Dating online probably appears on its surface to be much safer than traditional dating; you proceed at your own pace and only as far as you feel comfortable, and you don't have to worry about somebody slipping something into your drink. However, the relative anonymity afforded by online dating means that some measure of caution always needs to be exercised. By taking a few simple steps, you can insure that your online dating experiences will be successful and safe.
The truth is that, at least initially, you don't really know the person that you are talking to online. All they are to you is a series of words and possibly a photograph, and with that sort of ambiguity it can be easy to create any number of different impressions or images. Detractors of online dating will always point to the extreme examples of physical meetings gone awry after online courtships. I would argue that these examples are extreme and actually more infrequent than with similar stories involving traditional dating. However, they do illustrate several basic guidelines that should be adhered to when you begin to date online.
First and foremost, never proceed at a pace that makes you feel uncomfortable. Whereas in a physical setting you can generally get a "read" or a "vibe" as to the sort of person you are speaking with, online dating makes that sort of gut impression more difficult to come by. It can take extended conversations before you feel comfortable enough to actually meet somebody, and that is perfectly acceptable. Remember that you truthfully don't know this person at all, and if they begin to pressure you into meeting them sooner than you're comfortable with, it may be a good idea to simply nip the relationship in the bud.
If at all possible, see if you can find out any information about the person online through mutual friends or acquaintances. One thing is true about the internet: It has made the world infinitely smaller. Chances are good that, between you and your online interest, you share at least one common relationship. Use this to your advantage! Any information that you can find out about this potential romantic prospect is bound to be beneficial, if only for your own peace of mind. If said mutual relationships don't exist, follow the above advice and proceed at a pace that you are comfortable with.
When it does come time to meet your online interest for the first time, a little common sense goes a long way. It is probably a good idea to make your first meeting public rather than private. Until you know somebody well enough, you might forgo the seclusion of dinner and a movie at one of your homes and instead opt for a restaurant and theater. Until you know somebody well enough and are comfortable with them, having people around when you meet is beneficial. It allows you to get a better feel for the type of person you are speaking with whilst maintaining a safe amount of distance from them.
Finally, never venture out to meet somebody without first telling a friend or family member where you are going. Again, you don't know this person very well at all, at least initially. Ere you meet them, simply tell a friend of your plans. Give them the other person's name and phone number, and make sure that you tell your friend where you are going and at what time. Through a series of simple steps, online dating can be just as safe, if not safer, than traditional dating.