to coin excuses that are realistic but also specific, and therefore impossible to contest. My roommate has told boys that she needed to get home because her roommate was having a bad shroom trip, or that the landlord needed to get in to switch a breaker when no one else was home. If you’re not as comfortable coming up with something on the spot, the standard reasons will suffice: “I’m not feeling well,” “my friend is having an emotional crisis,” “my *insert family member* is in the hospital, I have to leave right now!”

The most standard excuses may feel overused in some circumstances, but at the end of the day you don’t owe anybody anything, especially the internet stranger whose company you’re not enjoying. 

Safety Tip 7: Have a safety word between you and your friends

This can be something you can text them quickly that means you need them to stage a phone call to excuse you from a date, or meet you somewhere in person.

Swapping stories with your friends is not only a fun way to debrief after a date, it can also equip you with additional information about the person you’ve been going out with. Happen to know a guy who knows the guy your friend is seeing? Why not tap into that source and find out what your pal is walking into? 

Safety Tip 8: Having a reliable referral

Having a reliable referral of a person’s good nature might make your first internet date a lot more comfortable. It may also prevent you from going on a second date with someone who doesn’t deserve your time, or even someone who aren’t like what they first seemed. Earlier this fall I met a guy on Hinge (internet date number 8), who I was warned against seeing again by a mutual friend. She had sent me an anonymous post from the website Pastebin that detailed a sexual assault which this person had committed, with more than enough personal information to confirm that it was him being referenced. 

Needless to say, I feel lucky that my current boyfriend, my 12th internet date, is soft-spoken, and doesn’t yell at children in the streets. Scratch lucky—I’ll impart that credit unto years of developing thoughtful safety protocols, now converted into digital format for your cyber love pursuits. Stay safe Ryerson. 

Xoxo, online dater

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