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Online Dating - and Mating - Is the Trend Now, but Safety Should Come First

I think Tinder and Grindr have taken the online dating concept to a new level that everyone needs to be careful when using.
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I am fascinated by the new dating game. I don't just mean the concept of on-line dating (I'm not that old), but rather the vast variety of options that are out there on the Internet now for people to choose from when they start the process. I'd be lying if I didn't say that the "Farmers-Only" dating commercial is the funniest thing I've seen in a long time and my husband and sing along with it (it's the cows talking about their lonely owners that slay me). But that's just one more example of breaking it all down into specifics for those who are looking for a mate.

I think it makes sense. When I was single, AOL had the only matching site available to play with, and it was considered highly suspicious (at least by me and my friends who were used to the more traditional form of meeting men - aka trolling bars and parties hoping to meet somebody we liked). The "alt" dating sites were loaded with postings that simply made me blush to read. But now there are tons of options for every taste and style. The online dating portal the Internet created has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities.

Without fail, the majority of my brides and grooms who met each other online (and admit it) did so on eHarmony. Not to completely bust my mom, but that's where she met my stepfather after I harassed her for a long time to get online. She wasn't going to meet a nice, single man at her office filled with married doctors, and she worked so much that she was stuck relying on bad blind dates set up by well-meaning friends. The worst one ever insisted on bringing her back to his house so he could serenade her (I'd warned her to always drive her own car on setups) and after that, she was about done. Finally, she tried eHarmony and met a few nice people. But the nicest was my amazing stepfather Dan. And I planned their wedding for them in Vieques a few years ago. Yes, they're still very happily married.

Another set of my clients had lied to EVERYBODY about how they met and they got busted for it when the Best Man exposed them for meeting on Match during his toast at the rehearsal dinner. The couple handled it with grace and a sense of humor, but I felt a little sorry for them. I don't know if any of my other clients have lied about meeting online to me but I figure that's their personal business. However the relationship began, they're clearly in love and getting married.

So I wholeheartedly endorse the online dating game, even though I'm not in it. I've got too many happily-married client success stories to doubt its effectiveness. Match, Zoosk, Lavalife, a variety of religion-specific and age-specific dating sites, and eHarmony have all brought brides and grooms together. Those sites that haven't facilitated gay matches are ignorant and missing a giant marketplace, but that's their loss. The gay community doesn't need anybody who doesn't want to work with them or discriminates against helping them find their soul mates.

What's been "educational" for me has been learning about Tinder and Grindr from my interns and gay friends who use those applications to find new friends or potential dates. While the outcomes may be the same (life-long happiness or a date you never want to repeat), the concepts of the two sites are vastly different. And in both cases, I have to admit that I worry about safety and security issues surrounding them.

Both sites let you list yourself and your wish-list, and then tell you who else on Tinder or Grindr is nearby you, within whatever distance range you set. How you use this information is entirely up to you, but it does make me worry about privacy and anonymity - or lack thereof.

As I said, I learn about a lot of this stuff from my interns and account executives who are all young ladies in their 20s. Some of them have been smart enough to never give out their phone numbers to anybody, but others have dealt with a little bit of phone and text stalking after being too friendly online too fast. But it's the proximity thing that's really creepy. Our island is only 20 miles by 5 miles - not enough room to hide.

One night I was out with my staff celebrating something when one of the girls starting getting multiple Tinder messages from someone she'd been messaging with who was on the island on vacation. As the evening wore on, it got to the point where we figured out the guy was actually in the same bar as us (it's a small island) and all of us were on the lookout for him. We thought we spotted him - not that she was going to identify herself, it wasn't like they had a date planned - but if it was the boy we think it was, he wasn't old enough to be hitting on this young woman anyway. He was probably on vacation with his family and had escaped for an evening of debauchery. We slid out of there.

