Whether you’re thinking of re-entering the world of online dating, a newbie trying to figure out how to navigate this new world, or been in the game for a while, these tips can help you to date confidently, safely, and with your wellbeing as top priority. Like a little black dress (LBD) or a white tee, these basics will never go out of style. Just incorporate them into your existing online dating routine to keep scammers, catfishers, and other unsavoury characters away.
Online dating certainly can be exciting and fun. But it can also often seem like a daunting journey. I should know, I was part of this dating scene. A few years ago, I found myself thrown into the cathartic, confusing, exhilarating, and challenging world of online dating after my marriage of almost 16 years ended. It was a steep learning curve, to say the least!
Like millions of people around the world, I began to use dating apps to meet new people. As dating app users know, online dating isn’t something just for fresh-faced 20-somethings. Dating apps are used globally by a wide range of people ranging from 18+ to 50+, and a great way to meet people you wouldn’t ordinarily meet, including those in town for leisure or business travel. That’s a boon in a small place like Singapore!
Given my academic background, online dating was fascinating for so many reasons – seeing how people behave online, understanding the need for human connection, getting a clearer picture of the dangers of online romance, and experiencing first-hand the highs and the lows of online dating.
There’s a lot to navigate – self-image and self-confidence, superficial reasons to like someone or be liked, ghosting, and compatibility, to name a few. Online dating can also get stilted, with conversations often coming to an abrupt halt as Natalie Tan highlights here. Then there’s also issues of safety and security, including physical safety, catfishing, love scams, and consent.
All these issues were at the back of my mind as I plunged into the world of online dating. To me, it made the entire process more interesting, and I was lucky to have great conversations with some of my dates about the issues they were facing as well.
I considered myself fortunate to be aware of many of these issues as I navigated the strange new world. To be sure, knowing about these issues doesn’t necessarily make navigating them any easier. Rejection, ghosting, inappropriate images, impersonation, lies, and fake profiles became part of the dating landscape. After a while, I learnt not to take these behaviours personally, and it gave me greater clarity about the type of profiles I was looking at, which to avoid, and which online behaviours were red flags. I also learnt that the process requires a lot of self-love, mental fortitude, self-confidence, and resilience to plough through (if one so desires).
It also requires awareness. Knowledge is power after all. One of the things that became apparent was that the more a user is aware of the possible dangers that abound in dating apps, the better equipped they will be to use these apps, and to find them more fun, safe, and fulfilling.
Think of Cyber-Safety as a Basic (like a LBD or White Tee)
One of the most important lessons was learning how to filter the fake from the real and the safe from the unsafe. Don’t get me wrong – there are a lot of great people out there. I met several nice guys along the way. I also connected with and met some unsavoury characters, learnt how to protect myself better physically and in cyberspace, and understood that my safety and wellbeing was paramount in this journey.
I quickly learnt that if I had to be safer and happier while dating, I had to help myself to do better. Technology isn’t perfect, and the same is true for dating apps. While they are adjusting and adapting and trying to improve, users need to play a greater role in ensuring their own safety and wellbeing.
This isn’t too hard. It requires a few tweaks and additional safeguards to your current setting up and screening process. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry – and nowhere is this more true than for the online world these days. These tips that I’m sharing are based on my own experiences of using dating apps, and developed over a period of time with some trial and error (and some minor heartaches). These tips helped me to feel more empowered, confident, and safer as I explored the exhilarating and perilous landscape of online dating.
- DO: Create a Profile that is Authentic, yet not too Revealing
It’s important to create a profile that’s authentic – you want to showcase the kind of person you are, your interests and hobbies, and what makes you tick. Some people include their professional interests and industry, because that’s an important part of who they are too. However, you don’t want to give away too much of your personal information. For example, don’t share your phone number, address, workplace, or any other details that make it easy for people to locate and track you down IRL (such as where you go to dance classes every week). This can prevent potentially embarrassing and even dangerous situations.
