Reading the signs:
The Do's, Dont's, And Dangers, of dating online

Gloria G. Brame,PhD,ACS


By Gloria G. Brame

The following is excerpted from Gloria's Handbook on dating - WHERE THE BOYS ARE: A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Mr. Right

Before you get seriously involved with someone you meet on-line, read this section for tips on the perils of cyber-relationships. In our opinion, cyber is actually no more dangerous than reality--as we know all too well, women are fooled every day in real life by con artists, gigolos, liars, and dogs. However, cyber presents DIFFERENT dangers than reality. You may not have to worry about direct sexual contact, for example, but you DO have to worry whether someone is representing himself accurately to you. To avoid a disastrous liaison, take our advice and learn to read the signs below.

GOOD SIGN: After a few exchanges, he volunteers his full name, home and work numbers and possibly his address (or company name).

THE REASON: He sees you as a real person whom he thinks he may want in his real life. He trusts you enough to know you won't abuse the information, and feels comfortable about letting you know him better.

BAD SIGN: He asks you for some or all of the above, but makes excuses for why he can't provide you with same. OR he only gives you a post office box address or a voicemail number. THE REASON: There are a lot of married men out there. Need we say more? If a man is seriously interested in dating you, and is free to do so, he has no reason to conceal this information from you, particularly if he is requesting such details from you.

GOOD SIGN: He reassures you that he will wait until you trust him enough to give him your personal information.

THE REASON: He is taking your feelings into consideration. Men know that many women are nervous about meeting strangers through this medium. The nice ones will give you a chance to get to know them and will give you their info first, as a goodwill gesture.

BAD SIGN: He insists that you give him your phone number and address right away.

THE REASON: He is trying to bully you into a relationship. He apparently feels that if you DID get to know him, you wouldn't GIVE him that information. If he feels that way, so should you: don't let ANYONE talk you into revealing where you live or work until you have good reason to believe he can be trusted.

GOOD SIGN: He offers to send you a current photo of himself.

THE REASON: Another point in his favor, on the honesty front. Be he handsome or plain, if he is willing to put his ego on the line by sending you a photo, he certainly is sincere.

BAD SIGN: He makes excuses for why he can't send you a current photo.

THE REASON: He is not who he says he is.

Take a tip from Lillie who had TWO bad experiences before deciding she would never date anyone she met in cyber until she was sure she had a current photo. "I met one man through the on-line personals who seemed very sincere and nice, but in his email he said he was in his early 50s but looked in his 40s. Then we met and it turned out he was in his 60s--and looked it!" Lillie insists that his age didn't bother her as much as the fact that he lied. "I understand why he did it, but I figured that if he'd lie to get me to meet him, he'd lie about other things too."

The second experience, though, upset her. "I met him in IRC and we flirted for a while. Then he emailed me this nude photo of a GQ-model type! For weeks I kept writing him email, joking, 'Is this really you? Nobody's this good-looking!' I'm not really that looks-conscious, but his picture blew my mind." The man assured her that it was him, though he said it was taken a few years previously, and that he looked a little older now.

The romance soon was hot and heavy. They began talking on the phone nightly and, after a few weeks, planned their first big night together.

When Lillie arrived for their meeting, however, she was shocked. "I don't think it was even him!" she wails. "Or if it was, he had changed so much that he should never have sent me that picture in the first place. He was NOTHING like the photo and, in fact, he didn't even act the way he did on the phone either. He had said all these romantic things on the phone but when we met it was obvious he was just looking for sex. I felt like the rug was pulled out from under me. I left early and never talked to him again."

GOOD SIGN: He asks to meet you in live chat.

THE REASON: This is usually considered the next friendly step in communicating after either an email exchange (if you met through an ad service) or a public discussion (if you met on a UseNet board). The typical cyberlove progression is message exchange, live-chat, then telephone, then a real-life encounter.

BAD SIGN: He tells you that he doesn't want you to let anyone else in a live-chat area or on a discussion board know that you are having a cyber-affair.

THE REASON: He is trying to hide something. It could be that he is simultaneously romancing other women from the same areas (as happened a few years ago on the select network, "The Well," when a man was discovered to have been dating 15 women all at the same time, while swearing to each that he was monogamous). Or it could be that he already has a bad reputation and is afraid that if you tell people you are involved with him, they will give you details of his sordid past. Whatever the reason, if he is trying to prevent you from talking to others, show him the cyber-door.

GOOD SIGN: After a few weeks of on-line flirtation, he begins talking about arranging a meeting.

THE REASON: He is beginning to make plans for your relationship and is thinking ahead. He is also politely accepting the responsibility of being the one to "make the first move."

