Online dating is so common now that it’s almost synonymous with plain old dating.
For the most part, dating apps and websites have given us a fun new way to connect with people—but online dating has introduced some new issues. Interacting with strangers through apps can put you at risk for identity theft, online harassment, and theft. And if you decide to meet up in the real world, there’s unfortunately also a chance you could find yourself in physical danger.
You’re never responsible for the predatory or disrespectful behavior of others, but there are things you can do to protect yourself when you’re interacting with a stranger. Keep the following tips in mind next time you log in to Tinder, Bumble, or Hinge.
Choosing a site and setting up your profile
1. Avoid sites and apps that let just anyone message you. Unfortunately, people already get lots of unpleasant and disrespectful messages. That probably can’t be completely avoided, but if you use an app that requires both parties to express interest before they start messaging, you may get fewer messages that make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
2. Pay attention to the geography settings in dating apps. Many dating apps use your location, but strangers shouldn’t have access to information that lets them find your specific neighborhood.
3. Use unique photos for your dating profile. It is really easy to do a reverse image search with Google. If your dating profile has a photo that also shows up on your Instagram or Facebook account, it will be easier for someone to find you on social media.
4. Avoid putting lots of personal details on your profile. Don’t include your last name, contact information, or social media account handles. And while you’re checking your online dating profile, check your other social media accounts. Do they have lots of information that would make it easy for a stranger to steal your identity or track you down in real life? Reevaluate what you’re sharing—even if you’ve got tight privacy settings, there’s the possibility that someone in your friend list could share information from your profile with someone you don’t know.
5. Use the dating app’s messaging system. It might be less convenient than texting with your phone’s default messaging system, but it gives you extra protection.
6. Set up a Google Voice phone number just for dating. At some point, you may want to talk to someone on the phone before you meet them in person. But instead of giving your real phone number to someone you don’t know, consider using a Google phone number and forwarding it to your phone. It’s pretty easy—once you log in to Google Voice, you can search by area code and choose an available number. Once you pick a number, the instructions will walk you through the rest of the setup.
7. Talk to mutual friends. Dating apps will sometimes show you when you and the person you’re talking to have mutual friends. Check in with those friends and find out what they think of the person you’re interested in.
8. Get to know them, but don’t share too many details at first. The point of talking online is to get to know someone better, but it’s still smart to wait to share more personal details until you’ve met them in person. Unfortunately, someone who seems great when chatting in an app could be very different in real life.
Meeting in the real world
9. Arrange your own transportation. It’s smart to avoid letting someone know exactly where you live until you know them better. Drive yourself to the date or get a ride, but don’t have your date pick you up or take you home.
10. Meet in a public place for your first date. The first date is a great time to try out a coffee shop, wander through a museum, or chat over dinner and drinks.
11. Stay aware and alert. You should be able to trust those around you to be respectful, safe, and kind, but unfortunately that’s not always reality. Take extra care of yourself when you’re out with a stranger. Don’t leave your drink unattended, drink less than you would if you were out with close friends, and avoid staying out until you’re really tired.
12. Enlist the help of a friend. Let someone know you’re going out with someone new, tell them where you’re going, and set a time for them to check in on you and make sure you’re okay.
13. Keep some emergency cash on hand. Keep a little bit of cash somewhere on your person so that you have money if your bag or wallet gets lost or stolen.
14. Consider carrying a self-defense tool. Carrying a self-defense weapon is a very personal decision, but if it makes you feel safer, you may want to carry a Taser, pepper spray, or a knife. In some cases, even a flashlight can make an excellent self-defense tool.
You should never feel bad for putting your safety first, even if it means you have to do something that feels rude.
Following the advice above can help you stay safe in the dating world, but if someone or something makes you feel unsafe, it’s your right to leave (whether you’re leaving an online conversation or an actual date).
If you’re just messaging, you can simply stop responding and block the other person. Many dating apps will let you unmatch and report problematic behavior. If you’re on a date in real life, get up and walk away, go to the restroom and call a ride, ask the restaurant for an escort to your car, or message a friend and ask them to come meet you.
How you leave is up to you, but you should never feel bad for putting your safety first, even if it means you have to do something that feels rude.
Bonus: Tips for making your date feel safe
What if you’re not especially worried about your own safety, but you want to be a stand-up date? There are lots of things you can do to make your date feel safe and comfortable.
- Suggest meeting in a public place—not your home. And while you’re making plans, keep it to one relatively short activity so your date has an easy out if they’re not having a great time.
- Don’t ask tons of personal questions (even if you’re on a real date). The whole idea of talking online and meeting in real life is to get to know another person, but avoid asking a lot of questions that could make someone uncomfortable or suspicious of your intentions. Focus on talking about interests, hobbies, career, music taste, etc.—don’t grill them about specifics. For example, if your date tells you they run every morning, don’t ask about their daily running path—ask what they listen to while they run, or what specific goals they’re working toward.
- Listen, and respect what they say. If your date says they want to limit how much they drink or get home a little earlier so they can wake up for work the next morning, respect that and support it. Don’t pressure them into staying out longer, going to a second activity, or having another drink.
- Get consent. And not just if you go home with someone—pay attention to body language and facial expressions. You can make someone feel safer by being observant. If they tense up when you touch their arm, or look uncomfortable when you move closer, give them some space.
It really all comes down to showing respect. Respect the other person’s time, space, and privacy, and remember that you deserve that same courtesy from the people you meet.
Once again, you are in no way responsible for someone else’s predatory behavior, but you should feel empowered to protect yourself and avoid situations that make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
Keep the tips above in mind to make sure you and your date feel comfortable—then have fun getting to know new people, eating yummy food, and exploring your city.
Have you tried any online dating sites? What did you do to make sure you felt safe? Share your advice in the comments below.