Vero Pepperrell writes... In last week's post, I talked about keeping our personal data safe from ill-wishers by being cautious with our credit cards and PIN codes. But this week, I wanted to find out what other women think of watching out for something slightly less tangible: our personal life.
I'll let you in on a little secret - I met my husband online, then travelled halfway across the world from Canada to live with him in the UK. This was about 4 years ago, and already, the online meeting scene seems to have evolved and changed so much. Speaking to strangers online doesn't raise eyebrows anymore, does it? Even meeting them, whether as friends or for a date doesn't surprise friends and family.
Sites like MySpace are targetting teenagers, allowing them to build a network of friends, but with an estimated 55 million users, there's also a number of grownups are also using it. Friendster serves a similar purpose, allowing users to contact old friends, classmates or any other user. The advantage is that these sites aren't explicitely there to match people up, so if you're unsure of your own intentions, you're still able to present yourself as looking for friendships.
Dating sites like Dateline and Lavalife are different - there's no way around it, they're there to match people up. Nowadays, since everyone lives at hyperspeed, it's a socially accepted way to meet new potential mates.
It's possible to meet people online in the least likely of places too - Discussion boards, blogs and even in-game chats! (Mid-World of Warcraft shoot out "Oh so sorry I shot you! Fancy going for a drink?") In fact, it's on a discussion forum that I met my other half, "introduced" online by some common friends.
Are there really risks?
So I met a man online and 4 years on, he didn't turn out to be a madman, we're happily married, white picket fence and all that jazz. Does this mean we should chuck our inhibitions out the window and trust everyone we meet online? Obviously not, I think we can all agree that players, perverts and scam artists are everyone, as much online as offline in the "real world". Granted, it's less likely your drink will be spiked while chatting online, but there are still many reasons to be careful.
While talking online, don't give away all your personal information immediately. There's no reason to give him your full address, mother's maiden name and bra size. At least, not all at once! Turn on all your spidey senses - is he being cagey about where he lives or what he does in life? If he's not being forthcoming and as open as you are, maybe he's got something to hide!
If you decide you do want to take it off the internet and start speaking on the phone, take his phone number, at least the first time. You don't want to have to change your number because he turns out to be some sleaze-bag who insists on calling to serenade you every night when he leaves the pub.
It probably is a good idea to meet him in a group the first time. Not only is it safer to be surrounded by other people when meeting a stranger, it can also save you long periods of silence if you suddenly realise you have very little to talk about.
Trust your close friends if they tell you they're getting a bad vibe from your new friend, as they may be seeing something you don't see since you're still wearing rose-tinted glasses. Certain stats claim up to 30% of people on dating websites actually aren't single at all! (but we all know that 87.3% of stats are made up...)
Really, it's just a question of being smart and keeping your feet on the ground. Girls just wanna have fun, but a little care makes life a lot more fun!
Have you had any good, bad or dreadful experiences meeting people online? Did he turn out to have given you fake pictures? Do you believe you can find the right person for you through the Internet? [VP]