by Annie Gurton, Couples Counsellor based on Sydney’s Northern Beaches

Online dating is the new normal way to meet a partner, but it’s not without its risks. In the good old days, we’d usually meet a friend of friends and they often came with recommendations or warnings, but meeting someone online means that we don’t have mutual friends we could ask about this person’s character or history. Consequently, horror stories abound. The most common fib is that women usually lie about their age and men often lie about their height. But there are also tales of people being fleeced of their savings, finding themselves part of a messy divorce or ending up with someone who was not who they originally claimed themselves to be.

online-partnerimage via pinterest

Of course there are lovely romantic happy-ending stories too, and many people online who are authentic and genuinely looking for a love match. But how to be willing to be vulnerable (essential for creating a relationship) and yet guard against getting hurt? This is the tricky path we have to navigate.

There are plenty of warnings about pictures not being accurate or recent, descriptions being generic and false, and profiles simply being misleading at best or dangerously untrue at worst. But say that you have made contact with someone that you like and hope that the relationship will develop and flourish – What can you do to give it the best shot and not be left high and dry, and experiencing painful emotions, but someone who ‘ghosts’ you – that is, just disappears without explanation. Or turns out to be the worst match for you.

The fact is that the ‘rules’ for dating in the real world don’t apply to online romancing. In the real world there is often a protocol which has the men taking the initiative and women being more passive. Online, its best to be direct irrespective of your gender.

And of course its important to be honest – little deceptions which might work in an old-fashioned dating scenario will just stack against you as the online relationship unfolds. Of course your honesty might scare the other person off, but thats better than being misleading by trying to be coy or appear confident.

It’s more important in cyber dating to hold back on revealing too many details about yourself. Don’t take your new beau to every place that is special to you – wait until you feel that there really is potential in the match before you share secret places, your innermost passions and your strongest likes and dislikes. If the relationship goes south you don’t want to run into them at your special places – especially if they are there with another date.   Hopefully by the time you get over the first few dates you will know the basics about the other person, and their values and belief system. These can be more telling than whether they share the more superficial inclinations. Shared interests matter, but shared values and belief system (and often political viewpoint) can be crucial.

There are some similarities between real world and online dating too. For one thing, we are keen to show our best side to start with to encourage the other to fall in love with us. So we may ignore little irritations, and try and be on our best behaviour for a while. Gradually, as we relax with each other’s company we begin to be our more normal selves and its then that we decide whether the things that we found cute and charming at the beginning are likely to be the things that drive us crazy in the end. But because we don’t have friends in common to ask about the other’s past, you have to ask them about their past relationships and relationships with their family, and judge for yourself by reading between the lines whether this is someone who knows how to build a relationship or is someone who is, at heart, a cad.   Someone who speaks badly of all their past partners, for example, or who is estranged from their family, or who does not seem to have any friends, is someone to be wary of.

At the start of any relationship, many people make claims to be able to do things that they can’t, or to have been places they haven’t, or to have experiences that are fiction. Actually, many of us do that and it is not necessarily an indication that this person is a liar or a fraud. You need to give a bit of leeway when a life story is glossed over in parts, or glamorised. Your warning red light should start to flash if there are many elaborations, or a pattern of odd behaviour starts to emerge. And trust your instincts.

We do have an innate guidance system inside which can alert us when something is a bit ‘off’ about someone. They may be a little too charming, and short of cash a little too often, or working late or on weekends a little too regularly. Use your common sense – its better to call a halt sooner rather than later. The problem is that when one has been internet dating for a while and you meet someone who ticks most of your boxes, it is hard to follow your instincts that something is not quite right. Its easier to ignore any warning signs, but the world is now full of people with horror stories, and the common theme is that they say, ‘I wish I had stopped it when I first smelled a rat.’

So, take your courage in both hands and be bold, but don’t lose your head or you may lose your heart, and bank balance. And if it doesn’t work out, get right back online and try again – the two things you need is persistence and determination if you are to meet your perfect match in cyberspace.