Internet Dating Survival Guide

In need of some good tips culled from a 30-something who’s had some 30 dates? Read on.

Photo Illustration by Don Button

The opener
First, tell the truth in your profile. Don’t ask for anything you yourself can’t bring to the table, and beware of those who do. A heavyset, beer-bellied man demanding a “hottie” is as common as a woman asking for “inteligence,” and both are sure pathways to disappointment. Unless you’re into that sort of thing.

Second, have a stock of good, throwaway one-liners to skate on potentially niggling questions, for nothing gets you over this hump quicker than answering a tough inquiry with a laughter-inducing response. A first date is like a job interview, except here keeping them off balance probably will work in your favor. A little mystery goes a long way, particularly when wrapped around a tough question. A cynic would say this indicates a lack of uniqueness on your part, but chances are you weren’t the only profile they looked at before giving you a date.

These one-liners are extremely handy when key queries arise. Let me demonstrate:

Him: So … ummm … how did your last relationship end?

Her: With a restraining order.

Him: Do you want to see where I live?

Her: Sure! Can you e-mail me pics?

Her: There’s a lot of weirdoes on the Internet. I hope you’re not a stalker …

Him: Stalker? Me? No chance. I’m afraid of commitment.

Regrettably, the convergence of the Internet and dating has, indeed, been a boon for stalkers, miscreants and guys living in their parents’ garage whose formative years consisted of playing Dungeons & Dragons and developing a deranged sense of heavy-handed chivalry in pursuit of female company. If a guy starts mentioning how excited he is to have you meet his mother before the coffee is finished, run away. Now.

You should always take care to screen potential suitors. Use a graduated continuum of contact. First e-mail each other at the site. Then move to instant messaging/ private e-mail and/or phone contact. Make them show they’re a normal person through regular, casual contact, and chances are they’ll give themselves away in chat long before they obtain your phone number or address. If you’re going out on quick dates before undergoing a simple screening process, you’re wasting your time and inviting trouble.

Caller ID is probably the worst thing to happen to stalkers since Smith & Wesson developed a .357 with reduced-sized grips. A lady can easily obtain caller-ID services on her home line, which forces private callers to identify themselves, for a few bucks a month. Men get stalked, too, and similar prevention methods apply. It just doesn’t happen nearly enough to keep us offline.

Should prevention fail, pepper spray is excellent in close defense situations, but spend a few pesos. After all, it’s only the difference between escape and ending up a statistic. As an unlicensed but well-schooled self-defense expert, it’s amazing to me how many people think nothing of blowing $19 on the latest Black Eyed Peas CD yet won’t spend half that on their last line of defense.

For $30, you can obtain a 9-ounce can of pepper spray—a personal favorite is “The Alaskan Magnum”—which will deliver a 10-inch blast cone that’ll stop a grizzly bear, or potential Rophynol Romeo, from two car lengths away, even if he’s popping out from behind the camper shell.

Regrettably, I’ve been told by dozens of women that these types of guys are about one-third of the fellows they meet online. Stop the interaction early if you see any red flags. It’s like a loose tooth: much better to pull it out in one harsh jerk than to agonize over the drawn-out complications.

Another phenomenon, of which men are particularly guilty, is fibbing about vital data that simply cannot be covered up should you meet in person. Among these include height, weight, hair or lack thereof, and owning a BMW that is currently in the shop getting “dubs” put on. Such ruses do not hold up, despite how charming you may be in the flesh. A man who lies about his stature or hairline cannot be trusted; ditto for a woman who has pictures up that are five years old that look shockingly good yet are woefully unreplicated in person and may in fact be digitally altered.

The move
Most Internet dates won’t go great, unless you are extremely good-looking, glib/ wealthy, etc., which begs the question of why you’re single in the first place. But a few will make it over the initial hurdles. Shockingly enough, you meet a normal, seemingly well-adjusted, at least moderately attractive person (a few drinks never hurt here), and you haven’t checked your watch or the exits the entire time. What to do now?

Hard experience shows that a proposed relocation to a more comfortable locale, be it a place for a drink, or somewhere private, is always a tricky step. Nobody ever falls for “Hey, let’s go back to my place and suck face,” but a softer line, such as “You mentioned you like Monet. … I have a great coffee-table book of his works,” can work wonders. Always propose some secondary activity as a means of getting comfy, not the primary goal. Like invading, say, a Middle Eastern country on a flimsy operative premise, one is always best served using a ruse that can be quickly swept aside once the action heats up and the real agenda surfaces.

The commitment
Even after a good first couple of dates, you must make a series of important decisions. Will we use pet names? Are we a couple? May I tape his son’s mouth shut? Such questions are part and parcel of developing a healthy, ongoing relationship and are best broached with tact. But you should feel comfortable asking them as a relationship moves forward. After all, you’re no longer on the Internet with the rest of the rabble.