BAD SIGN: After many months of flirtation, he is STILL talking about meeting--with no precise date in sight.

THE REASON: If he isn't married, then he is either involved with someone else, ambivalent about you, or he finds it more convenient to keep you inside his computer where he can turn you on and off with the power switch--or possibly all three. Don't be gullible. Once your connection is made in cyber, your relationship should proceed like a normal one, with in-person contact to be a logical next step.

EVEN WORSE SIGN: He begins making plans to see you after talking to you only once or twice.

THE REASON: He is desperate. If he tries to convince you to see him, avoid him completely. Mainly men like this are young and eager (not to mention horny), but their haste can mean your waste. Never bend to pressure when a CyberRomeo tries to talk you into a meeting that you feel uneasy about.

GOOD SIGN: He writes you sweet love-notes every day.

THE REASON: It means he cares and that he wants to let you know that you are often in his thoughts. Rosemarie says that she looked forward to getting Cal's daily "good morning" and "good night" notes--even though most were only one sentence long. "That was more than enough to let me know he missed me, which is all I really wanted to hear," she says.

BAD SIGN: He writes you sweet love-notes 20 times a day.

THE REASON: He's obsessed. He may not be dangerous, but he certainly isn't very stable. If he's overly prolific occasionally, chalk it up to amorous exuberance: but if obsessive letters are a habit for him, drop HIM like a bad one.

EVEN WORSE SIGN: He vanishes for periods of time without explanation.

THE REASON: Women cite the sudden disappearances of cybersweethearts as the number one cause of heartbreak on-line. There is no one reason why people drop out of correspondence--it may be that they had a personal or professional crisis. But, alas, more often, it's simply because they're insincere.

This medium allows insincere and cowardly men simply to vanish into the ether at whim, without fear of being traced. If all you have is an email address, you really are left empty-handed. It is most typical for people to use handles (so you can never be certain you know their real names); and unless you already know his name and the city he lives in (and unless he is listed), you have no way of locating him. Women report feeling abandoned, betrayed, and emotionally devastated when men they corresponded with for months suddenly stop writing, without explanation.

"We wrote each other for three months, constantly," Amanda says bitterly about a man she met on CB-Simulator. "We were finalizing plans to meet, in fact, I'd already made hotel reservations for us, at his suggestion. Then, suddenly, he stopped writing. I got frantic. I thought he had died. All I had was a post office address, no phone number, nothing. I knew he lived in Chicago, but when I called information, he wasn't listed! Finally, after about two months of sending him email and letters to his post office box, asking what was going on, I heard from him. He wrote and said he was sorry, but he had gotten married!" She still feels distraught over her lack of judgment. "The whole time he was making plans with me, he was engaged to her!"

Our tip: Be a little less trusting of men on-line than you would be of ones you meet in reality. Try not to get too emotionally involved with a man until you've moved BEYOND cyber to phone-calls or other, realer forms of contact.

Also, beware of sudden unexplained absences during your correspondence (is his wife reading over his shoulder? is his girlfriend in town?). And if a quibble or a serious question from you results in a long silence on his end, be cautious: if all it took was a slight amount of pressure to make him to vanish for a few days, what would happen if you had a real disagreement? Would you ever hear from him again?

GOOD SIGN: In addition to regular conversation about daily life, he loves to tease you and exchange naughty fantasies with you.

THE REASON: He's got some life in him. With morals generally looser in cyber, it's common for email romancers to be freer with their words and affections on-line than they would be off. A little healthy flirtation is a good sign that he has romance in mind.

BAD SIGN: Sex is the main topic of his conversation. Or, put another way, all roads lead to his penis.

THE REASON: He likes you but his hormones are slowly destroying his powers of reason. He may still be interested in a long-term relationship, but you can already guess where the emphasis will be. Hint: not your mind. On the other hand, every cloud has a silver lining: men like this are much easier to lead around since they come with their own handles.

EVEN WORSE SIGN: Sex is the ONLY topic of his conversation.

THE REASON: He doesn't see you as a real person but as a fantasy facilitator. Test him: try to turn the conversation to other topics and see if he has anything interesting to say about them. If he keeps trying to steer it back to sex, don't hesitate to take the bull by the horn and break it off.

DANGER! DANGER! THE WORST SIGN OF ALL! He wants to talk to you about sex but he won't give you any personal information about himself and is always vague when you ask about meeting.

THE REASON: You're being played for a fool, girlfriend. He has no intention of seeing you, but has found a cheap and convenient way to get his rocks off, with the added satisfaction that you are a "nice girl" who's giving it away for free rather than the phone-sex operators he was spending his money on last year. As soon as your feelings grow serious, expect him to sign off forever.


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