Online dating is about as commonplace these days as wearing undergarments (well, close). But before it even existed (I know it’s hard to imagine), people had no real choice but to meet other people for the first time, well, in person.

As such, there were more opportunities to make decisions squarely based on in-person, gut reactions. Although the reality is that safety precautions have always been a consideration for women in particular, whether we’re being “cautious” or not, and whether we’re online or not, it can’t be denied that more and more people are going on dates with perfect strangers based largely on written communications (or, in some super rare cases, phone calls).

And while meeting people one might not otherwise have crossed paths with can be emboldening and exciting, it’s good to be careful. I am definitely not saying that we should ever let fear overshadow flirtation, fun, or even casual sex if that’s where we’re at. But there are ways we can protect ourselves and make navigating online dating that much safer so we’re less likely to find ourselves in situations that are uncomfortable, sketchy, or worse.


1. Google yourself, and them 

Ok, I know this doesn’t sound hot, romantic, or sexy in any way. But hey. Practical tools. Why not use them? It doesn’t hurt to Google yourself and find out what it is that a potential date might find if they decided to Google you. Is there anything you’d rather not have a new love/sex interest see? For instance, your address, personal/private photos, art or writings that might give someone the erroneous wrong impression that you’re vulnerable (not in a good way)?

It sucks to have to think this way, but the world sucks in more than a few ways. Gaining a bit of control of what others can find out about you before meeting is not a bad thing. And second, Googling your date may be worthwhile too. After all, if there happens to be information floating around the net about their former career as an axe murderer, catnapper, or simple misogynist, you may wanna take it into account. 

2. Don’t give out personal info right away 

Which brings me to my next point. If you don’t want the person you have yet to meet to know stuff about you by doing a simple search, avoid giving out your full name before meeting. This means that if they ask you to connect on Facebook before meeting, you may wanna wait on that. Similarly, you might wanna wait on giving out your phone number. In my personal experience, men don’t waste any time at all asking me if we can exchange numbers. They tend to want to transition away from whatever goddess forsaken app or site we’re on as quickly as possible. Sometimes it’s because they want to forget the forces of anti-romance at work in the modern world, sometimes it’s because they think the app’s loading time is too slow for a fluid texting conversation, and sometimes they simply want to hear your voice and do the phone call thing before meeting. Personally, I prefer to gauge first-time chemistry in person and not on the phone—since last I checked, the phone didn’t have pheromonal capabilities—but, if you’re on Team Telephone, and want to avoid giving out your number right away in case it turns out you’re not interested and he ends up harassing you (it’s happened to me), try downloading this app to create a free Google Voice number. You can text and call as usual, but it won’t be with your usual number, and it’s really easy to block people as needed. 


3. Meet in public 

As much as I can appreciate the fine art of the booty call, one of my major turn-offs in life is a guy who asks, without any hesitation whatsoever, if I’ll meet him at his place. We’re talking first meetings, here. To me, this is a huge red flag in and of itself. If not an indication of a dangerous situation, it can indicate someone who is oblivious of the ways of the world and the realities that anyone who is not a man often face. And really, when someone is that oblivious, can they really be that good in bed? Joking, but not joking.

In any case, regardless of what your first date intentions are, I highly recommend meeting in a public place, like a cafe, teahouse, bar or busy park. That way you can do all the sussing out you need to before deciding if you want to be in an enclosed space with said person. Along the same lines, of course, no house pick-ups on the first date! As smooth as “I’ll pick you up at 8” sounds, you can let your date use all the suave technique they please if you decide to see them a second or third time.


4. Feel free to drink, but not too much 

This one smacks of misogyny and condescension, and that’s because- did I mention the world as we know it can suck? Personally, I often like to include alcohol in my first date scenarios, ‘cause quite frankly, it takes the edge off an otherwise potentially awkward, somewhat contrived get-to-know-you situation. That said, my main reason for never surpassing two drinks is not so much that I’m worried a date will drug me or take advantage of me (although this is also a very valid concern as well), but that I’ll choose to do something (someone) I otherwise might not. Let’s face it: life can be lonely, and we all crave affection and release. Alcohol can make that all the more enticing when there’s someone right in front of you who’s willing. But if you know you’ll feel like crap after fooling around with or sleeping with someone you don’t actually like enough, know your own personal limits when it comes to alcohol. Even simply agreeing to meet someone a second time when you’re kinda drunk can go wrong, since you may not actually feel an attraction for them in the light of day. True story. 


5. Tell a friend about your plans 

I tend to reserve this one for those times when I have assessed a situation and made the decision to go to a guy’s house—particularly when it’s in an area I don’t know well, but regardless of where it is, this can be a smart move. I’ll get his address and text it to a friend as a safety precaution. It’s kind of morbid if you really think about it: a kind of “if you don’t hear from me in 3 hours, call the cops” kind of thing. I don’t tend to go over to someone’s house when I feel there is a risk, but there’s no harm in being extra safe. Sometimes I’ll even let the guy know what I’m doing, half-jokingly, a) to see how he reacts, and b) to let him know I’m not letting my guard down just yet. It may seem like overkill, but it’s so totally not. 


6. Try a day date 

Some of the best dates I’ve ever had have been day dates. Zero pressure, lights-on, casual, caffeinated day dates. These are great for when you’re more into getting to know someone a little more slowly (without alcohol in the mix), and are not in the mood for immediate bedding. This a great way to see if you like a person enough to want to a) see them again, b) see them at night, and c) kiss them next time you see them. Plus, if you drink coffee, you know it often makes for great conversation and hyperactive laughter. But hey, green tea can be fun too.


7. Trust your gut 

Above all, trust your gut, your intuition, the voices in your head. Although it may at times seem like there is a fine line between paranoia and practical safety, how you really feel is the most important ingredient in any dating scenario. If he checks all the boxes and you feel you should feel totally at ease with him but for some reason, you just don’t, listen to that. Take your time with it. There is no rush, and if anyone ever makes you feel there is, that’s a bad sign. And equally, if you feel you should be sketched out by someone based on who-knows-what (their tattoos, maybe?), but your sober heart and gut are telling you he could be just right in every way, listen to that, but again, take your sweet time and always make sure you feel comfortable.

Happy online dating to all you star-crossed lovelies.

/Shutterstock.com