How to Protect Yourself From Midlife Dating Perils
There are a million reasons why dating at midlife is a more complex proposition than it is in your twenties. For one thing, we are more complex: We're harder to please because we know our likes and dislikes, our careers are (hopefully) in full gear, and many of us have kids to think about it.
But perhaps the stickiest thorn in the dating bouquet is that at this stage, we have more to lose -- and therefore more to be cautious about. All too often we hear of some criminal activity that transpires during blind or internet dating, and thank our lucky stars if it hasn't happened to us -- yet. The crime can be physical, like assault, or financial, like identity theft, or anything in between. I read in Time magazine about one particularly egregious occurrence in Wales, when a single mom's first date resulted in her inadvertently driving the getaway car after a robbery.
She had met him on Facebook, but even when you meet someone via friends or family, you can't assume that they are trustworthy. I mean, that's how Bernie Madoff made his connections, right?
I admit that I've been fairly lucky in that regard. No one has come into my life who has had major skeletons in the closet. Except for perhaps one -- someone who emailed me when I was writing my newspaper column. He was funny, smart, great with words, handsome (according to his photo, at least) and we agreed to meet. I was unusually nervous -- perhaps fearing he was too good to be true?
He was. Within moments he let it out casually that he was married. Why, then, was he flirting with me? He shrugged sheepishly. "I'm unhappy?" was all he could offer as an excuse. I did thank him for letting me know early on; it would have been so much worse if the lie had been allowed to continue.
Any dating coach will tell you that the best way to avoid such scenarios is to take it s-l-o-w-l-y. Get to know a suitor, and be open to trusting them, but play it safe and even have them checked out if you have questions.
Many would argue that meeting someone online is still safer than picking up a random stranger in a bar (ah, the '70s!) but nonetheless, an organization has sprung up that seeks to minimize the number of potential crimes by educating singles on how to protect themselves. Says the Safe Online Dating Alliance (SODA), "Criminals targeting online daters are tough to stop, but we believe it is possible to reduce crimes through greater safety awareness disclosures and safer online dating practices."
Among the alliance's recommendations:
1. Play your cards close to your chest. Do not disclose everything about yourself when emailing, chatting online or meeting in person. Instead, listen. Take mental notes. Discuss topics other than particulars about your family, income or assets. Speak in generalities whenever possible. Your salary, savings, and the value of your home and car constitute confidential information. Con men thrive on such information.
2. Don't share photos of your children. Not all online predators prey on adults; some specifically target the children of single women. A person attempting to get to know you, and not your children, will respect your privacy boundaries.
3. Your business is your business, not your date's. If you own a business, realize that predators and con men hunt for women who own businesses, even if you do not make millions of dollars.
4. Keep your money to yourself. Do not give it to anyone you just met online. Women involved in online dating must use discretion when discussing personal finances. One popular swindle is to ask for money or a loan for an emergency.
5. Set up an email account separate from your personal account. Try a web-based email service such as Yahoo!, Google's Gmail or Hotmail.
6. Use an online dating company that conducts criminal background screenings. If your online dating company does not run criminal background screenings on users, have one done on your own, especially before meeting in person. Background report information can include a criminal and sex offender check, as well as a wealth of public information about lawsuits, judgments, liens, etc. There is no fee to check the online National Sex Offender Registry.
You also can visit the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a government agency designed to investigate internet-related criminal complaints. http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx
Another resource is CheckOutADate.com, which sells sets of "conversation cards" to take along on dates, to give you courage and inspiration to ask the tough questions -- presumably, after the casual ones are answered. They range from light-hearted ("What is the last book you read?") to serious ("Would you be willing to take an HIV test?") and are intended to cut to the chase when it comes to getting to know a date.
It's all in the interest of finding out if the ones who seem "too good to be true" really are.
Read more: Online Dating Scene for Boomers