Safe Online Dating after Divorce
Online Dating: 11 Tips to Keep Safe While Looking for New Love on the Web
Jeffrey Marsalis looked like quite a catch. He was clean-cut, tall, and handsome. On his online dating profile, the 33-year old Marsalis posted pictures of himself that fit the profession du jour. He had pictures in a suit when he was the dapper CIA spy, pictures in an astronaut uniform for the NASA gig, as well as pictures in scrubs showing him at work at Hahneman Hospital when he said he was a doctor or trauma surgeon. He was very good at his story. On dates, he produced ID badges to support whatever identity he was claiming at the moment. A woman who dated Marsalis in 1999 described him as charming, intelligent, attractive, and seemingly safe or so everyone thought.
Only, Marsalis was anything but safe.On October 31, 2006, Marsalis sat in a Philadelphia courtroom listening as seven young women testified that Marsalis had raped them. Six of the women had met Marsalis through Match.com. The seventh was a neighbor. ABC News reported each (of the six) gave nearly the same account of corresponding with Marsalis on the Internet, meeting him for a drink and then waking from a fog to find they were being sexually assaulted.
Marsalis’ lawyers, Kathleen Martin and Kevin Hexstall, claimed the sex was consensual and the charges of rape were nothing more than buyer’s remorse after discovering that Marsalis was only an on-again-off-again nursing student rather than a successful professional. Prosecutors claimed Marsalis was a cold-blooded rapist who conned smart women that had a few things in common: they were all very attractive, professional and well put together.
Following weeks of e-mails and phone calls in which he backed up all of his stories, prosecutors said Marsalis met his victims and put date rape drugs in his victims’ drinks to render the women incapable of resisting his sexual assaults. After five days of acrimonious debate, the jury acquitted Marsalis of all but two counts of sexual assault. In January 2006, Marsalis had been found not guilty of drugging and raping three other women he also met online.
Once regarded as a last resort for losers, in recent years online dating has come into its own. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Survey on Internet Dating, 74 percent of Internet users who say they are single and looking for romance have used the Internet to further their romantic interests. Online Dating Magazine, a consumer watchdog of the online dating industry, estimates that more than 20 million people visit at least one online dating service a month.
Virtual love works. Fifty-three million Americans know someone who has gone on a date with a match they met online. Moreover, 30 million Americans say they know someone who has either married or been in a long-term relationship with someone they met online. Bouyed by the success of others, online daters plunk down $470 million a year to find Mr. or Mrs. Right.
The biggest disappointment most online daters experience is finding out the prince or princess they were thinking about kissing is a frog who’s four inches shorter than their online profile stated or 20 pounds heavier than the picture posted. Some find the online match that seemed like such a great virtual fit has annoying habits like sucking their teeth or being rude to waitstaff. Stories like Marsalis’ remind us that online dating can carry greater risks than mere disappointment.
Indeed, the Pew survey found that 66 percent of Internet users agree that online dating is dangerous because it puts personal information on the worldwide web where weirdoes as well as wonderful people can access it. Online Dating Magazine publisher Joe Tracy has contact with more than 50,000 unique visitors a month and double that in visitors. Because online daters have more positive than negative experiences, Tracy cautions his readers to be alert rather than afraid.
“There have been a million dates and maybe 50 problems,” Tracy said. “It’s generally a safe medium as long as are you stay aware.”
“Tracy, who is in his late 30s, has done a lot of online dating. I got into it in2001 when I saw how awesome of a venue it was,” he said. I found it to be the best way possible to meet someone with same interests. “I probably met 35 different people. Nothing bad happened. Most were who they appeared to be. So, I haven’t had one of those horror stories. Instead, most were great experiences.”
One of those great experiences was a keeper. Tracy has been dating the same online match for last year and a half.
Here are 11 tips to keep safe while you’re surfing for a soulmate.
1. Stick with paid dating services.
With monthly charges ranging from $19.95 to $49.95 and up, it’s tempting to avoid online dating services that charge and stick with the freebies. Think again, cautions Tracy. Most web sites don’t verify if the name a match has given is right. When you use paid services versus free ones, you have to provide a credit card number which means there is a way to track who someone is and a paper trial leading back to them if you have to go to court, he said.
2. Be smart with your profile.
“Unless you’re looking for a gold digger, don’t mention the 60-foot yacht. Ditto for the annual income. While it’s important to let matches know if you’re gainfully employed and financially secure, rather than listing specifics like the name of the company where you work, just list your profession. Don’t give away too much information,” Tracy cautions. “You don’t want to set yourself up to be googled so someone can find out too much about you before you provide that information for them.” Also, avoid writing anything that makes you look like a person who doesn’t have a lot of friends. Don’t say ‘I’m lonely’ or things that make you appear like you’re always by yourself. Instead, keep your profile fun, friendly, and positive so you attract those kind of people.