- DO: Pick a Strong Password
This is a cyber-safety basic. You don’t want anyone else accessing your account. Strong passwords are at least 8-10 characters, with a combination of letters, special characters, and numbers. You can choose phrases or song lyrics, and replace some alphabets with special characters or numbers. However, this can get difficult to remember, and you shouldn’t be reusing your passwords, as that is dangerous. So, if you’re like me and struggle to keep up with all the passwords in dozens of online accounts, then you can choose a password manager to do this automatically. Most importantly, don’t share your password with others, as you are opening yourself up to greater risks.
- DO: Be Mindful of the Photos You Share
4-5 authentic photos are enough for someone to get an idea of who you are. The internet never forgets and it’s also not very forgiving – so do share pictures that you wouldn’t mind popping up elsewhere online (anything that could make you cringe later should be avoided). A lot of people share their LinkedIn photos, which could make you more easily identifiable, so if you prefer more privacy you may want to give your professional pictures a miss.
If you’re a parent like me, it’s best not to share pictures of your kids – or anyone else’s for that matter. Sure, you want to show you’re a dedicated and cool parent (especially if you are looking for other single parents), but not at the cost of your kids’ privacy. A simple hack is to blur their faces in pics (the same goes with family members of friends who may value their privacy, especially if you didn’t ask them before uploading the photo to your profile).
- DO: Choose your Connections Carefully
Yes, it’s exciting to see so many interesting faces and sculpted bodies on an app. But you should be aware that there are fake accounts, and catfishers, and a lot of dishonest folks on dating apps. This makes a good screening process crucial. Before you connect, try and make sure the other person is genuine. The easiest way to do this is to check if their account is verified – this should be the first step, no matter how good a profile looks. Next, do an online search and see whether the information on their profile checks out. There should also be enough information to make you feel that the other person is authentic. Stay away from accounts with one photo, one-liners, and vague or no details. If they don’t make the effort to present themselves properly, then they’re either not really interested or it’s a fake account. Swipe no either way!
- DO: Look out for the Red Flags
It’s not just about fake accounts, there are also people who share misleading images or information on their accounts. How do you tackle these? A simple way is to look at their photos more closely and notice the small details. Some warning signs are that images are too professional or curated (can they portray themselves genuinely, is what you should be looking at), do they look different in different photos (aka is this the same person?), and does the stated age match the photos? Some other giveaways are that pics are too old or grainy, and that there don’t seem to be any selfies (especially for millennials or Gen Z) or smartphone-era pics. Another way to get more information or to ensure the information they have shared is genuine is by asking questions
- DO: Ask Questions
Once you’ve connected with someone and are trying to gauge who they are, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Communication is, after all, a key part of dating and relationship building. You want to be sure they are genuine and that you will gel well. Whether it’s conversation starters or serious topics related to values and goals, questions will go a long way in forming an idea of who the other person is, and whether they are potential date material. If they aren’t interested in conversing or revealing more about themselves, then they probably aren’t the right person for you. If they seem hostile about answering your questions then you can confidently bid them farewell even before meeting up.
- DO: Know what Safety Features and Resources are at your disposal
Keeping yourself safe and happy is the most important consideration when using online dating apps. After all, if you are online to make connections and meet that special someone, it shouldn’t be at the cost of your wellbeing. Dating apps have various safety measures, so do spend a little time learning about them, and knowing what to do in case you find yourself in a tight spot. Harassment and abuse are never ok. Report them, and report any other inappropriate behaviour, so that the administrators can take the necessary action. You’ll be doing yourself and other users a big favour too.
You’ve realised by now that safety and security should be a key aspect of your online dating journey, and it’s not too difficult to include this in your dating routine. I’ve put these together based on my own experiences, and I hope you find them helpful. If you have any other useful hacks, I’d love to hear about it! You can drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on my LinkedIn or Facebook pages on this topic.