Over the past decade, online dating has become more prevalent than ever. It has only increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic—traditional dating as we know it is being replaced with FaceTime first dates and remote romances.
When the global pandemic began in March 2020, Dating.com reported that dating on their site was up 82 percent. The popular dating app, Bumble, saw a 26 percent increase in direct messages sent through its platform. Similarly, the elite dating app, Inner Circle, saw a 116 percent rise in messages sent.
While there are several benefits of online dating, like convenience and the ability to remain socially distant, there are just as many safety precautions you should take to ensure your physical—and sexual—health. Since dating apps do not conduct thorough background checks on their users, it’s up to you to protect yourself from users who are online for the wrong reasons. Read on or jump to our infographic to take a closer look at online dating safety tips.
The first step of online dating is to create an online profile. While you’ll want to share the best version of yourself online, it’s important that you protect your identity in the process.
When online dating, be sure to leave out any information that could reveal your location or whereabouts to online strangers. Consider choosing a new photo that’s not already linked to a social media account. If you use your same profile picture from other accounts, a virtual stranger could perform an image search online and find your other social media profiles, getting access to personal profiles or information.
You should also avoid using photos that reveal your physical location. While it could be tempting to share a selfie at your favorite coffee shop or restaurant, identifying features in the background could help strangers figure out where to find you. Additionally, you should never give out your address, work location, personal phone number, or any other personal information to someone you’ve just met.
Pro Tip: Check your social media profiles for any information that could reveal your location before linking them to your dating profile.
Maybe you can recall being on a date with someone you didn’t click with or even had to endure a conversation with a Chatty Cathy on an airplane. Unlike a traditional meetup, a benefit of dating apps is that you can easily ignore, block, or delete someone you don’t want to talk to or feel uncomfortable speaking with.
If you feel that a user’s profile is suspicious or dangerous, block or report them on the dating app. This can usually be done silently and anonymously so the person on the receiving end won’t know.
You should submit a report if you notice any of the following behaviors:
Pro Tip: Familiarize yourself with a dating app’s reporting policy before you create a new account.
It’s easy to be blinded by love, but during an online relationship, it’s important to keep your eyes open for any red flags. People can misrepresent themselves online and may not be exactly who they say they are—this includes scammers, predators, or anyone who is looking to manipulate or take advantage of your trust.
Here are a few common red flags to look out for:
Pro Tip: If you notice a red flag on someone’s profile or when chatting with a match online, make a note of it so you can recognize it again in the future.
When you meet someone online, you’ll want to get to know them just as much as you would if you were meeting in person. Remember, you’re there to build a relationship, so you should ask questions early on to learn whether the person is trustworthy and compatible with you. Talking about your dating history, what you’re looking for in a partner, and your hobbies are all great ways to get to know a potential partner better.
While it’s OK to get personal, you should try to avoid revealing personal information—like where you live or your favorite place to get coffee every morning—until you can fully trust the person.
Pro Tip: If you’re feeling nervous before a first date, jot down a few questions you might want to ask ahead of time to help you feel more prepared.
If the person on the other end of the dating app is the real deal, they should have no problem connecting with you face-to-face (virtually!) before meeting you in person.
This is beneficial for a couple reasons. First, having a video chat can make you both feel more present in the conversation and help spark an emotional connection and physical attraction. Secondly, seeing the person in real-time can help verify that they are who they say they are.
Pro Tip: Plan a virtual activity that you can do over video to help liven up your first date.
You can’t always believe what you see on the internet. One study found that 80 percent of people misrepresent themselves or lie on their online profiles. After matching with someone, do a little research before meeting up in person to verify that they are not a scammer or catfish.
Asking for their social media handles and checking out different social profiles can be a great way to get to know the person a little better. You can also do a simple background check to get information on criminal records or histories. If you can’t find them online or their stories aren’t matching up, this could be an indicator that they are not being truthful about who they are and could potentially be dangerous.
Pro Tip: Review your match’s social media pages before you meet up to help verify that they are who they say they are.
If your online relationship is going well and you are both comfortable with it, you may want to plan an in-person date.
Before you go, make sure you are both COVID-19-free (learn more about at-home testing options like the COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit DTC) and follow CDC guidelines. If you or your date is feeling sick or tests positive for COVID-19, you should reschedule for another time.
When meeting your online match in person for the first time, it’s best to choose a public place where you can safely confirm that they are who they say they are.
Below are a few lower-risk date ideas:
Pro Tip: When meeting in person for the first time, try choosing a public, low-stress environment.
Once you have a lower-risk date planned, it’s important to discuss your boundaries or any concerns you may have. Everyone’s boundaries are different and could include anything from wanting to stay 6 feet apart to not discussing past relationships on a first date.
Share what you are and are not comfortable with. If you want to have a few more virtual dates before committing to an in-person date, that’s OK too.
Pro Tip: Make a list of the boundaries that are most important to you before you meet your date for the first time.
Before meeting your online crush for the first time, make sure to tell a friend or family member about your plans. Most phones and electronic devices make it easy to share your location with others, which can come in handy when meeting your match. This can give you an extra layer of protection and security when coming face-to-face with your date for the very first time.
For the first date, or until you feel comfortable, it’s also best to take yourself to and from the date location instead of allowing them to pick you up or drop you off at your home.
Pro Tip: Share your location with a friend or family member before you leave for your date using an app like Snapchat or Life360.
Always create an exit strategy in case you feel uncomfortable, threatened, or suspicious during your date. We’re not saying to go into every date thinking something could go wrong, but trust your instincts and always be prepared.
Before going on a date, sync up with a friend or family member to devise an exit strategy or discrete signal that indicates you need help. For instance, this could be as easy as sending an emoji or code word to a designated person who will help bail you out of a bad situation or pick you up if you feel uncomfortable.
Pro Tip: Choose an easy-to-remember code word that you can send to a friend if you need help getting out of a dangerous situation.
While many areas have lifted social distancing and mask mandates, it’s still important to take measures to protect yourself and your date from COVID-19 when meeting up for the first time.
Our recent survey revealed nearly 1 out of 4 Americans broke quarantine to pursue romantic relationships in April 2020 when stay-at-home orders were at their national peak. If you’re planning on being intimate, make sure you and your partner are taking the necessary precautions to ensure your health and safety.
If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms, consider taking an at-home COVID-19 test before meeting up or being intimate with someone. Additionally, any time you are planning to be intimate with a new partner, you should take an STD test for men or women to ensure both of you are staying safe.
Pro Tip: At-home COVID-19 tests make it easy to ensure that you’re virus-free before you leave for your date.
Dating doesn’t have to stop when you’re physically apart. Technology makes it easy and realistic to foster a healthy relationship remotely, but remember to take the necessary precautions when vetting your match to ensure your safety. And if you’re planning to meet with your match or significant other in person, consider taking a COVID-19 test.