3. Never, ever lie and don’t date anyone who does.
“A majority of people lie in their online profile,” Tracy said. If you got a new hair style or lost weight or gained weight, post a new photo. This puts you on a good footing when dates meet you because they know you’re 100 percent honest. “If you show up for a date and can tell the other person lied about their age, height or weight, tell them, I’m sorry, but, you lied. So, I’m not going to continue with the date.”
4. Avoid photo faux pas.
Women looking for serious relationships should avoid posting suggestive pictures or glamour shots in their profiles. You’ll attract a different kind of crowd if you post photos that are too revealing,” said Tracy. “If you’re a single parent, don’t post pictures of your children or talk about them in your profile. Don’t set yourself up to be targeted by a pedophile,” Tracy warns. “When it comes to letting possible matches know you’re a parent, just select the option ‘I have children.’ Don’t say anything else, not whether it’s a boy or girl or how many or how old they are. There shouldn’t be a discussion of kids until you’ve been on several dates and wait several months before you even think of introducing them to your kids. If asked just say ‘I’d rather wait to discuss my kids until we’ve gotten to know each other.'”
5. Be aware of scammers.
It’s a red flag if someone immediately tries to get you to e-mail them at a separate address away from the service. Match.com tells subscribers to notify them immediately if matches ask you to call 1-900 numbers, send you links to a pay-per-view website, or e-mail you about modeling opportunities. Likewise, if someone tells you a sad tale and starts asking you for money, just say, NEXT!
6. Take your time.
While many online daters are eager to meet matches as quickly as possible, it’s really important to get to know someone via email and phone, first. Give out your cell phone number rather than your home number, which can be used to identify where you live. When you’re communicating, don’t give out your full name or where you live until you decide this is someone you want to meet for a first date. Once you have their name, google them or do a background check. Tracy believes it’s a good idea to communicate for at least a month before the first date. Generally, if you have good strong communication past a month, chances are good are this person is looking for something besides sex. “People only looking for sex want to rush things,” said Tracy.
7. Watch out for spouses who are louses.
The Pew survey found that 57 percent of Americans believe that online daters lie about their marital status. MSNBC reported that 30 percent of online daters were married. How to tell? Pay attention if your match doesn’t post a picture. Sure, they may be a two-bagger, but they also may be married. Married people generally will not post a picture. Or, they’ll post a picture where you can’t really get a good look so they won’t be recognized by someone who knows them,” Tracy said.Other tips for recognizing cheaters: When you get to phone communication, it’s erratic and you’re always getting their voicemail or they answer in a low voice or whisper. Cheaters also usually only return calls at a particular time. They may not share their last name with you and won’t tell you where they live. They also won’t talk much about their personal life and you won’t be meeting family or friends.
8. Meet in a public place.
When it’s time for that first date, meet in public and always let family or friends know where you’re going and whom you’re meeting. Bring your cell phone with you so you can call for help, if needed. It may also be a good idea to arrange to have someone call you an hour into the date so you can bail if things aren’t going well.
9. Drive yourself.
“Never get into a car with a stranger. Just because you’ve spent the last month emailing and text messaging, don’t think you know this person. So, take your own transportation. When the date is over, do not let them walk you to your car. Tracy tells about a co-worker who followed all the rules and took a separate car to the date. At the end, she let her date walk her out to her car. A few days later, around midnight, the guy showed up at her door,” Tracy said. He’d taken down her license plate number and gotten her address. “Take your own car for the second date, too. By the third or fourth date, you should have a good sense of the person and, if you feel safe, can venture out with them, cell phone in hand and with a heads up to family or friends.If this is a long distance romance that requires travel, your date may suggest you stay with them. DON’T. Instead, book your own hotel room and make sure you’re checked in before you meet. Yes, it’s romantic for them to meet you at the airport, but, be safe and save the romance for later.”
10. Don’t drink and date.
You want your head to be as clear as possible. So, meet for coffee or order a soft drink. If this is a self-serve place, either pick up your drink yourself or keep your eye on your date while he does it. When it’s time for a run to the bathroom, finish your drink first and/or don’t take another drink from a glass that sat there while you were gone. ABC News reported, “The women told almost the exact same stories of meeting Marsalis for a date, typically in a Center City bar or restaurant. They shared drinks with him. The women described going to the bathroom, leaving their drink behind. Then, some described blacking out, others said it was like waking up from surgery. But they all remember regaining consciousness undressed and finding Marsalis sexually assaulting them, sometimes repeatedly.”
11. Trust your gut.
“It’s really important to trust your gut instinct because it rarely fails people,” said Tracy. If something seems wrong, don’t second guess yourself because you can never be too careful.”While being cautious is smart, keep your wits about you in a way that feels natural, rather than paranoid. You want safety to become a natural habit, rather than something that’s consuming you and ruining your dates,” said Tracy.