A few weeks later, she got a message from a Tinder friend that he was going to be visiting the island on vacation and wanted to see her. She was not equally impressed and didn't make any plans with him. But because of the Tinder features, she was able to reverse-stalk him so that she didn't run into him. She'd turned off her own locator settings so he couldn't return the favor. We were sitting on the beach vegging out when we're absolutely positive this guy showed up and sat down at the water's edge, only about 20 yards away from us.

If we'd thought he knew who we were, we would have beat a hasty departure. But then we would have missed the show as the guy proceeded to spend more than an hour taking selfies of himself by the water, in the water, laying in the sand with water around him, etc. Everyone just about died when the Caribbean actually got his iPhone during the solo photo shoot but we controlled ourselves as he did the panicked dry-phone-as-fast-as-possible-and-pray thing we've all done at least once. But 20 yards away from his target is a little too close for comfort to me. And he'd seen her picture. If we hadn't been wet and in bathing suits and probably not looking like she does in her profile pictures, I'm positive we would have had a very awkward first meeting for them in front of our entire crew.

Grindr may also be an online "dating" application, but for most of the gay men I know who use it, it's an instant hook-up application. Too many of them are using it to find sex rather than dates, and they're using it in real time in whatever bar or venue they happen to be hanging out in. Nothing says a one night stand can't turn into a relationship, but I'm pretty sure that's not the intent of most Grindr users. They're looking for quick sex and not a lot more. According to the users I've interviewed, a LOT of the guys on Grindr are married (to men or women) and are not out there "grinding" with their significant other's permission. It's shady.

But whatever the user's personal decisions may be for each of those applications, safety is my number one concern. Being a man doesn't make hooking up for random sex with other men any safer than for women looking to meet men online for the same purpose. Instant meet-and-greets are dangerous. You have no idea who you are meeting, regardless of how attractive and charming they may seem. Anyone can be anything they want to be online. Doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs... there's no vetting process to make sure you're not setting yourself up with a wanted criminal or person with an unfortunate communicable disease.

I think Tinder and Grindr have taken the online dating concept to a new level that everyone needs to be careful when using. Even if you're using a more traditional online matching website, you shouldn't be meeting up with strangers without having a wing-man nearby and taking your own car and ALWAYS meeting up in a very public place. Not everyone is the same in person as how they've presented themselves online. And I don't just mean they could be fat or bald (not that that's necessarily a bad thing). Hopefully, you've fully "creeped" them and done as much homework as you possibly can, but it's still a very, very bad idea to go into anything blind... or alone.

Managing expectations ahead of meeting up with an online match is also very important. If you're on Grindr and you're not looking for sex, you need to be clear about that. The way you portray yourself on your Tinder profile should make that perfectly clear as well. If you make plans to meet up with somebody at the last minute, with no pre-planning, at a bar where you don't know anybody else, the situation could be dangerous if the "date" has other things in mind. Especially if alcohol or drugs are involved. Talk about a time you should be carrying those test strips for your drinks to make sure nobody gives you anything you wouldn't want to ingest voluntarily.

This blog is not a condemnation of real-time dating applications like the two I've focused on, but rather it's an endorsement of the concept of meeting datable singles online as long as you use common sense to protect your safety and dignity while doing it. And hey, if you're specifically looking to meet a Jewish or Christian mate, someone over 50, or a farmer (and by the way, there are several dating sites just for farmers), those sites exist for a reason. It helps you separate the wheat from the chaff (pun intended).

So I say online dating - "Yes." Online mating - "No." Use online dating sites and applications responsibly and safely and you can have a blast meeting new people. Letting your hormones guide your decisions and behaving irresponsibly could be very, very dangerous. And let's face it, if you're online dating, you're too old to be on the side of a milk carton or the subject of an "Amber Alert." You'll just end up another sad statistic in the news if something terrible happens to you.

Until next time, be safe and take care of yourselves and have fun meeting the perfect mate. Just do it responsibly.

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