Editorial opinion by Emily Feek
Dating in the modern age is a downright terrifying thing. If you don’t have your own story about a nightmare date with a creep, you probably know someone who does.
Oftentimes, it feels like there’s a common denominator with these dates: You met the person on a dating site. It’s too easy to feel that the safety threat comes from that online space and the fact that you’ve only met them in a very limited capacity.
The reality is that this isn’t a new problem. Yes, it’s important to maintain safety when meeting people you’ve found online, but it’s also important to acknowledge that safety shouldn’t just be relegated to online spaces.
Regardless of how you met someone, being careful should be prioritized. Think about it. Ted Bundy didn’t use Tinder, did he?
Dating violence on college campuses in particular is old news, though we may want to blame technology or dismiss it as a product of the modern age. In a 1993 article from the journal of Human Justice, Dawn Currie and Brian MacLean acknowledge that concerns about sexual aggression on college campuses were reported at Harvard over 150 years ago. Surveys around dating violence were first published in 1957, according to Currie and MacLean.
So, this isn’t a new problem. All that’s new is the way we frame the conversation, and we have an obligation to acknowledge that it’s more complex than men preying on women, or the internet being dangerous.
First things first, safety is important regardless of how you meet someone. Generally, the trend we’ve seen with dating on college campuses (sure, mostly with Tinder) is that you tell someone where you’re going to be when you finally decide to meet up for a date (or hook-up). You make sure a friend knows where you are, your location is on and someone is able to bail you out if things go south.
It’s not even that we’re afraid of being assaulted or murdered in cold blood, though that is an all too common nightmare these days. Sometimes you just don’t want to be around a person once you meet in real life, and that’s okay.
Dating is a process that involves a significant amount of trust and vulnerability, and the unfortunate truth of online dating, in particular, is that it’s hard to gauge how trustworthy someone is.
Rory McGloin and Amanda Denes’ study “Too hot to trust” proposes that online daters seek partners who they feel can be trusted to reciprocate the energy and vulnerability they provide — and these judgments are based on profile photos.
Profile photos, and specifically attractiveness, are linked to the way we perceive how trustworthy someone is. It doesn’t take peer-reviewed research to guess that it won’t be an accurate perception; first impressions are rarely accurate, let alone first impressions from behind a screen.
We want to appear as our best selves on dating apps to attract others, even if that makes us less trustworthy in the process. Sugarcoating may not be lying, but it’s close. Either way, feelings of trust aren’t gendered. The study found men tended to view more attractive women as being less trustworthy, while women found more attractive men to be more trustworthy. Granted, attractiveness is subjective and not actually linked to trustworthiness.
The point still stands that these studies ask people to make a snap judgment about someone they’ve never met. Even meeting someone in person on campus won’t give you the full idea of whether they’re someone you can or should trust.
College marks a huge transition for many reasons, but dating is a significant one. While those of us coming from small high schools used to know all of our potential suitors, or otherwise have friends to vouch for them, it’s harder to have those connections on a campus with 15,000 students. We don’t spend the same six-hour day with a small group and develop close bonds; instead, we meet a few hours per week with a variety of groups and end up with surface-level relationships.
That isn’t a bad thing. The classroom should be a safe environment to interact with peers and connect. But when you take those relationships outside of the classroom, make sure you maintain that safety.
Don’t isolate yourself. Have someone on standby in case of emergency, and communicate with others about who you’re with.
Make sure a friend has the address of anywhere you’re going. Give them contact information for whoever you’re with, ideally a full name and phone number. Keep your phone charged and close. Watch any food or drink you have.
It should go without saying, too, that these are good tips to follow regardless of your gender, previous experiences or how you met someone.
You’ll have time to build a relationship if that first date goes well and if you stay safe, but it’s a good idea to maintain a healthy level of skepticism at first.
As much as we want to be loved and to find love, we have to be safe about it. We owe it to us and the people around us to take care of ourselves, and that includes being safe in the dating world.