By Elissa Sanci
After going through a really rough breakup, I recently decided to pick myself up after months of throwing tear filled pity parties for myself. This process included dusting myself off and getting back out there.
I downloaded the popular dating app Tinder. At first, I was more than a little apprehensive about it, but a good friend of mine decided it was what I needed to get myself out of my rut. I made a profile, swiped right for a few attractive guys and waited.
Even though I was initially creeped out and disgusted by the app, I kept swiping and messaging in a vain attempt to continue my healing process. After wading through all the awkward conversations, creepy guys and obnoxious pickups lines, I met a nice guy and decided to meet up with him for coffee one day.
Internet dating has been gaining popularity since the first dating site, Match.com, was launched in 1995. At the time of its creation, online dating was regarded warily, a service that only those who were desperate for companionship used. However, after garnering public acceptance after the Tom Hanks film You’ve Got Mail in 1998, online dating sites began to get heavier foot traffic, and now, more than one third of U.S. marriages begin with online dating, according to a study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences conducted in 2013.
It’s become more and more common to meet a significant other, or even a hookup, through dating websites and, more recently, dating apps. However, safety and the ever-present “stranger danger” has always been a factor to consider when meeting someone for the first time, especially a person you met online.
It’s important to keep yourself as safe as possible; it’d be nice to think we live in a world filled with rainbows and butterflies, but this is not the case. We often have to pay attention to our surroundings and keep in mind that the world is a dangerous place. However, with the necessary precautions, many of these dangers can be avoided. Through my first hand experience with online dating, I’ve cultivated my own guidelines to staying safe while having fun and meeting new people.
- Meet in a public place and drive yourself. When meeting someone for the first time, it’s best to meet them in a public space, a place where a lot of people can see you and will be around to notify authorities if need be. If you don’t live in a city, where most people are comfortable taking public transportation, and need to drive to get to the location of your date, drive yourself. Do not get into a car with a person you only know through a few exchanged messages through Tinder. What I did: After agreeing to meet the guy I’d met on Tinder in person, I made plans to meet him in Bryant Park in New York City around noon, ensuring lots of people, crowded streets and lots of natural sunlight. I took the train to the city, and after meeting him, we went to an equally crowded coffee shop. We were never truly alone, and because of that, I felt safe.
- Tell multiple people where you’re going, who you’re going with and how long you’ll be. Make sure your friends know what’s going on; you won’t be able to enjoy yourself if, at the back of your mind, a small nagging voice is reminding you that no one knows where you are right now. More often than not, your date isn’t going to be a murderous rapist, but, as the old adage goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. What I did: I’m lucky enough to have friends that would go to the ends of the Earth to make sure I was safe. I told three to four friends where I was going, the name of the guy I was going with and the time I was going. I had two of them text me at a specific time, and I told them that if I didn’t respond after multiple messages to seek further action. Like clockwork, my phone buzzed at the time we had agreed on, and after a few messages, my friends knew that I was safe and that all was well.
- Download and use safety apps, like EmergenSee. Technology is great; chances are, wherever you go, you’ll be bringing your phone with you. Apps like EmergenSee are designed to make you feel as though you’re carrying a portable personal security system in your pocket. EmergenSee is a free app; after downloading it, you can set up three personal contacts. If you’re feeling unsafe on your date, open the app and alert your contacts—they’ll get a Google map with a beacon of where you are and where you’re going, if you’re on the move. They’ll be able to track your every move and get you to safety. EmergenSee also has a Pre-Set Timer, which will automatically start sending video and GPS Data to your contacts. Much like having your friends call at a specific time, Auto Start Timer will alert you at a designated time, and if you don’t respond within two minutes, the app will turn on its features. The neat part about this is that the app will go off whether you ask it to or not, meaning if something bad is happening and you aren’t able to call for safety, EmergenSee will do it for you. What I did: I downloaded the app the moment I knew I would be meeting up with someone I didn’t know. My university partners with EmergenSee, so I was able to sync my app to my campus police, meaning if I ever felt unsafe on campus, or in the surrounding community, my footage and location would be sent to them as well as my pre-selected contacts. However, anyone can download the app, and it works even when not in the vicinity of the university, as I was over the summer when I went on this Tinder date.
- Stay sober. Don’t get drunk or high with a person you’ve never met before. You don’t even know what this person is like sober; if he or she already has violent tendencies, these can be intensified when under the influence. When you start to drink, you loosen up while simultaneously letting your guard down. How can you expect to keep yourself safe if you aren’t fully alert? What I did: I went out for coffee and met my date in the middle of the day, so there wasn’t exactly the opportunity to get trashed. However, had I gone out to dinner, I wouldn’t have ordered a drink, and had he suggested we smoke or do any other drugs, I would have declined. I know having a drink can take off the edge you’re probably feeling, but one drink can quickly turn to two and before you know it, you’re leaving yourself in a vulnerable spot.
Meeting someone new for the first time is exciting, especially when you’re not exactly sure how things will turn out. One date could lead to another, which can lead to another—but through the excitement, always make your well being a priority. Never let the prospect of something great overshadow the importance of keeping yourself safe.